Sanders Talks Israel, Trump, and Anti-Semitism at J Street

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) gave the following speech at the J Street Conference on February 27, 2017.

Thank you for inviting me to address you here today. It’s a pleasure to be here with J Street, which has been such a strong voice for saner, more progressive foreign policy ideas. And I am delighted to be in the company of friends from the Middle East and all over the world who I know will continue the struggle for a world of peace, justice and environmental sanity.

Let me begin by noting that in the last several months, since Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race, there has been a significant outbreak of anti-Semitism here in our country. I am very alarmed by the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, with Jewish Community Centers being threatened around the country, and with the headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League receiving a bomb threat last week.

When we see violent and verbal racist attacks against minorities – whether they are African-Americans, Jews, Muslims in this country, immigrants in this country, or the LGBT community, these attacks must be condemned at the highest levels of our government.

It was rather extraordinary that in the White House’s Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, the murder of 6 million Jews was not mentioned by the Trump administration. I hope very much that Pres. Trump and his political advisor Mr. Bannon understand that the world is watching: it is imperative that their voices be loud and clear in condemning anti-Semitism, violent attacks against immigrants in this country, including the murder of two young men from India, and all forms of bigotry here and around the world. This country has struggled too long against racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia. We will not go back. We are going to go forward and fight discrimination of all forms.

I must say that I also found it very troubling that, at a recent press conference, when President Trump was given an opportunity to condemn the bigotry and anti-Semitism that has arisen in the wake of his election, he chose to respond by bragging – incorrectly, by the way — about the size of his Electoral College victory. Our society is still riven by tensions from the campaign, and Americans need a president who will try to bring us together, rather than boast about his political victory.

Let me take this opportunity to thank J Street for the bold voice that they’ve provided in support of American leadership in the Middle East and efforts towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I understand that, given the political climate in this capital, that has not always been easy. I also applaud them for being part of a broad coalition of groups that successfully fought for the historic nuclear agreement between the U.S. and its partners and Iran.

That agreement demonstrated that real American leadership, real American power, is not shown by our ability to blow things up, but by our ability to bring parties together, to forge international consensus around shared problems, and then to mobilize that consensus to address those problems.

For many years, leaders across the world, especially Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had sounded the alarm about the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon. What the Obama administration was able to do, with the support of groups like J Street and others, was to get an agreement that froze and dismantled large parts of that nuclear program, put it under the most intensive inspections regime in history, and removed the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon from the list of global threats.
As a member of the United States Senate, I hear a whole lot of speechifying. I hear from many of my colleagues how “tough” the United States has got to be, and how, at the end of the day, military force is what matters.

Well, I say to those colleagues, ‘It’s easy to give speeches in the safety of the floor of the Senate or the House. It’s a little bit harder to experience war and live through the devastation of war. I recall vividly all of the rhetoric that came from the Bush administration, that came from my Republican colleagues, and some Democrats, about why going to war in Iraq was the right thing to do. Well, it wasn’t. In fact, it is one of the great tragedies of modern world history.

Today it is now broadly acknowledged that the war in Iraq, which I opposed, was a foreign policy blunder of enormous magnitude. The war in Iraq led to the deaths of some 4400 US troops and the wounding, physical and emotional, of tens of thousands of others—not to mention the pain inflicted on wives and children and parents. The war in Iraq led to, conservatively speaking, the deaths of over 100,000 Iraqi civilians and the wounding and displacement of many more. It created a cascade of instability around the region that we are still dealing with today in Syria and elsewhere, and will be for many years to come. And, by the way, that war in Iraq cost trillions of dollars—money that should have been spent on health care, education, infrastructure, and environmental protection.

The Iraq war, like many other military conflicts, had unintended consequences. It ended up making us less safe, not more safe.
In contrast, the Iran nuclear deal helped the security of the U.S. and its partners – yes, it helped the security of Israel, as many Israeli security experts have acknowledged – and it did this at a tiny fraction of the cost in blood and treasure of the Iraq war. This is the power of diplomacy. This is real leadership.

Some who opposed this nuclear deal have attacked its supporters, including J Street, for being part of a so-called “echo chamber.” The truth is that Washington has for many years had a very loud and powerful echo chamber for war. It’s about time we had an echo chamber for peace. So thank you J Street.

