Sanders: Israel run by ‘reactionary racist’ in Netanyahu
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “reactionary racist” while defending his support for Israel at Tuesday night’s Democratic debate.
“I’m very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months. But what I happen to believe is that right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country,” Sanders said at the debate in Charleston, S.C., just days ahead of the state’s Democratic primary.
Sanders’s comments came the same week that he said he wouldn’t be attending the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, accusing the pro-Israel lobbying group of providing a platform to “leaders who express bigotry.”
“The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security,” Sanders tweeted Sunday. “So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”
AIPAC shot back that Sanders “has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment.”
“By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel,” AIPAC said in its statement.
AIPAC, founded in 1963 with a mission of promoting the U.S.-Israeli relationship, has long been seen as a power player in Washington politics. The organization garners bipartisan support, but tensions with progressive Democrats have increased in recent years.
AIPAC announced earlier Tuesday that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also running for the Democratic nomination and was on the debate stage Tuesday night, will speak at this year’s conference.
At the debate, Sanders was asked about his AIPAC comments and what he would tell American Jews who might be worried he is not supportive enough of Israel.
“I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel. But you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he said. “We have got to have a policy that reaches out to the Palestinians.”
He added his policy, if elected, would “come in the context of bringing nations together in the Mideast.”
Sanders declined to say whether he would move the U.S. Embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv but said it is “something that we would take into consideration.”
Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem and officially recognized the city as Israel’s capital in May 2018, prompting warnings from critics that he was undermining chances for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.