Bernie Sanders must stop whitewashing Israel’s next racist government

Two men look at each other

Israel’s next government is set to be led by Naftali Bennett, pictured right with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, November 2019. It will be just as violently racist as every previous Israeli government.

Atef Safadi Reuters

It is by no means certain that the coalition deal for Israel’s next government headed by the violently racist Naftali Bennett will pass through the Knesset later this month.

But there can be no doubt that whoever sits in Israel’s new government, it will be racist, very violently racist, like all its predecessors.

It will continue to occupy and colonize Palestinian land in the West Bank. including Jerusalem, and kill Palestinians whether or not they resist.

It will continue to besiege Gaza and impose collective punishment on two million Palestinians caged there.

It will continue to treat Palestinian citizens of Israel as enemies of the state subject to dozens of discriminatory laws, whether or not it has the support of a few token Arab lawmakers.

It will continue to deny Palestinian refugees their right to return solely because they are not Jews.

Yet Senator Bernie Sanders barely waited for the ink to dry on the coalition agreement before rushing out to start whitewashing the government in waiting.

“Well, it is a very strange coalition,” Sanders allowed in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday.

“They have people on the left, people on the right, people in the middle. So we’ll see what happens in terms of that coalition.”

All that is true enough, but what Sanders said next is deeply troubling.

“But it is no great secret that I am not a great fan of Benjamin Netanyahu,” the senator added.

“I think over the years the coalition that he has put together has become more right-wing and in some cases part of that coalition is overtly racist,” Sanders added with remarkable caution.

“So I will not be mourning the departure of the prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu, and I hope that Israel will have a government that we will be better able to work with.”

According to Sanders, the problem in Israel can be reduced to one man: Benjamin Netanyahu.

As I’ve noted before, US Democrats who want to appear critical of Israel without confronting the racism inherent in its Zionist settler-colonial ideology, now focus their criticism on Netanyahu.

That’s the safe and acceptable way to criticize Israel.

It’s similar to how the Democratic Party’s faux “resistance” pretended that all of America’s problems started and ended with Donald Trump.

It is absurd and offensive for Sanders to suggest that anyone who purports to care about Palestinian rights would be “better able to work with” this coalition or any other.

It is ridiculous to make this claim when Bennett of all people is slated as prime minister.

Bennett has long made clear that he wants to annex most of the West Bank and that the best Palestinians can hope for from him is apartheid.

“I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state,” he has said of the Palestinians. “No more illusions.”

Bennett was key in pushing for passage of Israel’s 2018 Nation-State Law that further entrenches apartheid – a law so racist that it even embarrassed the Israel lobby in Washington.

A coalition of genocidal racists

Bennett – the son of American Jewish colonists from San Francisco – has always been willing to back up his extreme Jewish ethnonationalism with violence.

As a young officer, he was involved in Israel’s April 1996 massacre of more than 100 refugees sheltering at a UN base in southern Lebanon.

“I have killed lots of Arabs in my life – and there is no problem with that,” he bragged later.

In summer 2014, while Israel was bombing Gaza, killing an average of 11 children per day, Bennett grotesquely accused Palestinians of “self-genocide.”

In 2018, Bennett demanded that Israel shoot to kill any Palestinian escaping from Gaza – as many do driven by the desperate economic conditions and sky high unemployment caused by Israel’s siege.

And just last month, he justified Israel’s mass killing of civilians in Gaza by once again echoing the racist lie that Palestinians use civilians as human shields.

“This is not a government that will disengage [from settlements], will not relinquish land, and also won’t be afraid to carry out military operations when needed,” Bennett said just days ago of the coalition he hopes to lead. “The political context won’t stop us.”

Ayelet Shaked, a senior member of Bennett’s Yamina party, is no less virulent and extreme in her racism.

In 2014, she notoriously promoted a call for genocide of the Palestinian people, “including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”

She’s slated as the next interior minister.

Another key figure in Bennett’s government-in-waiting is Benny Gantz, tipped to stay on as defense minister.

Gantz has now led two major massacres in Gaza, the one in 2014, when he was Israeli army chief of staff, and the one last month – a record of slaughter and destruction he brags about.

Bennett’s finance minister is set to be Avigdor Lieberman, a man with such a lengthy record of racism and incitement it would take a whole article just to scratch the surface.

And so on.

Liberal Zionist delusions

So on what basis could Sanders believe that a government populated by such figures would in any universe be an improvement on Netanyahu’s?

Perhaps Sanders still harbors the liberal Zionist delusion that Israel’s vestigial Zionist “left” – part of the coalition – will form some sort of moderating “peace camp.”

