It was inevitable when the presidential nomination process reached New York, whose Jewish population is second only to Israel’s, that Sen. Bernie Sanders would finally have to face serious questions about Israel. So we find the senator’s responses to such questions disappointing if not alarming.
Leading up to New York’s Democratic primary Tuesday, April 19, Sanders met with the editorial board of the New York Daily News, and the transcript of that conversation revealed the depth of the senator’s disinterest in foreign affairs.
When the Middle East came up, Sanders never mentioned Syria, where nearly half a million people have been killed in five years of civil war, or Iran, whose nuclear program has been the central foreign policy debate of President Barack Obama’s second term. Sanders had nothing to offer about the post-Arab Spring chaos in Libya, Egypt’s handling of Islamist terrorists, Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, or the power dreams of Turkey and Russia.
Sanders talked about Iraq, partly to back claims that Islamic State is being beaten on the battlefield and mostly to remind us, yet again, that he voted against the war during “the most important and significant and far-reaching debate that we’ve had on foreign policy in this country in recent years.”
Sanders also talked about Israel. If he had been any other presidential candidate in modern history, his comments would have been condemned. That they came from the first Jewish candidate to win U.S. presidential primaries, as well as a man who spent months living in Israel, leaves us flabbergasted. And Sanders has only reinforced the offensive comments in the days since.
Much was made of Sanders’ ignorance about the casualties in the 2014 Gaza war. He offered a recollection of “over 10,000 innocent people” killed in Gaza. As his campaign noted, the Daily News corrected him on the number of Gaza deaths — fewer than 2,200 — and the senator accepted his mistake.
But the number revealed only how unprepared Sanders was for the interview. How could a presidential candidate campaigning in New York, where millions of voters have an interest in Israel, have no idea how many Palestinians died in the 2014 war?
More important was the word he used after the number: “innocent.” As if no one in Gaza took part in attacks on Israel, so all of the casualties were helpless civilians being slaughtered by Israel. In case you missed his point, Sanders piled on with speculation that apartment buildings were leveled and hospitals bombed in Israel’s “indiscriminate” use of force.
That might not be a blood libel, as claimed by Knesset member Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, but it’s not far away. Sanders has not apologized for smearing the Israel Defense Forces, has not clarified that between one-third and one-half of the Palestinian dead were combatants, and has not acknowledged any of the efforts Israel made to minimize casualties while Hamas did all it could to maximize them for propaganda reasons.
Sanders has swallowed and regurgitated that propaganda, and unless he can admit it, we don’t see how anyone who cares about Israel can support him.