US Senator Bernie Sanders recently spoke at the 2017 conference of pro-peace advocacy group J Street. And he spoke truths about Israel that the current US administration is unlikely to admit.
Sanders is a Jewish democratic socialist. In the past, he has received criticism for being a bit too lenient on the Israeli government. But at this year’s J Street conference, he made his stance very clear. In particular, he discussed how the US could help to end the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; and help “to end this fifty-year long occupation”.
Criticism is not antisemitism
Referring to people who conflate antisemitism with opposition to Israeli government policies, Sanders insisted:
let me be very clear: to oppose the policies of a right-wing government in Israel does not make one anti-Israel or an anti-Semite. We can oppose the policies of President Trump without being anti-American. We can oppose the policies of Netanyahu without being anti-Israel.
Occupation undermines peace
While he stated America’s commitment to being Israel’s friend and ally, he also said:
we must recognize that Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories and its daily restrictions on the political and civil liberties of the Palestinian people runs contrary to fundamental American values.
Additionally, he stressed that Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory “constitute a flagrant violation of international law”. And that:
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the hard truth is that the continued occupation and the growth of Israeli settlements that the occupation sustains, undermines the possibility of peace. It contributes to suffering and violence.
How to ensure everybody wins
Sanders then made it clear that the current environment helps no one, asserting that:
Nobody gains when Israel spends an enormous part of its budget on the military. Nobody gains when Gaza is obliterated and thousands are killed, wounded, or made homeless.
In short, he insisted:
Nobody gains when year after year, decade after decade, the talk is about war and hatred rather than peace and development.
The alternative vision, he said, was:
creating a Middle East where people come together in peace and democracy to create a region in which all people have a decent life.
Sanders vs Trump
US President Donald Trump, however, is unlikely to echo the realities and hopes expressed by Sanders any time soon. Trump has already formed a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the man who oversaw Israel’s war crimes during its 2014 offensive on Gaza. And he recently courted controversy when he seemed to back away from the ‘two-state solution’ to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has long been at the centre of US peacemaking efforts.
But Sanders is speaking important truths. And there are millions of Americans who respect his voice. So if Trump thinks his policies on Israel are going to escape criticism, it looks like he’s sorely mistaken.
– Support the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
– Find out about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
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