Bernie Sanders Criticizes Israeli Government for Treatment of Palestinians

PHOTO: Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, March 15, 2016.PlayRicardo Arduengo/AP Photo
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Bernie Sanders, the only Jewish presidential candidate this election cycle, was also the only candidate who elected not to attend the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting this year.

While all other candidates, including the remaining three Republicans and Hillary Clinton, spoke to the group in Washington, D.C., today, Sanders instead took time while campaigning in Utah to deliver his own foreign policy speech, during which he had very pointed criticism for the Israeli government.

During his remarks, which he described as the speech he would have given had he chosen to attend the powerful political lobby’s event today, the senator called the U.S. and Israel long-term friends but said that because of that special relationship they were “obligated to speak the truth” to each other.

“That is what real friendship demands, especially in difficult times. Our disagreements will come and go, and we must weather them constructively,” he said.

Sanders reminded the crowd of reporters and activists that he spent time living in Israel and working on a kibbutz, and argued that because of that he was “probably the only candidate” with “personal ties” to the country. He specifically called it “absurd” that a portion of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s government suggested increased settlements in the West Bank and added that it was “unacceptable” that they had withheld tax revenue from Palestinians. He talked about water and economic rights for Palestinians and said ending the economic blockade of Gaza would also be necessary for sustainable peace.

"I will work tirelessly to advance the cause of peace as a partner and as a friend to Israel. But to be successful, we have also have got to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people,” he continued.

The senator spoke at length about the need for Israel to end “disproportionate” responses to being attacked. He talked specifically about the escalated violence in 2014. He strongly objected to Hamas' positions against Israel and condemned the group’s “indiscriminate rocket fire” into Israeli territory, but then he pivoted to Israel’s actions as well.

“Let me also be very clear: I -- along with many supporters of Israel – spoke out strongly against the Israeli counterattacks that killed nearly 1,500 civilians and wounded thousands more. I condemned the bombing of hospitals, schools and refugee camps. Today, Gaza is still largely in ruins. The international community must come together to help Gaza recover,” he added.

Sanders has consistently been a strong advocate for a two-state solution in the region, but so far has shied away from details on the topic on the campaign trail. His speech was especially noteworthy given the much more forceful defense of Israel lodged by Clinton, his primary opponent, today.