Bernie Sanders throws Palestinians under the bus

Senator Bernie Sanders, right, is embraced by Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez at a party rally in Mesa, Arizona, 21 April. (Gage Skidmore)

A majority of Democrats now backs economic sanctions or tougher action on Israel over its continued colonization of occupied Palestinian land, a University of Maryland poll revealed this week.

But progressive Democrats cannot count on a single member of the US Senate to stand firm for Palestinian rights: not Patrick Leahy, not Kamala Harris and not “progressive” firebrand Elizabeth Warren.

Even Bernie Sanders has caved in to pressure from AIPAC.

His signature appears with those of all 99 of his Senate colleagues on a 27 April letter reaffirming key talking points of the powerful Israel lobby group.

The diverse coalition Sanders brought together will be jeopardized if he thinks Palestinians can be thrown under the bus with no reaction.

The letter, addressed to the UN secretary-general, claims absurdly that Israel is being picked on and singled out by the world body – even though Israel has flouted international law and UN resolutions for decades without ever once being subjected to UN sanctions.

It also smears UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, whose overstretched resources mean the difference between subsistence and hunger for a million Palestinians in Gaza, which has been under a decade-long Israeli siege.

The attack on the refugee agency, which also provides education and medical care to millions, is part of a long-standing agenda by Israel and its surrogates to defund it in the apparent reckless hope of removing the rights of Palestinian refugees from the international agenda once and for all.

Betraying the base

Sanders galvanized progressives with his strong Democratic primary challenge to Hillary Clinton. He won many over by aggressively going after Clinton’s record of unconditional, hardline support for Israel.

“There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time,“ Sanders told Clinton in a prime-time TV debate. “We cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to this issue.”

It seemed like a decisive shift from Sanders’ shameful and blundering justifications of Israel’s 2014 attack on Gaza that left 2,200 Palestinians, including more than 550 children, dead.

But by signing the letter, Sanders has signaled a retreat. He defended his decision this week in an interview with Dena Takruri of AJPlus:

“I didn’t write that letter. I signed on to that letter. It’s not a letter I would have written,” Sanders said, wanting to have his cake and eat it too.

Against BDS and equal rights

While offering mild criticism of Israel – he even used air quotes when he said the words “human rights violations” – Sanders deployed a favorite Israel lobby tactic of deflecting attention to abuses by other countries.

Sanders said he does not support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which the Senate letter also attacks. Takruri challenged him to say what Palestinians should do to confront decades of endless Israeli occupation if they are condemned for using violent and nonviolent forms of resistance.

“What, if not BDS, is left for Palestinians to do?” she asked.

“What must be done is that the United States of America must have a Middle East policy which is even-handed, which does not simply supply endless amounts of money, of military support to Israel, but which treats both sides with respect and dignity, and does our best to bring them to the table.”

That sounds great, but Sanders did not explain how an even-handed policy would materialize if he – along with all his Senate colleagues – refuses to stand up, and condemns those who use BDS to challenge one-sided US policy.

Instead, Sanders appears to counsel returning to a so-called “peace process” that has failed for decades. His apparent confidence in the unprincipled triumvirate of President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is astonishingly misplaced.

If a two-state solution fails, Takruri asked Sanders, would he support “one-state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and equal citizenship?”

“No, I don’t,” he said. “I mean, I think if that happens, then that would be the end of the state of Israel, and I support Israel’s right to exist.”

That puts Sanders out of step with two-thirds of Americans who would support such an outcome. Worse, it suggests he prefers apartheid to one person, one vote when it comes to Israelis and Palestinians.

Who is being singled out?

In the interview, Sanders repeated the false claims in the letter he signed, that Israel is unfairly singled out.

If one is going to denounce alleged anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment at the UN – albeit for merely condemning Israeli occupation and decades of war crimes – then why does the letter not also acknowledge the much greater anti-Palestinian sentiment harbored by the organization’s most powerful nations, principally the United States with its veto?

It is not true that Israel gets all this supposedly unfair attention. As the UN’s word cloud analysis of its own publications shows, Israel gets far less attention than other countries.

And when Israel’s systematic abuses do get attention, US government machinery goes into action to suppress that criticism, let alone any consequences for Israel.

In March, a meticulously documented UN report detailing Israel’s system of apartheid against the entire Palestinian people was removed from a UN website, an act of censorship committed by the UN secretary-general under direct pressure from the United States.

This cowardice prompted the resignation of the leader of the UN agency that had issued the report.