Now, as many of you know, I have a connection to the State of Israel going back many years. In 1963, I lived on a kibbutz near Haifa. It was there that I saw and experienced for myself many of the progressive values upon which the State of Israel was founded. I think it is very important for everyone, but particularly for progressives, to acknowledge the enormous achievement of establishing a democratic homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of displacement and persecution, and particularly after the horror of the Holocaust.

But as you all know, there was another side to the story of Israel’s creation, a more painful side. Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees.

To acknowledge this painful historical fact does not “delegitimize” Israel, any more than acknowledging the Trail of Tears delegitimizes the United States of America.

But I didn’t come here today simply to revisit history, or to say one historical narrative is wrong and one is right. My question here today is: OK, what now? Where do Israelis and Palestinians go from here? What should be U.S. policy to end this conflict, to end this fifty-year long occupation, and enable a better, more secure and prosperous future for Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians alike?

This decades-long conflict has taken so much from so many. Nobody gains when Israel spends an enormous part of its budget on the military. Nobody gains when Gaza is obliterated and thousands are killed, wounded, or made homeless. Nobody gains when children are trained to be suicide bombers. Nobody gains when year after year, decade after decade, the talk is about war and hatred rather than peace and development. Think of the incredible potential that is being lost when Israelis and Palestinians are not coming together effectively to address the environmental and economic challenges of the region. Our vision, a vision we must never lose sight of, is creating a Middle East where people come together in peace and democracy to create a region in which all people have a decent life. I understand that, given the realities of today, that vision appears distant and maybe even far-fetched. But it is a vision and a dream that we cannot afford to give up on.

So what should we as progressives – American progressives, Israeli progressives and progressives globally — demand of our governments in bringing this future about?

Let’s take a moment to talk about values.

It’s often said that the US-Israel relationship is based on “shared values.” I think this is correct, but then we also have to ask: What do we mean by this? What values are we talking about?

As progressives, here are the values we share: We believe in democracy. We believe in equality. We believe in pluralism. We are strongly opposed to xenophobia. We respect and we will protect the rights of minorities.

These are values that are shared by progressives in this country and across the globe. These values are based upon the very simple notion that we share a common humanity. Whether we are Israelis or Palestinians or Americans, whether we are Jews, Christians, Muslims, or of another religion, we all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink clean water and breathe clean air, and to live in peace.

That’s what being human is about. And our job is to do everything that we can to oppose all of the political forces, no matter what side they may be on, who try to tear us apart.

Earlier this month, at a White House press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump was asked whether he supported a two-state solution. His answer was, “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.” As if someone asked him whether he preferred Coke to Pepsi.

We should be clear: The two-state solution, which involves the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories occupied in 1967, has been bipartisan U.S. policy for many years. It is also supported by an overwhelming international consensus, which was reaffirmed in December by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334. While I understand that they’ve walked that statement back, the casual manner in which President Trump appeared to abandon that policy was extremely concerning, but also unfortunately typical of the carelessness with which he has managed American foreign policy thus far.

The president said that he supports a peace deal, but this doesn’t mean much. The real question is: Peace on what terms, and under what arrangement? Does “peace” mean that Palestinians will be forced to live under perpetual Israeli rule, in a series of disconnected communities in the West Bank and Gaza? That’s not tolerable, and that’s not peace.

If Palestinians in the occupied territories are to be denied self-determination in a state of their own, will they receive full citizenship and equal rights in a single state, potentially meaning the end of a Jewish majority state? These are very serious questions with significant implications for America’s broader regional partnerships and goals.

Friends, the United States and the State of Israel have a strong bond, going back to the moment of Israel’s founding. There is no question that we should be, and will be Israel’s strong friend and ally in the years to come. At the same time, we must recognize that Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories and its daily restrictions on the political and civil liberties of the Palestinian people runs contrary to fundamental American values.

As former Secretary of State John Kerry rightly said in his speech in December, ‘Friends need to tell each other the hard truths.’ And the hard truth is that the continued occupation and the growth of Israeli settlements that the occupation sustains, undermines the possibility of peace. It contributes to suffering and violence.

As the United Nations Security Council reaffirmed on December 23, the settlements also constitute a flagrant violation of international law. I applaud the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from vetoing UN Security Council Resolution 2334. Those of us who really support Israel have got to tell the truth about policies are hurting chances of reaching a peaceful resolution.
I recognize that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most emotionally fraught issues in U.S. politics, involving as it does the legitimate historical claims, identities and security of two peoples in the same region.

