‘Don’t Confuse Criticism of Israel with Anti-Semitism,’ Bernie Sanders

“AS SOMEBODY who is proudly Jewish, to be critical of a right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel is not to be anti-Semitic,” Sen. Sanders told a town hall meeting in New Hampshire according to Harretz.

He added that “the fault is not all with Israel” when it comes to the conflict, and that the current Palestinian government is “corrupt.”

Sanders words were a response to Netanyahu’s edict to bar to bar two Muslim members of Congress from making an official visit to the Jewish state.

According to the New York Times, “For months, American Jews… have found themselves enmeshed in a deeply uncomfortable debate over the growing distance between traditional liberal American Jewish values and the political realities of an Israeli government that’s embraced hard-line policies and a deep alliance with President Donald Trump. On Thursday, in one of Mr. Trump’s most audacious moves yet, he successfully urged Israel to deny entrance to Ms. Omar and Representative Rashida Tlaib, who planned to tour the West Bank.”

Sanders, who rarely mentions his Jewish heritage or his personal life, spoke to Pod Save America, of his connection to Israel. “I lived in Israel… I am Jewish. I am not anti-Israel,” the senator affirmed. “I believe that the people of Israel have absolutely the right to live in peace, independence and security,” he added.

The senator explained that the U.S. policy should take into account the good of the entire region and “treat the Palestinian people with a kind of respect and dignity they deserve.” Sanders acknowledged the complexity of the issue, citing failed attempts of past U.S. presidents to achieve peace in the Middle East.

According to Haaretz, “The historically deep ties that bind the United States and Israel were profoundly damaged Thursday when the government of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu succumbed to pressure from the Trump Administration and barred two members of the United States Congress from entering Israel.”

According to Netanyahu, defending his decision, barring the entry of Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan was defensible because in his words, “Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against Israel in the U.S. Congress.”

He went on to say, “The two-member congressional visitation plan shows that there intent is to hurt Israel and to increase its unrest against it.” 

Trump made this clear in a tweet issued at roughly the same time as the official Israeli statement. In the tweet, Trump wrote, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel and all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”  

According to The New York Times:

To some Jews, the president’s attacks on the congresswomen are a fierce renunciation of anti-Semitism and a defense of Israel. But many others see their identity being used as a pawn for the political ambitions of Mr. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a dynamic they fear could undermine the historically strong alliance between the United States and Israel and increase the security risks for their community at home.

In a striking sign of united concern, major American Jewish organizations largely opposed the Israeli government’s decision to block the congresswomen on Thursday, even as some condemned the women for what they described as anti-Israel or anti-Semitic positions. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the bulwark Israel lobbying organization, took the unusual step of breaking with the Netanyahu government.

“If Israel equals Trump, then there is a concern that opposition to Trump will transition, God forbid, into opposition to Israel,” Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who leads Ohev Sholom, an Orthodox congregation in Washington, D.C., said a few hours before shabbat on Friday. “It is very dangerous.”

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