(November 21, 2019 / JNS) In the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate on Wednesday night in Atlanta, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) remarked that Palestinians should be treated with “respect and dignity.”
“It is no longer good enough for us simply to be pro-Israel. I am pro-Israel. But we must treat the Palestinian people as well with the respect and dignity that they deserve,” he said, earning applause from the crowd.
“What is going on in Gaza right now. The youth unemployment, is 70 or 80 percent, is unsustainable,” he continued. “So we need to be rethinking who our allies are around the world.”
J Street, whose conference last month was attended by Sanders, who said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been heading a “racist” government, applauded the senator’s comments.
“Thank you @BernieSanders for voicing your support for Israel AND Palestinian rights on the debate stage tonight,” tweeted the organization.
— J Street (@jstreetdotorg) November 21, 2019
Former National Jewish Democratic Council head Aaron Keyak told JNS, “Obviously being ‘pro-Israel’ and understanding that Palestinians must have ‘respect and dignity’ aren’t mutually exclusive. You can believe in respect and dignity for the Palestinians and be pro-Israel.”
However, Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks slammed the senator’s remarks.
“It’s disgraceful. It isn’t the United States or Israel that fails to treat Palestinians with dignity, it’s the people who rule over Gaza and the West Bank who condemn the Palestinian people to hopelessness,” he told JNS. “That this is where the Democrat Party is, where no one stands up to this, signals that Democrats have completely abandoned their historical support for Israel.”
Democratic Majority for Israel simply tweeted, “Israel is a democracy and a reliable ally. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are neither reliable nor allies, but they are brutal dictators.”
— Democratic Majority for Israel (@DemMaj4Israel) November 21, 2019
Sanders also called for rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran to be at the negotiating table similar to the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He said that Saudi Arabia “is not a reliable ally” and is a human-rights violator, as exemplified in the October 2018 alleged assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Turkey.
“We’ve got to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together in a room under American leadership, and say we are sick and tired of us spending huge amounts of money and human resources,” he said.
In terms of the Middle East being part of Wednesday’s debate, hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) called out U.S. President Donald Trump for withdrawing the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, after which he reimposed sanctions lifted under it, along with enacted new financial penalties against Tehran.
Additionally, Harris and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg roundly faulted Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) for secretly meeting in early 2017 with Syrian President Bashar Assad—a trip that the congresswoman has been repeatedly criticized for, in addition to not taking a strong stance against him.
Some of the candidates on stage criticized Trump for abruptly withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria last month, saying the move, which has since been walked back with some troops back in the area, betrayed the Kurds, a loyal American ally.
Other foreign-policy issues touched upon were the threats from North Korea, China and Russia.
Finally, other issues discussed included, but were not limited to, the economy, health care, affordable housing, climate change and race relations.
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