Why is Bernie Sanders still encouraging Israel’s crimes?

Senator Bernie Sanders says he would “probably not” move the US embassy in Israel back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.

This will disappoint supporters of Palestinian rights and it sends a dangerous signal of encouragement to Israel and its extremist supporters who run US policy in the region.

President Donald Trump recognized Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital and announced the embassy move in December 2017.

This prompted a large majority of countries in the United Nations General Assembly to declare Trump’s action legally “null and void” and to demand that it be “rescinded.”

Ignoring international opinion, the US opened the embassy on 14 May 2018. That same day, Israeli sharpshooters massacred more than 60 Palestinians during unarmed Great March of Return protests in the besieged Gaza Strip.

But Sanders appears ready to let Trump’s illegal action stand.

Sanders was speaking in an interview with journalist Robert Costa at a Washington Post event last week sponsored by Bank of America.

Watch it above.

No clear commitment

Costa asked Sanders if he would move the embassy back. Sanders replied: “Probably not,” adding, “it would be part of a broader discussion of how we bring peace to the region.”

“Israel, 100 percent, must have the right to exist in peace and security, and not be subjected to terrorist attacks,” Sanders said. “Palestinian people also have the right to live in peace and security.”

Sanders made a general commitment to engage in “bringing people together and working out a solution that works for both sides,” but offered no specifics.

He did not repeat his pledge to use US military aid as leverage to force Israel to end its abuses of Palestinians.

Sanders’ failure to send a clear signal that he will reverse US support for illegal Israeli actions tells Israel and the US administration that any fait accompli they put in place will eventually be recognized and absorbed as irreversible conventional wisdom.

Trump has already recognized Israel’s illegal annexation of the occupied Golan Heights, Syrian territory Israel conquered in a war of territorial expansion in 1967.

The US also appears to be heading towards recognizing a possible Israeli annexation of all or part of the occupied West Bank.

US officials have given open support to Israel’s ethnic cleansing of occupied East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood.

This is part of Israel’s effort to remake Jerusalem’s past, present and future as exclusively Jewish by erasing its Muslim, Christian, Arab and Palestinian histories and character.

Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes in the city is escalating sharply.

On Monday, Israeli occupation forces went on a rampage of destruction, demolishing 10 Palestinian-owned buildings containing dozens of apartments in the Jerusalem-area village of Sur Bahir.

A step backwards

Sanders is the de facto leader of the progressive wing of the Democrats. His failure to pledge to oppose and reverse illegal actions by Israel and the United States also tells other party hopefuls that they need not take clear and principled positions on Palestinian rights.

Most Democrats are making cautious rhetorical nods to the party’s increasingly pro-Palestinian base. But Sanders is the only one who has pledged a clear shift in policy by using military aid as leverage to pressure Israel to respect Palestinians’ rights.

The Vermont senator has a decidedly mixed record on Palestinian rights. He stated his opposition to the nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions movement while speaking out against legislation backed by the Israel lobby aimed at thwarting BDS.

In 2014, Sanders notoriously defended Israel’s assault on Gaza that killed 2,200 Palestinians, including 550 children.

By 2018, however, Sanders was putting out videos highlighting the horrific impact of Israel’s siege and violence against Palestinians in Gaza.

That was a clear sign that Sanders is feeling grassroots pressure to support Palestinian rights.

But now he is taking a big step backwards. His “probably not” answer effectively gives progressive blessing and encouragement to Israel and the Trump administration to violate more Palestinian rights.

Progressives must not overlook this serious lapse in the hopes that it will somehow help the senator build broader support for other policies they want, such as Medicare for All.

Healthcare for Americans cannot come at the expense of Palestinian rights and lives.

Sanders must be clear that he will reverse the embassy move, rescind US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, cancel US recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and end the bipartisan policy of financing, encouraging and rewarding Israel’s crimes.

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There is a significant shift of opinion underway among young American Democrats. Sanders hasn't caught up with this. He fears the Jewish lobby because he knows how powerful it has been in the US. Like many people, he underestimates the viciousness of the Zionists. He it too bland in his assertion of Israel's right to exist. Israel has no right to defy international law. It has no right to the occupied territories. Thus, in its present form, what is its right to exist? People also underestimate the importance of the Israel/Palestine question internationally. It is the most important political issue on the planet after climate change. While Israel is permitted to do what it does to the Palestinians, the idea is abroad that arrogance and force win the day. There is no other country which has got away for so long with so much and paid so little while at the same time being upheld by the world's greatest power and supposedly greatest democracy. The support of the US is a disgrace. The US can't stand for democracy and uphold apartheid, illegal occupation and steady ethnic cleansing. Young Americans have seen the light. Young American Jews do not support the State of Israel. Jewish Voice for Peace cherishes Jewish values but rejects Israel's actions. A simple proof that it is not antisemitic to abhor Israel's assault on the Palestinians. Sanders is cautious because part of his mind is still in the bi-partisan past. But he is plainly wrong. He needs to be given the confidence to change his mind by being bombarded with protests from young Democrats.

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While it's true that Senator Sanders has a pronounced aversion to Likud and its leader Binyamin Netanyahu, he has almost invariably supported the state of Israel in its criminal endeavours. On those occasions when he has criticised the IDF and the government there, it's been from a perspective of wanting what's best for Israel. He never has and he never will question the racist foundations and objectives of the state. If he's willing to overlook or even to defend such crucial factors in the conflict as ethnic cleansing and apartheid, the deliberate exclusion of Palestinians from one category of rights in his recent comment, "Israel, 100 percent, must have the right to exist in peace and security, and not be subjected to terrorist attacks. Palestinian people also have the right to live in peace and security” will barely elicit notice. To expect from this Senator an even-handed approach, much less one centred on the Palestinians' demand for justice and equality, is to badly misread his record on that score.

When the IDF expended so vast a stockpile of weapons in the 2014 assault on Gaza that maintaining their barbaric offensive became problematic, Senator Sanders voted along with every one of his colleagues in the upper house to immediately release a new stream of armaments on "an emergency basis". The emergency was in fact being faced by the people of Gaza, not their assailants, but this didn't seem to trouble the Senator. If it troubles his supporters, they might try applying more pressure on their candidate. Like any other politician, he sometimes adjusts his position in response to expressions of concern from the public. But the sad truth is, Senator Sanders is no friend of the Palestinian people. And his endless talk of peace and security recalls nothing more than "sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal", which is to say a very hollow commitment.

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If you're hoping for a change of heart here, wake me up when it happens. I have been saying for decades: These leftist, liberal Zionists are more dangerous than the Likud variety. The latter you can criticize, attack, condemn. What do you do with these soft-spoken, mealy-mouthed lovers of mankind?

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Hopefully - elect them and work for policy concessions to be had from holding their feet to the fire over positions they've taken.
It's worked before. I don't know that it ever can again but I'd be interested to hear your realistic alternative.
'Takin' it to the streets' is a great lyric but tell me where it's worked in the last 50 years.

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Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.