WASHINGTON — Three days after the New York Daily News published an audio and written transcript of its editorial board’s interview with Bernie Sanders, in which the Democratic presidential hopeful twice said he believed Israel killed “over 10,000” innocent Palestinian civilians in the 2014 Gaza War, the senator told an American Jewish leader that his figures had been inaccurate, noted that he had accepted a correction in the course of the interview, and reportedly added that he would “make every effort to set the record straight.”
His campaign, meanwhile, issued a statement saying his words had been “distorted,” asserting that the senator had conflated the number of dead with the number of total casualties, and confirming that he had acknowledged a corrected figure in the course of the interview.
The audio of the conversation shows that Sanders was indeed corrected in the course of the conversation, and provided with the far lower death toll of 2,300, and that he said “okay” in accepting the correction. The transcript of the interview issued by the newspaper had failed to include the senator’s “okay.”
Responding to the Anti-Defamation League’s urging Sanders on Wednesday to correct his inflation of the Palestinian civilian death toll during Operation Protective Edge, the senator spoke with ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt