Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, stated on Monday that a portion of the U.S. military assistance to Israel should go towards humanitarian relief in the Gaza Strip.
“I would use the leverage of $3.8 billion,” Sanders said, referring to the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the U.S. and Israel negotiated by former President Barack Obama. “It is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government or for that matter to any government at all. We have a right to demand respect for human rights and democracy.”
The senator, who received a thunderous crowd ovation from start to finish, remarked that some of the $3.8 billion the United States annually gives to Israel in assistance should “go right now to humanitarian aid in Gaza.”
The Gaza Strip has been under control by the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas since 2007, when it overthrew the Palestinian Authority. Israel has permitted international humanitarian aid transfers to the Gaza Strip, including from Arab countries such as Qatar.
“My proposal in terms of Israeli-Palestinian efforts is not a radical proposal,” Sanders said. “All it says is that we need an even-hand proposal for both people. What is going on in Gaza right now, for example, is absolutely inhumane. It is unacceptable. It is unsustainable.”
Sanders also attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arguing that it’s not anti-Semitic to say that the government of Netanyahu has been “racist.”
“It is not anti-Semitism to say that the Netanyahu government has been racist,” Sanders told the annual J Street conference in Washington, D.C. “That’s a fact.”
However, cautioned Sanders, “It is not only Netanyahu’s government that has been a problem; let’s recognize there has been corruption in terms of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.”
In response to getting endorsements from those on the record for their anti-Semitic vitriol, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and comedian and law professor Amer Zahr, Sanders said, “Being Jewish may be helpful in that regard. It would be very hard for anybody to call me whose father’s family was wiped out by Hitler and who spent time in Israel anti-Semitic.”
Along with Sanders, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) addressed the J Street conference.
They were all interviewed by the hosts of the weekly podcast “Pod Save the World,” former National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor and former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes to “discuss the future of the U.S.-Israel relationship, their visions for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, their plans to combat the growing threat of white supremacy and more,” according to an email from J Street ahead of the conference.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) are scheduled to address the conference on Monday night.
The conference concludes on Tuesday, when participants will lobby J Street’s agenda on Capitol Hill.