All presidential candidates were invited to address this year’s AIPAC convention in Washington, D.C. Because of a previously scheduled event, Bernie Sanders offered to send a pre-recorded message to be played at the pro-Israel lobby’s annual policy conference. In years past, this had been a courtesy offered to invited guests unable to attend, but not this year. Sander’s offer to have his speech telecast to AIPAC was denied.
Instead, Bernie Sanders gave the speech he would have given to AIPAC to an audience in Salt Lake City, Utah. While the speeches in Washington featured comparisons between the boycott movement (BDS) and anti-Semitism, with claims that the Palestinians were part of a “culture of death,” and promises to shield Israel from U.N. intervention and vows to cut off federal funding to universities that boycott the Israeli occupation, Bernie took a different approach.
“Let me begin that I have a deep connection to Israel and I am fairly certain I am the only U.S. presidential candidate to have ever lived on a kibbutz for a while. Israel is one of America’s closest allies, and we as a nation, are committed not just to guaranteeing its survival but also to its people’s right to live in peace and security.”
Clinton and Cruz have also expressed die-hard support for Israel. Clinton went so far as to write an open letter in November promising to reaffirm the U.S. “unbreakable bond with Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu.”
But Bernie had something else to say. “As friends” he said, “we are obligated to speak the truth as we see it. This is what real friendship demands, especially in difficult times. Our disagreements will come and go and we must weather them constructively.
“If elected president I will work tirelessly to advance the cause of peace as a partner and as a friend to Israel. But to be successful, we have to be a friend not only to Israel but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza they suffer from an unemployment rate of 44%, the highest in the world, and a poverty rate nearly equal to that. There is too much suffering in Gaza to be ignored.”
This is a departure from previous Sanders remarks. When called out by peace activists during Israel’s summer 2014 war in Gaza in which Israeli military killed approximately 2,200, he shouted down the activists. Sander’s promise to level the playing field on Israel/Palestine is seen as a victory for the Palestinian human rights movement.
As I write in Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, Israel has illegally occupied Palestinian territories in East Jerusalem and the West Bank since 1967. It occupies Gaza, on which it has imposed a blockade for almost fifteen years, controlling everything that enters the densely populated strip. Since 1967, Israel has illegally colonized more and more Palestinian land with settlements. Today there are more than 600,000 Israelis living in the occupied territories.
“Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory,” said Sanders, ‘establishing mutually agreed upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank. Peace will also mean ending the economic blockade of Gaza.
“These are difficult subjects. They are hard to talk about both for many Americans, and for Israelis. I recognize that,” he said, “but it is clear to me that the path to peace will require tapping into our shared humanity to make hard but just decisions.”
Sander’s speech was mentioned in only a handful of outlets. Unlike the addresses by Clinton and Trump, no major broadcast outlet carried it live.
“It is my firm belief,” he said, “that the test of a great nation, with the most powerful military on earth, is not how many wars we engage in but how we can use our strength to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful way.”
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