So let me be very clear: to oppose the policies of a right-wing government in Israel does not make one anti-Israel or an anti-Semite. We can oppose the policies of President Trump without being anti-American. We can oppose the policies of Netanyahu without being anti-Israel.  We can oppose the policies of Islamic extremism without being anti-Muslim.

As I said during my presidential campaign, peace means security not only for every Israeli, but also for every Palestinian. It means supporting self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for both peoples.

These ideas are based in the very same shared values that impel us to condemn anti-Semitic bigotry, condemn anti-Muslim bigotry, and to make our own society better. These are the ideas that should guide us. The values of inclusiveness, security, democracy, and justice should inform not only America’s engagement with Israel and Palestine, but with the region and the world.

The United States will continue its unwavering commitment to the safety of the State of Israel, but we must also be clear that peacefully resolving this conflict is the best way to ensure the long-term safety of both peoples, and for making America more secure.

To my Israeli friends here with us today: we share many of the same challenges. In both our countries we see the rise of a politics of bigotry and intolerance and resentment. We must meet these challenges together. As you struggle to make your society better, more just, more egalitarian, I want to say to you: Your fight is our fight.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) gave this speech at the J Street convention on February 27, 2017.

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23 Comments

  1. “But as you all know, there was another side to the story of Israel’s creation, a more painful side. Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people. Over 700,000 people were made refugees.”

    And 900,000 Jews were displaced after 1948 from countries in the Middle East where they had lived for centuries. This was not unlike what happened in India, where 10,000,000 were displaced after the 1948 partition in India, when there was a massive population exchange.

    The difference is that unlike the situation in India, and the situation faced by refugees from time immemorial, the refugee status of the so-called Palestinians (indistinguishable in every way from Jordanians and other Arabs of the region) was enshrined and made permanent by the UN, and an entire empire, UNRWA, with 30,000 employees and a $1,000,000,000 a year budget, was created to lock those people in a hopeless state of stagnation.

    Senator Sanders, where is your concern for the loss suffered by 900,000 of your own people? If you are only concerned about the Palestinian terrorists, I can no longer support you. I sent you multiple contributions during your presidential run, which I now regret. You may have lived in Israel, but you know nothing about the history and the reality of the situation.

  2. JW: “Excuse me? Was there some country called Palestine and the West Bank was part of it? I cannot find this mythical country in any history book”

    Oh dear, ignorance writ large.

    Jeffrey, grab your copy of the Mandate for Palestine (you have read it, correct?)

    Count the number of times that Palestine is described as a “country” in that document.

    My count comes out at eleven.

    How many do you count, or have you crossed the word out in your copy?

  3. YR, what?

    I looked at the Palestine Mandate. While it uses the descriptive term “country” there was no actual “country” in existence. Instead, the Mandate refers to “territory of Palestine, which formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire. . . .” So it could not be a “country” if it was a “territory of Turkey.” Clearly the Mandate contemplates creation of a country and describes how the administration of this country would be set up. Nothing in the Mandate states an Arab country of Palestine existed at the time of the Mandate or would be created.

    And whose country was supposed to be set up? The Mandate makes this very clear:

    “Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country;”

    “The Mandatory shall be responsible for placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home, as laid down in the preamble, and the development of self-governing institutions, and also for safeguarding the civil and religious rights of all the inhabitants of Palestine, irrespective of race and religion.”

    Clearly the Palestine territory of Turkey which became the Palestine Mandate (which by the way includes what is now Jordan) was going to be made a country that would be the Jewish national home. While the rights of all inhabitants would be protected, it would be a Jewish nation-state.

    Unfortunately, the Mandate was not implemented as set forth, instead the English became swayed by Arab interests (i.e., oil) and sold out the Jewish people resulting in many unnecessary deaths in the Holocaust. First the British carved out Palestine east of the Jordan and decided that would not be included in the Jewish nation-state but instead would be given to the Hashemite royal family. By 1947, the Jewish national home which was to compass all of Palestine had been reduced further to a percentage of the land west of the Jordan, mostly the undeveloped Negev, but the Arabs could not even accept that so they attacked the new country.

    So you are the ignorant one embarrassing yourself. To summarize, the Palestine Mandate proposed to create a country of Palestine out of the former Turkish territory and to make it the Jewish nation-state. How that helps your fake Arab narrative that a country of Palestinian Arabs once existed is impossible to discern.

