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Sanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism'

Sanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism'
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population Overnight Health Care: Medicaid enrollment reaches new high | White House gives allocation plan for 55M doses | Schumer backs dental, vision, hearing in Medicare Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare MORE (I-Vt.) is ramping up pressure on the Biden administration to mediate growing violence in Israel, accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE of cultivating “an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian type of racist nationalism.”

In a guest essay for The New York Times, Sanders, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, notes the United States provides nearly $4 billion a year in aid to Israel.

“We can no longer be apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior,” he wrote. “We must change course and adopt an evenhanded approach, one that upholds and strengthens international law regarding the protection of civilians.”

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He argued the Biden administration “must uphold international standards of human rights consistently, even when it’s politically difficult” if the United States is to remain a credible voice on human rights globally.

“We must recognize that Palestinian rights matter. Palestinian lives matter,” he said, invoking a variation of the slogan used during last year’s civil rights backlash against incidents of police brutality against African Americans.

Sanders warned that Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption as he tries to build support for a new coalition government, has often exploited racist and nationalist sentiments to stay in power.

“In his frantic effort to stay in power and avoid prosecution for corruption, Mr. Netanyahu has legitimized these forces, including Itamar Ben Gvir and his extremist Jewish Power party, by bringing them into government,” he wrote.

“These dangerous trends are not unique to Israel. Around the world, in Europe, in Asia, in South America and here in the United States, we have seen the rise of similar authoritarian nationalist movements,” he added.

The New York Times published the essay after Israel attacked Gaza with ground troops early Friday, escalating violence in the region. Israeli defense forces have hit targets in Gaza with air and artillery strikes in retaliation for Hamas firing rockets into Israel.

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Sanders in his essay concedes that Israel has a right to defend itself, a line that many of his Senate Democratic colleagues used on Capitol Hill earlier in the week.

But the progressive senator said it’s time for U.S. policymakers to call out actions and policies by the Netanyahu government that he believes have set the stage for a crisis.

“We have seen Benjamin Netanyahu’s government work to marginalize and demonize Palestinian citizens of Israel, pursue settlement policies designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution and pass laws that entrench systemic inequality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel,” Sanders wrote Friday.

He said this doesn’t excuse the attacks by Hamas or the “corrupt and ineffective” leadership of the Palestinian authority.

But he argues that Israel is “the one sovereign authority in the land of Israel and Palestine” and instead of pursuing peace negotiations in good faith has been “entrenching its unequal and undemocratic control.”

Sanders’s essay is the latest evidence of growing tension over Israel’s treatment of Palestinian civilians.

A proposal to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem has prompted outcry from Sanders and other progressive leaders, including Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenBiden risks break with progressives on infrastructure The Memo: The center strikes back Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Biden risks break with progressives on infrastructure The Memo: The center strikes back MORE (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyThis week: Senate set for voting rights fight Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' MORE (D-Ore.) has criticized Hamas as a “terrorist entity” and condemned the firing of rockets into civilian areas of Israel as “unforgiveable.”

But he says Israel “must reexamine how it deploys its disproportionate power, including its ongoing de facto annexation of Palestinian territory.”

Other Democrats are pushing back on criticism of Israel.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSchumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' The Hill's Morning Report - Biden on Putin: 'a worthy adversary' Antsy Democrats warn of infrastructure time crunch MORE (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has praised Israel as “a country of laws” and predicted there will be a fair resolution of the proposed eviction of Palestinian families.

“I have confidence in their judicial system, so let’s let their judicial system play this out,” he told The Hill.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSchumer says Senate will vote on repealing 2002 war authorization The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week Sanders drops bid to block Biden's Israel arms sale MORE (D-N.J.) has pushed back on criticisms from fellow Democrats that Israeli settlement policy is violating international law.

“I don’t know. I’m not an expert in international law to come to that conclusion,” he told The Hill. “I’m not about to preempt whatever they decide under Israeli laws.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHeatwaves don't lie: Telling the truth about climate change Schumer backing plan to add dental, vision and hearing coverage to Medicare Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (D-N.Y.), who is up for reelection next year, isn’t picking any sides in what is becoming a growing disagreement within his caucus.

“I hope both sides can come together and bring peace,” he said Tuesday.