Bernie Sanders Calls Israel's Netanyahu a 'Reactionary Racist', Says He'd Consider Moving Embassy Back to Tel Aviv

Senator Bernie Sanders called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "reactionary racist" during the Democratic primary presidential debate on Tuesday.

Sanders made the comment after he was asked a question about criticism from some fellow Jews who say he is not supportive enough of Israel and fear that he would move the U.S. embassy in Israel back to Tel Aviv. The Trump administration controversially moved it to Jerusalem in 2018.

"The answer is it's something we would take into consideration," said Sanders. "But here's the point, I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months. But what I happen to believe is that right now sadly, tragically in Israel through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country."

Sanders went on to explain that he feels Netanyahu has caused suffering for Palestinians, while insisting that supporting Israel is also a priority despite what he may think of their prime minister.

"I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Middle East should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel," Sanders said. "But you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people."

"To answer your question," added Sanders "That [a decision on the embassy] will come within the context of bringing nations together in the Middle East."

Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during the Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina on February 25, 2020. Win McNamee/Getty

The comments about Netanyahu prompted cheers from some in the crowd but are likely to elicit a more mixed response elsewhere.

Sanders has deemed Netanyahu a "racist" in the past, while expressing concerns over Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Some worry that Sanders' position could ultimately undermine the strong relationship between Israel and the United States, which has taken place over the course of many decades through both Republican and Democratic administrations.

Immediately after the debate, the question itself was blasted by some progressive Jews who have critical views on Israeli government policies.

"Poll after poll shows that a majority of American Jews are highly critical of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians," said IfNotNow co-founder Dani Moscovitch in a statement. "[Debate moderator] Major Garrett's question tonight made an antisemitic and incorrect assumption."

If elected, Sanders would be the first Jewish U.S. president. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is also Jewish, was asked to weigh in on the same issue immediately after Sanders gave his answer.

"Number one, you can't move the embassy back, we should not have done it without getting something from the Israeli government, but it was done, and you're gonna have to leave it there," said Bloomberg. "Number two, the only solution here is a two-state solution. The Palestinians have to be accommodated."

"The real problem is you have two groups of people here, both of whom believe that God gave them the same piece of land, and the answer is obviously to split it up," Bloomberg added.