Skip to main content

Bernie Sanders: Israel needs to end its 50-year occupation

The progressive senator compared Palestinians to Native Americans, but praised Israel's founding values
Sanders condemned anti-Semitism and Islamophobia (AFP)

Democratic senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has called for an end to the “50-year occupation” of the Palestinian territory by Israel in a speech on Monday, saying that Washington should pursue policies that would ensure a “prosperous future for Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

After asserting Israel’s right to exist, praising its “progressive” founding values and emphasising the importance of having a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, Sanders compared Palestinians who fled their homes in the lead-up to the founding of Israel in 1948 to Native Americans.

“Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people,” he said. “Over 700,000 people were made refugees.”

He added that acknowledging the plight of Palestinians does not delegitimise Israel as much as learning about the suffering of Native Americans does not delegitimise the United States.

"There is no question that we should be and will be Israel’s strong friend and ally in the years to come," Sanders said. "At the same time, we must recognise 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."

Sanders contrasts Iran deal, Iraq war

Speaking at the conference of J Street, a liberal Jewish group that describes itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace, Sanders called on the United States to play a productive role in the Middle East. He drew a contrast between the Iran nuclear deal, which he said peacefully kept Tehran from acquiring an atomic bomb, and the Iraq war - "a foreign policy blunder of enormous magnitude".

'Like our own country, the founding of Israel involved the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people already living there, the Palestinian people'

- Bernie Sanders

"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 mobilise that consensus to address those problems," he said of the nuclear deal.

Sanders condemned anti-Semitism and all kinds of bigotry, calling on President Donald Trump and his cabinet to denounce hate.

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

Sanders cited the bomb threats to Jewish community organisations and the suspected hate crime near Kansas City that claimed the life of an Indian immigrant.

"Trump and his political adviser Mr [Steve] 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," he said.

Sanders, who is leading a progressive movement within the Democratic Party, slammed the White House for failing to mention Jewish victims in its Holocaust Remembrance Day statement, calling the move “extraordinary”.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.