Sanders' Take On Israel Is Not A Bad Political Move


Like he's been doing for the entire length of his campaign, Bernie Sanders put the choice before Democrats in simple terms during the April 14 debate with rival Hillary Clinton: You can vote for the smooth political operator who will tell you what you want to hear and won't take a position without reams of polling data telling her it'll help her woo voters.

Or you can vote for the person who's giving you the sometimes hard but honest truth.

The Vermont senator and Democratic presidential hopeful once again proved he's an honest candidate by speaking candidly on the situation in Israel. He spoke those hard truths at a CNN debate in New York, where unqualified support for Israel is the default political position, and simply acknowledging the suffering of Palestinians can kill political careers.

What Sanders said wasn't particularly original. It's obvious to anyone who looks objectively at the awful situation that's kept the Israelis and Palestinians at each other's throats for decades.

"As somebody who is 100 percent pro-Israel, in the long run," Sanders said, "we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity."

Clinton's response?

She rattled off all the times she's sat in on peace talks; repeated some platitudes about Israel, national security and terrorism; and reminded the audience that she sees the troubles in Israel in the same black-and-white hues that have crippled every American effort to serve as a neutral and fair arbiter of peace for decades.

"I negotiated the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012," Clinton said. "I did it in concert with President Abbas of the Palestinian authority based in Ramallah, I did it with the then Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, based in Cairo, working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet."

Then she name-dropped Yasser Arafat, reminding the audience that she and her husband have been involved in the "peace process" for more than two decades now, and inadvertently reminding them that she has a long record of failure.

Instead of realizing being Israel's big, bullying brother doesn't work, hasn't worked and will never work, Clinton's answer is to employ the same failed strategies that have perpetuated the cycle of intifadas and invasions. Clinton may not have intended to tip her hand, but in a moment of accidental honesty she revealed her strategy as president would be to repeat the same mistakes for another four or eight years.

Under a Clinton administration, we'd see the same strategy of taking a one-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; of allowing Israel to annex Palestinian land for "settlements"; of allowing the Israeli government to bulldoze family homes and raze neighborhoods with impunity; of keeping the Palestinians caged in two miserable little plots of land where jobs, opportunities and hope are in short supply.

"You gave a major speech to AIPAC," Sanders told Clinton, "which obviously deals with the Middle East crisis, and you barely mentioned the Palestinians...we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue."

Reaction to Sanders' refreshing honestly on Israel has been mixed.

Writing on, constitutional law scholar Alan Dershowitz blasted the Vermont senator for "abysmal ignorance" and said he "can no longer be called pro-Israel."

In the Washington Post, Israel studies professor Dov Waxman argued that Sanders could actually win more New York voters with his no-nonsense stance on Israel.

Until the votes are counted, we won't know. New York is still home turf for Clinton, and it'll likely take more than a strong debate performance for Sanders to edge her out in the Empire State.

But one thing's clear -- Sanders has set the stage for an evolving, more mature discussion on Israel that finally opens the door to a fair public assessment of the troubles there. Even if Sanders doesn't take New York, even if his campaign loses momentum and limps its way to the Democratic convention, his debate performance will likely have a lasting effect on how Democrats view and discuss Israel. In the long run, that can only be a good thing.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: The Washington Post, Fox News, Daily Beast / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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