Forum assesses Sanders, Israel in 2016 vote

New York Times op-ed columnist Roger Cohen, left, The Forward editor-at-large J.J. Goldberg and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson discuss Israel’s role in the 2016 elections on April 17 at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.
Photo by Josh Marks

Did Bernie Sanders break new ground during the New York Democratic presidential debate when he doubled down on comments he made that Israel used “disproportionate” force against Hamas in 2014, and that “we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity”?

“The fact he said it and was cheered wildly in that hall shows that there is an open debate now. There’s a real debate about what it means to be pro-Israel,” said Mara Liasson, national political correspondent for NPR, at a discussion about the role that Israel is playing in the 2016 elections.

The forum, presented by J Street, took place Sunday, two days before the New York primary, at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue.

Liasson was joined on the stage by J.J. Goldberg, editor-at-large of The Forward, and others. Roger Cohen, op-ed columnist at The New York Times, served as moderator.

Goldberg said he didn’t think Sanders would suffer with the New York Jewish vote because of his remarks.

“He had to do it because of his base. Because so much of his base is the left. I think that the pundits were more excited about it than the public is,” said Goldberg.

What Sanders said about Israel and the Palestinians is no different than anything former President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama has said, Goldberg said. However, both Bush and Obama made similar comments while in the White House, while Sanders made the remarks from the campaign trail, and in New York, Goldberg emphasized.

Liasson agreed that the comments wouldn’t derail Sanders in the Empire State, although he “might suffer a little bit.”

What Sanders didn’t do, according to Liasson, is couch his comments in terms of Israel’s survival. The Vermont senator missed an opportunity “to say that in order for Israel to survive as a democratic Jewish state, we have to do this.”

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