Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke out on Sunday against Israel’s military response during the 2014 war with Gaza, calling the country’s actions “disproportionate.”
Sanders, who is the first Jewish candidate in U.S. history to win a major presidential primary, discussed the seven-week armed conflict between Israeli and Gazan forces during a taped interview with Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Was Israel’s response disproportionate? I think it was,” Sanders said. The 2014 conflict, which was sparked after Hamas forces in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel, resulted in the deaths of more than 2,130 Palestinians — 70 percent of whom were civilians, according to the United Nations. Israel, which lost 65 soldiers and 3 civilians in the fighting, claims only 50 percent of Palestinians killed were civilians.
As Eugene Scott pointed out over at CNN, the conversation was sparked by comments made by Sanders earlier this month, when he claimed that 10,000 innocent people were killed in the fighting. When pressed by Tapper about the embellished claim, Sanders acknowledged the inaccuracy, but reasserted the need to give voice to the Palestinian cause.
“It is interesting that the first Jew in American history to win a delegate, much less a primary, is taking a position on Israel that is…Usually in American politics everyone just supports Israel and whatever Israel wants to do. You’re taking a more critical position,” Tapper said.
“A more balanced position,” Sanders interrupted. “Whether Jewish or not Jewish, I would hope that every person in this country wants to see the misery of never-ending war and conflict ending in the Middle East. It’s a difficult issue. Other people have tried to deal with it for years. All that I’m saying — as somebody who is absolutely pro-Israeli, absolutely 100 percent supports Israel’s right to exist in peace and in security — I think that the only way we succeed is…of course the United States supports Israel, but you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people.
“You can’t just be concerned about Israel’s needs. You have to be concerned about the needs of all the people in the region,” Sanders added.
Tapper also noted that Sanders was the only presidential candidate who declined to speak at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) policy conference in Washington, D.C. last month, where White House hopefuls Donald Trump, Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Ted Cruz, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the crowd. Sanders said he refused because he needed “to campaign on the West Coast,” but released a speech the same day calling for Israel to end “what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank.”
Of the collective speeches delivered that day, Sanders was the only one to refer to Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza as an “occupation” — the same position held by the United Nations and the U.S. government.
Clinton responded to Sanders’ remarks on the same show, justifying Israel’s response in 2014 by arguing that when “your soldiers are under attack, you have to respond.”
“Hamas provokes Israel. They often pretend to have people in civilian garb acting as though they are civilians who are Hamas fighters,” Clinton said. “It’s a very different undertaking for Israel to target those who are targeting them. And I think Israel has had to defend itself, has a right to defend itself.”
The post was updated to include Clinton’s comments.