Vermont senator and leading 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would “absolutely” weigh withholding U.S. military aid to Israel to pressure the Jewish state into making policy changes.
Speaking with Jon Favreau on his “Save America” podcast, Sanders, according to most polls the second-place Democratic candidate, agreed that the $3.8 billion U.S. military aid package could be used as “leverage” against the Jewish state.
“Our policy cannot just be pro-Israel, pro-Israel, pro-Israel,” he said. “It has got to be pro-region, working with all of the people, all of the countries in that area.”
He emphasized, however, that he believed in Israel’s “absolute” right to peace and security.
“I have family in Israel. I am Jewish. I am not anti-Israel,” he said. “OK, I believe that the people of Israel have, absolutely, the right to live in peace, independence and security. End of discussion; that is what I fervently believe.”
At the same time, he blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what he said was the rise of “an extreme right-wing government with many racist tendencies.”
Sanders is largely considered to be among the strongest critics of Israel running for the U.S. presidency. He appeared in June with activists for pro-BDS organization IfNotNow while holding a sign reading “Jews Against Occupation.”
In 2017, Sanders recorded a five-minute video for a radical-left Meretz Party’s conference marking the end of the Six-Day War in 1967 and “50 Years of Occupation,” in which he called the party “Israel’s most prominent political organization” and lamented that “we are now in the 50th year of Israel’s occupation.”
“I know so many of you agree with me when I say: this occupation must end. Peace, real peace, means security not only for every Israeli, but for every Palestinian. It means supporting self-determination, civil rights and economic well-being for both peoples,” he said.
In April 2016, Sanders was one of 17 senators who did not sign a letter to Obama urging him to increase aid to Israel.