Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told a pro-Israel crowd in Washington today that Jews have a special responsibility to promote peace around the globe.
“As the people for century after century — not to mention the horrors of the Holocaust— If there is any people on earth [who] understand the dangers of racism and white nationalism, it is certainly the Jewish people. And if there is any people on Earth who should do everything to fight against Trump’s efforts to try and divide us up— If there is any group on Earth who should be trying to bring people together around a common and progressive agenda, it is the Jewish people.”
Sanders was one of four contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination to address the J Street conference, which drew 4,000 people to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Also addressing the liberal Zionist audience were South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.)
Sanders, who supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, said that both Israel and Palestine have a right to “exist in peace and security.” He said that the “racist” Netanyahu administration should not be given access to the $3.8 billion in annual U.S. aid. Instead, all or part of the money should go to Gaza.
“What is going on in Gaza right now is completely unacceptable. We cannot give [that money] to the Israeli government, or any government that does not respect human rights and democracy,” he said.
“We have right to say to the Israeli government that United States of America and our tax payers and our people believe in human rights. We believe in democracy. We will not accept authoritarianism or racism. We demand that the Israeli government sit down with the Palestinian people and negotiate an agreement that works for all parties.”
This view was echoed by Buttigieg, who argued that United States not only needed to set an example, but should guide Israel toward a government that was more in line with American values.
“We have a responsibility as a key ally to make sure we got things [going] in the right direction,” he said. “Now, our security support is based on strategic objectives, values and we need to make sure that it does not turn into a go-ahead where would be endorsing anything.”
Buttigieg did not offer specifics on how the United States would accomplish this goal, but compared the two countries to friends, one of whom has made some bad decisions.
“What you do in that situation is you put your arm around your friend, and you try to guide them to a better place,” he said.
Castro and Bennet agreed on the need for intervention. Castro said that one of the first things he would do as president is “establish a consulate in East Jerusalem,” which the Trump administration closed when he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of their state.
He also said he was only opposed to “unilateral annexation” by Israel. Bennett said he would “not probably” withhold money as leverage to stop Israel’s annexation.
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said the conversation in the U.S.-Israeli relationship is shifting.
The old talking points ring hollow,” he said. “ We need to have an open conversation about settlements and the expansion of settlements, the prospect for a two-state solution and the question [remains] whether or not the U.S. should continue to provide a blank check for Israel.”