Netanyahu is a “reactionary racist,” says Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “reactionary racist” before a crowd of Democratic high-rollers at Tuesday’s night’s televised presidential candidates’ debate in South Carolina.

Largely opposed to Sanders throughout the debate, even this crowd applauded his obvious truth-telling.

Equally striking as the crowd’s reaction is that none of the other candidates, not even Mike Bloomberg who will attend AIPAC’s conference next week, came to Netanyahu’s defense.

Kayleigh McEnany, press secretary for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, reacted with indignation that Sanders “literally just called Netanyahu a racist.”

Terming this “truly despicable,” she labeled Sanders a “crazy socialist” who is “disparaging a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.”

But it is Trump’s campaign that is out of touch with on-the-ground reality and shifting public sentiment towards Israel.

One wonders what her defense of apartheid South Africa and the Jim Crow South would have looked like.

Sanders and other Democrats were not asked if it is just Netanyahu who is racist or whether it is Israel itself that is structurally racist against Palestinians – whether citizens of the state, subjects of military rule in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, or refugees barred from returning home because they are not Jews.

But if they were asked, would any of them point to war crimes carried out by Benny Gantz, the former Israeli army chief who is again vying to replace Netanyahu as prime minister in an election just days away?

Sanders is still the candidate most likely to make a larger argument about Israel’s actions.

With Israel’s elections next week, Netanyahu almost certainly won’t be at AIPAC.

But Sanders is still staying away because, as he put it on Sunday, the powerful lobby group provides a platform for “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”

Sanders may be moving toward making a broader case against Israel’s actions and the many politicians – Israeli and American – who have aided and abetted Palestinian subjugation over the years.

He is not there yet, but under grassroots pressure he has been moving steadily in the right direction from a fairly retrograde and anti-Palestinian position just under six years ago.

Bloomberg goes racist

One who will not make an argument against Israel is Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York.

After pursuing the racist stop and frisk policy targeting Black and brown New Yorkers, there is every reason to expect he will assist Israel’s racist abuses and the Trump policies that support them.

He did so in the debate, insisting that now that Trump has moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, “you’re gonna have to leave it there.”

Sanders, by contrast, dodged a question about the embassy – neither committing to leave it in Jerusalem nor to move it back to Tel Aviv. “It’s something we would take into consideration,” he said.

Bloomberg also claimed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for only 40 or 50 years.

His highly compensated campaign staff must have failed to pass him a memo about the Nakba, when Zionist militias and later the Israeli army ethnically cleansed 800,000 Palestinians from their homeland in 1948.

In fact, 50 years doesn’t even cover Israel’s occupation in June 1967 of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, Sinai and Golan Heights.

Although he was off by decades, Bloomberg prompted criticism for his lazy assertion that “the battle’s been going on for a long time in the Middle East.”

He also referred to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as “new communities,” sending a clear signal of contempt for international law and the right of Palestinians not to see their land further expropriated and annexed. Sanders corrected him by interjecting with the word “settlements.”

Warren stumbles on embassy

Elizabeth Warren, who was the first candidate to announce she was skipping the AIPAC conference, stumbled when answering the question about moving the US embassy back to Tel Aviv.

While Sanders was noncommittal and Bloomberg said no, Warren seemed to indicate it was up to the parties.

It’s possible she intended only to say that the parties should decide on the location of their capitals, but it certainly sounded as though she was giving Israel a say over the embassy’s location.

In a post-debate interview with MSNBC, Sanders once again spoke up for Palestinians besieged and blockaded by Israel in the Gaza Strip.

He stressed the need for “providing justice to the Palestinian people” and addressing massive youth unemployment in Gaza of 70 percent.

Sanders highlighted that Palestinians can’t even leave Gaza, “despite the miserable living conditions there.”

Our position, he added, cannot be “one-sided policy, pro-Israel. It has to consider the pain and the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

No other presidential candidate repeatedly returns to the rights of the Palestinian people in Gaza, especially when the question is not even directly about them.

This is different from Democratic business as usual and appears to be a significant concern to anti-Palestinian organizations such as AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel.

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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.