Israel is being singled out, but it is for impunity that no other country can count on.

That Sanders and other “progressives” would join such an attack on the rights and existence of the Palestinians is another indication that the self-styled Democratic “resistance” to the Trump administration prefers political expediency over principle.

Sanders’ office was not willing to provide a statement to The Electronic Intifada and also refused to comment for Alternet.

Democrats run for cover

At some point, the self-proclaimed resistance will have to stop ducking and running from concerns about Palestinian rights.

For his whole career, Sanders doggedly identified as an independent. His decision to run as a Democrat in the 2016 primaries was motivated by a desire to pull the party to the left. But it seems that the Democratic Party is pulling Sanders and some of his supporters to the right, at least as far as Palestine is concerned.

In February, Sanders-backed congressman Keith Ellison narrowly lost a hard-fought campaign for the chair of the Democratic National Committee, the party’s top governing body.

Ellison has previously been outspoken on Israeli abuses, but tempered his criticism during the campaign, even coming out against BDS.

His victorious rival was Tom Perez, the establishment favorite endorsed by Barack Obama. In a show of unity, Perez immediately appointed Ellison as his deputy.

It appears this unity will come with the cost of progressives like Ellison and Sanders further curtailing their support for Palestinian rights in order to conform with an establishment eager to appease such pro-Israel mega-donors as billionaire Haim Saban.

No going back

The millions who ebulliently joined Sanders’ campaign when he started to talk sense on Palestine and other social and economic justice issues need to haul him back into the 21st century and remind him of the reality of Israel’s decades-old regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.

One person who is clearly in a position to influence Sanders is his foreign policy adviser, Matthew Duss – a person with whom I have interacted socially and professionally.

Duss has been strong on calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which began in 1967, but more cautious in addressing the other ways Israel violates the rights of millions of Palestinians: its denial of the right of return of refugees and its refusal to grant equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel.

As Sanders’ key adviser on this issue, will Duss continue to undercut the BDS movement as he did in his July 2015 congressional testimony?

Then, he indicated support for limited boycott actions targeting settlements, but pushed back against broader Palestinian-led efforts targeting the government, institutions and companies that back those illegal settlements and Israel’s other systematic violations of Palestinian rights.

Like his current boss, Duss expressed clear discomfort with the idea of equal rights for all in a single state, even equating those who support such a democratic outcome with extremists who yearn for “a messianic vision of ‘Greater Israel.’”

Duss has the opportunity to present Sanders with evidence that Americans in general, and Democrats in particular, are moving ahead of the senator on the question of Palestine.

The University of Maryland poll, commissioned by professors Shibley Telhami and Stella Rouse, shows that 56 percent of Democrats back sanctions or more serious action against Israel.

It also indicates that a majority of Americans – 54 percent – wants the US to be even-handed between Israelis and Palestinians. That figure soars to 72 percent among Democrats.

While Sanders talks of being even-handed, he and others are moving in the opposite direction by signing up to the AIPAC-endorsed letter and opposing BDS.

For decades, the Democratic Party’s progressive wing was PEP – progressive except on Palestine. Grassroots activists have, however, been pushing it in the right direction and just last year had Sanders’ support.

There must be no going back.




I worked for Bernie, traveling with the campaign and Bernie sold out.

I am so sad. So so sad. Why Bernie? You slapped all your supporters on their face.


That is a rather big claim you are making there and I would love to see you back it up. So please feel free to prove that you worked for and traveled with his campaign.


You can believe the claim or not, but that is not an issue in this forum.
Your crude attempt to derail the discussion is a transparent hasbara effort.


Bernie is a PEP when it comes to Palestine. Nobody in the Congress of the U.S. has guts when it comes to defending Palestine.


Is this any surprise? Decades ago even that old curmudgeon Murray Bookchin saw Sanders for the fraud that he was (and is) and wrote a pamphlet about him- "The Bernie Sanders paradox: When socialism grows old.” However, Murray gave Sanders more credit then he deserved/deserves. Sanders was/is no socialist.

Please do not say one did not see this coming.


I don't believe Bernie Sanders has changed his support for Palestinians. I think he has merely voiced his opinion that Israel gets unfair criticism. I do not agree with him about Israel getting unfair criticism (especially in the US). I certainly support Palestinians and I support Sanders. He fought to get his support for Palestine in the Democratic Party platform. I do not believe anything about his actions indicates an abdication from his support of Palestine.


