At J Street, Sanders blames Israel for Gaza clashes

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) criticized President Donald Trump’s Middle East policies. Photo courtesy of J Street.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday criticized Israel for engaging militarily with Palestinian protesters on the Gaza Strip border, clashes in which more than 20 Palestinians have died.

“I don’t think that any objective person can disagree that Israel has massively overreacted to these demonstrations,” he said during a fiery speech at the J Street Conference.

Sanders acknowledged that the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules the strip was in part to blame, since it had planned the protests to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary. “Israel has a right to defend itself,” Sanders said, but that the amount of force Israel has used was unwarranted. Sanders brought the audience to its feet several times when he expressed sympathy for the Palestinians who, he said, have been “crushed underneath a military occupation of pain, humiliation and resentment.” The Vermont senator called on Israel to cease its settlement expansion in the West Bank.

“Building more settlements will not bring peace,” he said. “Demolishing homes and villages will not bring peace.”

Sanders, as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) had done, criticized President Donald Trump’s Middle East policies, particularly those restricting immigration to from majority-Muslim countries. And he noted that Trump did not embrace a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians when he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time at the White House. (Trump has said he will support the solution reached by the parties to the conflict.)

But it was Sanders’ excoriation of Netanyahu’s government that received the biggest applause from the audience that sees itself as the loyal opposition.

“As someone who, as a young man lived in Israel for a number of months, and is very proud of his Jewish heritage,” Sanders said, “as someone who is deeply concerned about the global rise of anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, we must say loudly and clearly that to oppose the reactionary policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu does not make us anti-Israel.”

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