With the presidential race heating up ahead of the New York primary, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has joined right-wing proponents of Israeli violence in attacking Bernie Sanders for his criticism of Israel’s 2014 military assault on Gaza.
In an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board last week, Sanders qualified Israel’s attack on Gaza as “indiscriminate” and emphasized that “a lot of innocent people were killed who should not have been killed,” prompting feverish denunciations from Israeli government officials and their supporters.
Sanders was right. According to the UN, 2,251 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, 1,462 of whom were civilians. Another 11,000 Palestinians, including 3,436 children, were injured, nearly 10 percent of them suffering permanent disabilities.
But he went on to confuse the number of civilian deaths in Gaza with the number of wounded, saying, “I happen to believe … anybody help me out here, because I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?”
The Daily News corrected Sanders, who accepted the casualty figures and everyone moved on. Well, everyone except for hardline Zionists. And Hillary Clinton.
Hillary attacks the dead
According to Clinton insiders, the former secretary of state had planned to go after Sanders’ Israel-related remarks to court New York’s Jewish voters, who make up a significant 16 to 19 percent of New York’s Democratic primary electorate.
On Sunday morning, Clinton did just that.
Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper, Clinton disputed Sanders’ description of Israel’s assault on Gaza as “disproportionate.” Clinton argued that “Hamas provokes Israel.”
On top of blaming Palestinians for Israel’s deadly violence, Clinton called into question the innocence of dead Palestinian civilians, arguing, “They often pretend to have people in civilian garb, acting as though they are civilians, who are Hamas fighters.”
Maybe Clinton was referring to the 551 children Israel killed in Gaza, 68 percent of whom were under the age of 12. Or maybe she was talking about the 844 Palestinians that the Associated Press determined were killed in Israeli airstrikes on residential homes, including 19 babies and 108 preschoolers between the ages of 1 and 5.
Or perhaps she meant the 140 Palestinian families that had three or more members killed by Israel that summer.
This isn’t the first time Clinton has shamelessly attacked dead Palestinians for political gain.
In the midst of Israel’s 51-day assault, Clinton accused Hamas of “stage-managing” media coverage of the slaughter by inviting Western journalists to Gaza. She also recycled Israel’s excuses for its attacks on UN schools by alleging – without providing evidence – that Hamas was firing rockets from their grounds.
In an earlier interview with Sanders, Tapper expressed bewilderment “that the first Jew in American history to win a delegate, much less a primary” had openly criticized Israel.
“Usually in American politics, everyone just supports Israel whatever Israel wants to do, but you are taking a more critical position,” said Tapper.
Sanders interjected, “I’m taking a more balanced position.”
“Whether you’re Jewish or not Jewish, I would hope that every person in this country wants to see the misery of never-ending war and conflict ended in the Middle East,” said Sanders. “Of course the United States supports Israel, but you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza right now: poverty, unemployment, their community has been decimated.”
Clinton was capitalizing on the chorus of Zionist outrage provoked by the Daily News interview.
Painting Sanders as a more threatening figure than Donald Trump, Israeli lawmaker Yair Lapid accused Sanders of promoting Hamas “propaganda and deception.” Lapid was especially concerned that Sanders was doing so while being Jewish.
“When a Jewish candidate for president of the United States quotes the lies of Hamas without checking, we have a reason to worry,” Lapid said.
The Sanders campaign fired back at the ADL for “distorting the truth.”
“The idea that Senator Sanders stated definitely that 10,000 Palestinians were killed is just not accurate,” said Michael Briggs, a Sanders campaign spokesperson. “We hope there can be an honest discussion of this important issue.”
Dov Hikind, a far-right Zionist member of the New York state legislature, protested Sanders’ remarks as a “victory for terrorism” and declared Sanders “the most popular guy with Hizballah [and] Hamas.”
The logic behind this panicked indignation was best distilled in a follow-up piece by the Daily News editorial board warning that “a President Sanders would fundamentally reset the relationship among the United States, Israel and the Palestinians to the severe disadvantage” of Israel due to Sanders’ “destructive conviction that Israel is deeply guilty of oppressing the Palestinians – including through excessive, unjustified violence.”
The Sanders approach to the Middle East, concluded the Daily News, is “ideologically blind and dangerous.”
The editorial board was echoing the views of the its ultra-Zionist billionaire owner, Mort Zuckerman, who currently sits on the board of advisors at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an offshoot of AIPAC, the country’s most powerful Israel lobbying group.
Where it all began
Until recently, Israel had been virtually absent from the Democratic debate. Then came AIPAC’s ritualistic pandering fest last month, where all but one US presidential candidate stood before AIPAC delegates and pledged unconditional allegiance to Israel.
Sanders, who had already alarmed the pro-Israel community with his pledge to seek a “level playing field,” declined AIPAC’s invitation to address the conference in person, which upset many of those in attendance. “A Jew that doesn’t support other Jews is the worst kind of Jew,” is how one AIPAC attendee put it.
AIPAC rejected Sanders’ request to deliver his speech over video link, despite accommodating such requests in the past. A glance at the transcript of his speech reveals why.
Though far from perfect, Sanders veered further to the left than any mainstream presidential candidate in recent memory, a stark contrast to Clinton’s tirade, which was indistinguishable from those of her Republican counterparts.
While Clinton castigated Palestinians living under violent Israeli military occupation as the aggressors, Sanders condemned Israel for bombing Gaza’s “hospitals, schools and refugee camps” and called for “pulling back settlements” in the West Bank.
While Clinton charged Palestinians with “inciting violence” and “celebrating terrorists as martyrs,” Sanders agitated for Palestinian “civil rights,” “economic well-being” and freedom from siege and occupation.
And where Clinton prioritized Israel’s security, Sanders stipulated that “peace also means security for every Palestinian.”
Speaking with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes later that day, Sanders decried Clinton’s “hawkishness,” “aggressiveness” and enduring support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “a right-wing politician.”
Sanders appears to be trying to reflect a position more closely in line with his progressive base. And while his positions on Israel are not revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination, they signal a serious departure from the pro-Israel consensus that dominates US policy.
This outreach is reflected in those he’s chosen to surround himself with.
Many of the official surrogates for the Sanders campaign are publicly involved in Palestine solidarity work, including the civil rights activists Cornel West and Linda Sarsour and Palestinian American comedian Amer Zahr.
When Sarsour opened for Sanders at a massive rally ahead of last week’s Wisconsin primary, she said to the audience, “When I started supporting Bernie Sanders, no one told me, ‘Look, you can’t be too Muslim up there. Don’t bring up those Palestinians.’ They welcomed all of me. They have welcomed my community in a way that no other campaign has.”
Even as the attacks on him escalated, Sanders remained unfazed, telling MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough: “You have to recognize the plight of the Palestinians. And I know that in America, in politics, that maybe is not something that is said very often. But we’re not going to have lasting peace unless we recognize that in Gaza, for example, that the current situation there is deplorable, people living with horrific levels of poverty in an area that has been – just annihilated.”
Israel is almost guaranteed to come up during Thursday’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn, New York. If Clinton’s past behavior is any indication, she’ll likely demonize Muslims and Arabs to prove her pro-Israel bona fides.
But this time around, she’s going up against an opponent who doesn’t play that game.