I agree with you. There's no such thing as a 100% pure politician. People keep wanting to throw Bernie under the bus for any perceived miscue. That's the goal/role of the Deep State. Divide us, get us squabbling over policy issues while missing the big picture.


Saying "Israel gets unfair criticism" means he's trying to have it both ways. And that's so much more dishonorable than forthrightly reneging on a former stand. Very disheartening that Sanders is cowering to AIPAC pressure. What does he have to be afraid of?


"True believers" in Bernie Sanders or in any other candidate are inevitably
discouraged. The late historian Gabriel Kolko saw this clearly in his
"epilogue" to THE ROOTS OF FOREIGN POLICY Chapter entitled
"Reason and Radicalism").

The change of individual office-holders never changes the world.
The alteration of power relationships is a possibility. (See Kolko.)

And, of course, we are not there.

(Incidentally the same analysis transfers to Palestine-Israel.
Signing a piece of paper is meaningless. That has been
made clear in all the pieces of paper signed where one
party maintains a clear preponderance of power. Changing
the names alone accomplishes little or nothing .)

----Peter Loeb,Boston, MA, USA


Well written and researched. There used to be an acronym that was used to describe the likes of Bernie Sanders (who lost my support because of his stance on Israel/Palestine) - PEP

It stands for "progressive except for Palestine"

If you believe in Zionism, as Sanders does, you believe in a colonial settler ideology based on the supremacy of jews over nonjews over the land of Palestine. You must therefore believe in inequality, preferential treatment, elitism, and racism. How else could you support Zionism if you do not support blatant bigotry?

Sanders is a bigot, plain and simple, and should be treated as one just like David Duke, Bibi, Jared Kushner, and the rest of them

When will the Palestinians find their mouthpiece inside the U.S. government? The persoñ brave enough to speak truth to power may actually be surprised by the amount of support he/she receives on this issue.

Thank you so much for your views and courage.


If a two-state solution fails, Takruri asked Sanders, would he support “one-state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and equal citizenship?”

“No, I don’t,” he said. “I mean, I think if that happens, then that would be the end of the state of Israel, and I support Israel’s right to exist.”

He opposes a state in which all citizens would have equal rights. He does so because in his own words, removing the foundations of inequality would bring about the downfall of a state he values. Apartheid is a necessary condition for the survival of that state, and he will continue to defend its interests. How does this position differ from that taken by Strom Thurmond or Theodore Bilbo when they stood against a civil rights movement that would spell the end of Jim Crow and- in their eyes- the Southland they so dearly loved.

Some things are more important than justice.


Simple d mographic stats show 'statistically different outcomes for Jewish and non Jewish citizens of Israel in Maternal and Infant Mortality, life expectancy, income, completion of high school, entering and completing college, management positions, over crowded schools, spending on schools, and communities, positions in Mass Media, university faculties, etc. These same differences ( except for the funding) often apply to women and non- Ashkenaxi Jews. It's the old and much discussed in Israel, conflict between a 'democratic State for all of it's citizens' and a Jewish State. Bernie clearly understands this which makes his choice even more repugnant.


As someone who has visited Jerusalem since 1960, and lived in Jerusalem
and the West Bank for over 8 years, it is hard to forgive this betrayal of what I thought were his principles . As the article points out, Israel rceived much less criticism than other countries that are violating UN Human Rights standards, as well as the Geneva Convention ( for example moving your own people into lands you occupy.) The cruelty, sadism and racism I saw carried out by Israel was a shock to me. And Bernie knows this, he is not a fool, tho is apparently willing to pander to those whose can help his career. Shame, Bernie, Shame.


I don't know what has been expected of the so-called "progressives",
the holier-than-thou "liberals" (?).

When these folks withdraw any suggestion of the US being a
"dishonest broker" while funding one side with billions of
dollars in weapons makes no sense.

Instead, those who support a Palestinian State should advocate
its own army, policies (interior, defense, foreign policy, its own
judiciary etc.) No other peoples have ever had any entitlement

If a US President wishes to meet with a minister of Palestine,
it should never be at the White House. I cannot see of any
reason to meet without cutting off Israel from all military
and non-military support (or "charities" for settlements unless
under the total administration of the Palestinian government).

There is no reason whatsoever for supporting a criminal
entity, acquiring its territory through terror and murder.

End support to the oppressor.

