(JNS.org) Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board that Israel launched “indiscriminate” attacks against the residents of Gaza in 2014, resulting in what Sanders suggested were more than 10,000 Palestinian civilian deaths during that summer's war between Israel and the Hamas terror group.
“Anybody help me out here, because I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?” Sanders said. When told that the figure was “probably high,” Sanders replied, “I don’t have it in my number...but I think it’s over 10,000.”
“My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed,” he added. “So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Israel's force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.”
According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, 2,251 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza war—including 1,462 civilians (65 percent). In its own report on the war, the Israeli government said that 2,125 Palestinians were killed, with at least 44 percent of them confirmed to have been armed members of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Based on both the Israeli and U.N. estimates, Sanders inflated the Gaza conflict's total Palestinian death toll about fivefold and its Palestinian civilian death toll at least sevenfold.
When asked what he would of done differently than Israel during the Gaza war, Sanders said he is not qualified to answer that question, but still called Israel’s attacks against Gaza “indiscriminate.”
“But I think it is fair to say that the level of attacks against civilian areas and I do know that the Palestinians, some of them, were using civilian areas to launch missiles. Makes it very difficult,” said Sanders. “But I think most international observers would say that the attacks against Gaza were indiscriminate and that a lot of innocent people were killed who should not have been killed.”
Sanders, who is Jewish, noted that he has spent time living in Israel, has family members in Israel, and believes “100 percent not only in Israel’s right to exist, a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks.”
Yet Sanders also said that Israel must end its expansion of settlements if it wants to achieve true peace and security.
“From the United States’s point of view, I think, long-term, we cannot ignore the reality that you have large numbers of Palestinians who are suffering now, poverty rate off the charts, unemployment off the charts, Gaza remaining a destroyed area….I think if the expansion was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate,” he said.
Sanders also controversially linked the prospect of “positive” U.S.-Israel relations to the status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“To the degree that they want us to have a positive relationship, I think they’re going to have to improve their relationship with the Palestinians,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sanders’s Democratic primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, earned praised from multiple speakers during a panel discussion on women leaders at the recent Limmud FSU New York conference, which drew more than 1,000 Russian-speaking Jews from around the country.
Susan Stern, a longtime Clinton supporter as well as a Jewish communal leader in New York and nationally, said that a possible Clinton administration would foster an “atmosphere of trust” between American and Israeli leaders. If Clinton becomes president, said Stern, “there may be disagreement about tactics, but there will be always a clear understanding that the United States will have Israel’s back.”
As part of the same Limmud FSU panel discussion on April 3, Collette Avital, a former Israeli consul general and Knesset member, said she believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “would like to mend fences” with the next U.S. presidential administration. “Having followed Hillary’s career,” Avital said, “I think she will do likewise. There will be less an atmosphere of antagonism and competition [between the American and Israeli administrations]. Relations will be much more relaxed than they are now.”