Bernie Sanders is by far the best candidate in the current US presidential race. His stance on issues of social justice is admirable, and he would be far more tolerable as President than Clinton, Cruz, Trump or Kasich, all of whom exist in the same militaristic, hawkish, neoconservative spectrum. However, it seems that he has a blind spot when it comes to the issue of Palestine.
In 2014, Bernie Sanders voted in support of the Israeli attack on Gaza (known as ‘Operation Protective Edge’), which slaughtered over 2000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, including up to 500 children and over 200 women. The opinion of journalist Max Blumenthal is that the reason he did this was obviously to please Party fundraisers. Blumenthal goes on to ask the obvious question that can be drawn from this: “if they [Bernie Sanders and other liberals] are willing to abandon millions of people to the malevolence of one of the most powerful militaries in the world because of fundraiser pressure, who else could they abandon?”. What does voting in favour of a brutal slaughter say about Sanders’ integrity?
Furthermore, his comments on the Palestine issue at best reflect great ignorance as to the reality of the situation. In a recent interview with the New York Daily News, Sanders opposed the continued building of settlements on Palestinian land, but said that there “are going to be demands being made of the Palestinian folks as well”. So, demands will have to be made of the people being dominated and occupied, who have been suffering under systematic subjugation over a number of decades, who are being subjected to continuous repression and humiliation, and who, in the words of Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, are being “ethnically cleansed”. The US will have to be tough on these people, too. What this reflects is a common condition in mainstream Western discourse: an inability or unwillingness to see that Palestine and Israel are not two equal sides. As pointed out by Max Blumenthal, “this is not a conflict; it’s a conquest”. Yes, there is resistance on the Palestinian side to Israeli terror, but this is in no way comparable to the brutal, vicious and unrestrained aggression on the Israeli side. This is not to excuse Hamas rockets or suicide bombings which sometimes result in civilian casualties; it is to point out how in liberation struggles and resistance movements throughout history, oppressed and persecuted people have always sometimes resorted to unjustified tactics. But to compare the oppressed to the oppressors and make them equal indicates at best ignorance about the situation, and at worst wilful distortion of the facts.
Furthermore, Bernie had said that Israel “overreacted” in the attack on Gaza which he voted for. But overreacted to what, exactly? If it was to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths some weeks before, then in what way was the destruction of Gaza a response to this? The kidnappers were not in any way affiliated with Hamas, the leadership in Gaza. So why would you carry out a murderous assault on a group of people totally unconnected with the incident, rather than carry out a criminal investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice? The answer is obvious: the attack on Gaza was not in response to anything. The Israeli government used the kidnappings as an opportunity to stoke hysteria and bloodlust in the Israeli public, which they could use to justify their latest attempt to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the Holy Land. The US Senate does not even pretend that the Israeli assault was in response to the kidnappings – instead, it states that it was in response to “unprovoked rocket attacks from the Hamas terrorist organisation”. Ignoring the fact that these rockets are more like high school science projects and mostly land in empty fields, the fact remains that there were no Hamas rockets fired into Israel prior to an escalation of Israeli military operations in Gaza and the West Bank; the first Hamas rockets were fired on July 7 – almost a month after Israel’s Operation Brother’s Keeper began. So, the conclusion is clear: Operation Protective Edge was an unprovoked act of aggression carried out against a defenceless civilian population detained in the world’s largest open-air prison, not an “overreaction” to anything.
While it is true that Bernie Sanders is more progressive than the other candidates with regards to Palestine – refusing to speak at an AIPAC conference and simply recognising that the Gazans are human beings, which has led to him being accused of ‘blood libel’ by the former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren – he should still be held to account over his unsettling remarks on the issue and his support for the 2014 destruction of Gaza. If he truly is a ‘progressive’, he would own up to his mistakes and reverse his support for the Israeli government, rather than continue to make vague criticisms of Israel and refuse to talk frankly about Israeli aggression without constantly bringing up “Hamas rockets”, as if they were in any way comparable.