(See Thomas Suarez" THE TERROR STATE, 2017)

-----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA


I think clarity comes with being as fair as possible, so I'll play the devil's advocate to that end.
Max's word cloud makes a compelling view of the issue of Israel's singling out; but in fact Israel is singled out. Not by the UN, which Israel and the US gov't cynically abuse regularly, but by the international press, which is only doing it's job when it rarely focuses on the contradictory nature of the world's most enduring and politically loaded conflict.
On Bernie and BDS; he states clearly that he supports an Israeli state and that in his view, a one state solution is a no Israel solution. Here we get back into Ali's and Peter Beinart's feud and the nature of some of the BDS movement's backers and their rhetoric.
In my view BDS is a perfectly legitimate form of resistance to not only the illegal settlements but to the occupation itself and it's scope should not necessarily be limited to occupied territory activity but should include the state itself, which perpetuates the illegal activity.
However, right in not always might and if one accepts Israel as a state, one must accept the necessities for its existence. I think the one state solution may be an eventuality but in making it the goal it's proponents are weakening what might already have become an irresistible force against apartheid.
The fight for one-state is a fight for civil rights, which is a fight in itself. Those who support the two-state solution and continue to fight for civil rights ARE fighting for one-state, if their ideology and their morality cannot be rectified.
We can drive Bernie, et al, further into the liberal Zionist camp or we can continually challenge them to remain faithful to their principles, which will quickly run into an Israel that confounds them.


The more he speaks, the more the deception revealed.

His integrity is to Israel, his loyalty to Israel, his objective is maintaining the status quo.


Bernie Sanders was, is, and will always be the consummate fraud/huckster--I will delineate: he never was a socialist, as he so often promotes and proclaims himself to be; he is, and never was, an internationalist; Mr. Sanders has often attacked immigrants in taking jobs from Americans; Bernie Sanders has always been a supporter of American hegemony and imperialism and has voted for nearly all other wars in the Middle East and elsewhere, most notably the 1999 bombing of Serbia, more recently the war in the Ukraine, and the so-called "War Against Terrorism", i.e. ISIS; and, he has voted for every drone attack in the Middle East.
The fact that he signed the April 27th, letter supporting Israel should come as not surprise to anyone who understands realpolitik. Mr. Sanders has invariably supported Israel and Zionism; Israel's war in Gaza in 2014; that Israel has a "right to exist"; and has voted for every yearly subsidization of Israel, now to the tune of $38 billion dollars a year in American taxpayer largesse; too, he often talks about how he once lived in Israel; finally, as stated herein, he does not support the BDS Movement.
With all of the above, his throwing Palestinians under the bus is, shall we say, business as usual for Mr. Sanders--the consummate political opportunist and political animal.
To quote Pirandello, "Things aren't always what they seem to be".


Well said! These so called champions of the people (Sanders, Warren) etc.
always expose themselves as Imperialist operatives when it comes to Israel....


I think most of these comments use words about Bernie that would be better reserved for someone really nasty. But I also would suggest that, along similar lines, Bernie should not sign onto letters he doesn't agree with. About the next letter he sends, perhaps a very important one about something very dear to his heart, that he's desperate to affect, I would ask him; why should I believe you now Bernie?
I've already said here that I find some reason in his position but for him to become party to this cowardly letter writing, political BS was, I had thought, beneath him.


Maybe we all just need to accept that Sanders is a liberal Zionist. If only it were as simple as Sanders just being a politician succumbing to the pressure of a lobby group; then we could hold onto hope that he could be equally swayed by a Palestinian lobby group if and when one of equal power comes into being.

But the unfortunate reality is that liberal Zionists do not need the threats or cajoling of AIPAC to pressure them into signing off on letters in support of Israel. Sanders has never wavered from his support for Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. Like the good liberal Zionist he is, he merely criticizes certain Israeli policies and links all of these undesirable policies to the current Netanyahu government. He holds onto the fading framework of a two state solution regardless of its improbability because loss of that little illusion will make it difficult if not impossible to reconcile his genuinely held principles of fairness and equality for all with his attachment to Israel. Liberal Zionists have been able to hold onto these two things for fifty years of belligerent occupation and presumably the more determined of them will be able to do so for a quite a few more years to come.

Sanders has not sold out the Palestinians. He has never been able to elevate justice or Palestinian well-being above his desire for Israel to exist as a Jewish state. Sanders and his ilk may not pander to Netanyahu but they will not be the ones to lead the USA out of its dead end support for Israel. Its fair enough to engage with Sanders re domestic social justice issues but he has never pretended he is anything but a PEP and neither should we.

Michael F. Brown

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