Bernie Sanders should retract and apologize for his “libelous” suggestion that Israel killed more than 10,000 innocent Palestinians during the last Gaza war, MK Michael Oren said Thursday, asserting that the Democratic candidate’s misrepresentation ultimately serves the interests of Hamas and other terrorist groups.
Oren, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United States between 2009 and 2013, argued that the presidential candidate’s comments delegitimize the Jewish state and endanger its security.
“First of all, he should get his facts right. Secondly, he owes Israel an apology,” the freshman lawmaker (Kulanu) told The Times of Israel in an interview.
“He accused us of a blood libel. He accused us of bombing hospitals. He accused us of killing 10,000 Palestinian civilians. Don’t you think that merits an apology?” Oren went on.
“He doesn’t mention the many thousands of Hamas rockets fired at us. He doesn’t mention the fact that Hamas hides behind civilians. He doesn’t mention the fact that we pulled out of Gaza in order to give the Palestinians a chance to experiment with statehood, and they turned it into an experiment with terror. He doesn’t mention any of that. That, to me, is libelous.”
In an interview with the New York Daily News, Sanders had said that, while he was fuzzy on the numbers, he believed that “over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza,” and lamented that “Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.” He also said he believed that Israel attacked “hospitals” in the Hamas-held coastal enclave, a claim he already made, more assertively, during a speech he submitted to last month’s AIPAC conference in Washington. Still, Sanders acknowledged that “the Palestinians, some of them, were using civilian areas to launch missiles,” which made it “very hard” for Israel, and that he wasn’t qualified to make decisions for the Israeli government.
“It’s terrible. It’s in the service of BDS,” Oren thundered, referring to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “Not only did he multiply by five the amount of casualties [in the 2014 Gaza war] and failed to distinguish between the Hamas fighters we eliminated and the civilians we inadvertently and regrettably killed. He said we bombed hospitals. Hamas is hiding beneath the hospital; we didn’t bomb it.”
In July 2014, Israeli troops launched an airstrike at parts of Gaza’s al-Wafa hospital, later explaining that it had been used as a Hamas command center and was the source of several attacks on Israeli forces. The IDF said it had repeatedly warned Gaza the hospital authorities and asked civilians to leave the premises.
International media outlets reported several strikes on the medical facility leading to numerous casualties.
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, run by Hamas, which Israel and many other countries consider a terror group, 10,626 Palestinians were injured during the 50-day war, in addition to 2,310 dead. Hamas claims that of those killed, 1,462 were civilians. Israeli authorities argue that the true figure was significantly lower.
Sanders’s dovish positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflect the thinking prevalent in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, Oren maintained. “That’s legitimate in discourse. What’s not legitimate in discourse is to lie, and to lie in ways that are libelous about Israel and which, in fact, endanger Israel’s security.”
Oren, who like Sanders was born in New York City, praised the Anti-Defamation League for calling on Sanders Wednesday to “correct his misstatements.” But the Israeli lawmaker went one step further: “The American Jewish community should demand what’s called in politics a clarification, which is a retraction.” In addition, the Vermont senator should apologize for having contributed to Israel’s delegitimization, Oren urged.
The Democratic presidential hopeful’s comments to the Daily News about Israel’s alleged disproportionality were “a classic contribution to delegitimization,” Oren said.
A person who casually traduces Israel in the way Sanders did cannot claim to be committed to Israel’s security, Oren added. “Because delegitimization is a strategic threat to us. It’s not a tactical threat. The bitter irony of this is that Hamas missiles are a tactical threat,” while senior US politicians making libelous statements about Israel are a far more serious challenge, he argued.
Hamas and Hezbollah know they cannot destroy Israel with their rockets, Oren said. “But what they can do is get us to respond, on the air and on the ground, and kill large numbers of Palestinians. That is then picked up by the media and turned into ‘massacres.’ That becomes the ground for legal action against us, for BDS. What Bernie Sanders shows is how precisely that military-tactic-cum-media-and-legal-strategy works very well.”
Sanders’s outlandish claim about the Gaza death toll is doing groups like Hamas a huge service, he continued. “You cannot say in the same breath that you’re committed to Israel’s security. Because that’s how they are trying to undermine Israeli security. They’re trying to deny us the legitimacy to defend ourselves.”
Oren, who last summer caused a stir when he published a book containing incendiary observations about US President Barack Obama, is the first Israeli official to publicly comment on Sanders’s inflated account of Palestinian civilian deaths. Most Israeli dignitaries shy away from anything that could be interpreted as meddling in the domestic affairs of a major ally.
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan on Thursday published a brief and mildly worded statement calling on Sanders to “learn the facts and figures about the IDF and Israel’s wars.”
But Oren, the diplomat-turned-politician, said that when a major presidential contender accuses Israel of ruthlessness and disregard for human life, he feels obligated to speak out forcefully.
“When Trump said what he said about Muslims, I came out and condemned it,” he said, referring to the leading Republican presidential candidate who in December called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the US.
“When Trump comes out and makes prejudicial remarks about 20 percent of my country, then I am going to say something. When Sanders comes out and libels my country, I am going to come out and say something,” Oren proclaimed. “This is not interfering in the American election. Americans can make their decision.”