  4. JW: “I looked at the Palestine Mandate”

    Good for you. “Comprehension” appears to be a bit o’ a problem though….

    JW: “While it uses the descriptive term “country” there was no actual “country” in existence.”

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Jeffrey, dude, read the Mandate again.

    It very, very, very definitely considers Palestine to be a “country”, which is why it uses the word “country” no less than eleven times in reference to that…. country.

    JW: “Instead, the Mandate refers to “territory of Palestine, which formerly belonged to the Turkish Empire. . . .” So it could not be a “country” if it was a “territory of Turkey.” ”

    OK, it should now be clear to everyone that Jeffrey has not the slightest understanding of the distinction between these three words:
    1) Territory
    2) State
    3) Country

    Jeffrey, dude, they don’t mean the same thing, which means that you can’t use one to mutually-exclude the others.

    JW: “Clearly the Mandate contemplates creation of a country and describes how the administration of this country would be set up.”

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is unmitigated garbage.

    The plain text of the Mandate for Palestine clearly and unambiguously considers Palestine to be a country, and the text spells out in some detail how the Mandatory should SET UP THE ADMINISTRATION OF THAT COUNTRY. But it does not describe the creation of a country from nothing.

    I invite everyone to read the text of the Mandate, because if you do then you will see that I am correct and Jeffrey is talking out of his nether-region.

    JW: “And whose country was supposed to be set up?”

    Palestine is already described as a country in that document, Jeffrey. Eleven separate times, no less.

    JW: “Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country;”…..

    In legalistic-terms Jeffrey has just pulled the rug out from under his feet.

    Note the phrase “IN that country”

    The phrase is definitely not “AS that country”.

    That isn’t a mistake, because the preamble also says this:
    ….”in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”…..

    Note that phrase used is this: “IN Palestine OF a national home”.

    That’s important, because for Jeffrey’s argument to be anything other than nonsense then that phrase should have read: OF Palestine AS their national home

    Which, of course, it doesn’t.

    Jeffrey, you are so ignorant you don’t even know how uninformed you are.

    You originally asked a very simple question: when was Palestine a country.

    I answered that as far as the League of Nations and the Mandatory Powers were concerned Palestine was a country at the time of Mandate.

    I answered correctly.

    Honestly, Jeffrey, do you want me to quote all eleven times that Palestine is described as a country in the text of the Mandate?

    Happy to do so, but why prolong your own agony?

    You asked a question out of ignorance, and I pointed out just how ignorant that question actually is.

  5. YR,

    You seem to suffer from some form of cognitive deficiency. I have explained already that the term “country” was used as a description. If Palestine was actually a physical country in 1920, then you should have no difficult finding some historical record of this country. You also fail to reconcile the contradiction between calling something a territory and calling it a country.

    Generally speaking a territory is not an independent country so maybe that is where you are quibbling. You want to call Palestine a country but presumably would concede it was not an independent country. For example, were the 13 colonies a “country” before the revolutionary war? Clearly not. But a country was formed out of them.

    Thus the words
    1) Territory
    2) State
    3) Country
    Can be used confusingly and interchangeably. Even today, people speak of the State of Israel and the Country of Israel. Some people may refer to a colony as being both a territory and a country.

    When I said never in history has there been a Palestinian state controlled by Arabs I meant exactly that….an independent country called Palestine, with its own independent government and with a people called “Palestinians” in charge of the government. That NEVER existed.

    Notice the Palestine Mandate does not claim an Arab country already existed in Palestine. It does not refer to Arabs at all! It certainly does recognize there was some Arab country called Palestine either.

    So YR’s obsession with the word country and his clear misuse of the term obfuscates the more important point. Only Jews were granted political rights in Palestine, not Arabs. The civil and religious rights of the non-Jews (i.e., Arabs) were to be respected. In other words, Palestine was to be politically a Jewish state. Many other territories (or if you want to call them countries) were allocated to Arabs where the Arabs were given political control including Lebanon, Iraq, and eventually Trans-Jordan.

    So YR, here is your homework assignment:

    1) Demonstrate when an independent state or country called Palestine and controlled by an Arabic people called Palestinians first and last existed. Show us some government document of that country, a list of its rulers, or something like that.

    2) Argue why the Palestine Mandate which only recognized the creation of a Jewish political entity should not control now.

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