The problem is that Israel’s alleged peaceniks – figures like assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, late President Shimon Peres and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni – have typically been among its most prolific ethnic cleansers and war criminals.

If Sanders forgets that, Israel’s Zionist “left” is keen to remind him.

Last year, for instance, Amir Peretz, then head of Israel’s supposedly left-wing Labor-Gesher-Meretz list admonished Sanders for his mild criticisms of Israel in recent years.

Sanders’ approach was “wrong,” Peretz claimed.

Peretz was “defense minister” during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon when it carpet bombed the country with cluster munitions and killed more than 1,100 people, mostly civilians.

Making excuses for Sanders

I’ve noticed a tendency by many on the left to make excuses for Sanders, as if his repeated whitewashing of Israel is the foible of an affable uncle who means well.

After all, hasn’t he also said nice things about Palestinians and been critical of Israel’s attacks on Gaza?

Sadly, Sanders’ lip service does not live up to the hype.

During last month’s Israeli massacre in Gaza, Sanders announced he had placed a Senate hold on the sale of $735 million of American weapons to Israel.

He got positive headlines for his “historic” move, before he quietly dropped the effort as the sale went through.

That’s in line with his record of blowing hot air about Palestinian rights, while doing nothing effective to support them.

As I documented recently, Sanders has long railed against any effective Palestinian resistance.

He condemns armed resistance and even opposes BDS – the nonviolent Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement modeled on the international campaign that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

And when he was recently asked to comment on how major human rights groups are now acknowledging that Israel commits the crime of apartheid, he refused to affirm their position.

Instead, he lectured that we should “tone down the rhetoric” about Israel’s crimes.

Tell “Uncle” Bernie

Linda Sarsour, a prominent Democratic Party activist, tweeted on 30 May that “You won’t see any Palestinians celebrating the replacement of Benjamin Netanyahu with Naftali Bennett, who is a racist right-wing hate monger.”

He may even be worse than Netanyahu, she added.

Sarsour is absolutely right.

She responded to Sanders’ positive spin on the putative Bennett government with the question, “Who is gonna to tell Bernie?”

Sarsour was a high-profile surrogate for Sanders during his 2020 presidential campaign, marketing him to Arab and Muslim American voters as “Amo” Bernie – Uncle Bernie.

Given her closeness to Sanders, I’ve suggested that Sarsour should tell him – clearly – to stop whitewashing the incoming racist government.

False marketing

After Israel’s 2015 election, I wrote an article headlined “Why I’m relieved Netanyahu won.”

At that time he beat then Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, who was falsely marketed in Western media as “dovish.”

(That false marketing continues, incidentally, as Herzog has just been elected to Israel’s largely ceremonial presidency).

Of course then, as now, I had no love for Netanyahu.

My argument was that the naked racism of Netanyahu strips away the opportunity for the so-called international community to hide its complicity with Israel’s ugly crimes behind the charade of a “peace process” or the facade of a coalition with “moderate” elements.

Sadly, that logic still applies – even with Naftali Bennett set to become prime minister.

If Netanyahu staying in office is the only way to stop Sanders and other supposed friends of Palestinians from whitewashing the horrific reality of Zionism, then so be it.

The “good” news, then, is that Netanyahu still has a week to torpedo the incoming coalition.

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When has Sanders failed to serve the interests of Israel, as he sees them? Yes, he speaks of his disappointment and opposition to the timing of certain Israeli actions, but he has been as loyal as any member of Congress when it comes to supplying weapons, credits and diplomatic cover for the apartheid state. Beyond that, he has served a vital role as a liberal avatar, leading his many admirers away from a critical engagement with U.S. imperialism and Israeli criminality. In that sense, he's arguably more valuable to the whole rotten enterprise than political hacks like Schumer and Pelosi. Sanders' national base represents the largest potentially disruptive constituency in the country. He's there to see that things don't get out of hand.

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Personally, I have always disliked, and been suspicious of and distrusted, Bernie Sanders. First of all, his promotion of himself as a socialist or social democrat is ludicrous. He is not an internationalist and has always advocated for economic nationalism and protectionism. Mr. Sanders has attacked immigrants and accused them of taking jobs from Americans. Socialists oppose all wars--Mr. Sanders has supported U.S. interventions in foreign countries under the guise of human rights, and that includes the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia. Mr. Sanders is, and always has been, a staunch Zionist (Zionism is a fascist ideology and there is no such thing as a Liberal Zionist) and has continually supported Occupied Palestine (Israel) even through its imperialism and barbaric treatment and attacks on Palestinians as well as Black African Sudanese and Ethiopians, Muslims, Christians, and Druze. Finally, Mr. Sanders' so-called support of Palestinians has always been "LITE".

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