Bernie Sanders Calls Israeli Government 'Strong Right Wing,' Demands U.S. Respect Palestinian Rights

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said current leaders of the Israeli government have devolved into a "strong right-wing" coalition that includes outright "racists."

Sanders and MSNBC host Ali Velshi on Monday discussed why critics of the Israeli government, particularly those who disagree with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nationalist policies, should not be slandered as "anti-Semites." Velshi quoted Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz who claimed Thursday that some Democratic members of Congress are "shills for terrorists" for disagreeing with Netanyahu's right-wing policies. Velshi noted that U.S. conservatives frequently accuse Sanders, who is Jewish, of being "anti-Semitic" solely because he disagrees with Israeli policies toward Palestinian independence.

Sanders, a longtime opponent of Netanyahu's aggressive pro-military stance toward Palestine, said the Israeli government is happy to accept $4 billion in U.S. aid each year—and should be just as accepting of Palestinian human rights.

"The Israeli government has evolved over the years into a pretty strong right-wing government," Sanders said Monday, addressing this past week's increasing Israeli-Palestinian violence in Gaza.

"And [the Israeli leadership's] coalition now includes people who are overt racists. When you have the United States of America putting almost $4 billion a year into Israel, we have the right to demand that they respect the human rights of all people, including the Palestinians. What we need now is an even-handed policy, which protects the security of Israel. They have a right to live in peace and security without terrorist attacks. But the people in the Palestinian territories also have a right to live in peace and dignity," Sanders continued.

Sanders penned an op-ed last Thursday which reiterated his desire to see a more "even-handed" and morally consistent approach to Israel-Palestine peace talks. Sanders extended his criticism to Democratic President Joe Biden, writing that members of both parties consistently dismiss serious two-state solutions by simply declaring, as Biden did last week, "Israel has the right to defend itself."

"Why do we only seem to take notice of the violence in Israel and Palestine when rockets are falling on Israel?" Sanders wrote in a Friday op-ed for The New York Times. "Israel has the absolute right to live in peace and security, but so do the Palestinians. I strongly believe that the United States has a major role to play in helping Israelis and Palestinians to build that future."

"Why is the question almost never asked: 'What are the rights of the Palestinian people?" Sanders continued in the opinion piece.

The discussion Monday was prompted by Cruz's visit to Israel this week as well as numerous accusations that Democratic lawmakers are "undermining Israel" by offering serious support for two-state peace talks.

"And it is disgraceful that you have members of the United States Congress that basically operate as shills for terrorists and undermine Israel—and they undermine Israel so often, that after a while, you start to say, 'OK, we get it, you don't like the Jews.'" Cruz told Fox News Thursday.

Sanders rejected Cruz's remarks and instead focused his criticism toward Netanyahu, who despite facing ongoing corruption charges domestically, has been re-elected to office five times. Some Israeli political critics say Netanyahu is "stoking nationalist passions" in order to halt numerous investigations into his alleged criminal activities.

Sanders blasted Netanyahu during an August 2019 appearance on Velshi's MSNBC program, following the Israeli prime minister's ban of two Democratic U.S. congresswomen from visiting.

"If Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn't want members of Congress to visit Israel, then maybe he can respectfully decline $3.8 billion in annual funding—the largest amount of U.S. aid to any country. I believe in an even-handed approach to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," Sanders said, defending Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.

Newsweek reached out to Sanders' Senate offices Monday afternoon for any additional remarks.

Progressive lawmakers
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks as Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Pramila Jayapal of Washington stand beside him outside the U.S. Capitol on June 24, 2019. On Monday, Sanders said the Israeli government is happy to accept $4 billion in U.S. aid each year, and it should be just as accepting of Palestinian human rights. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty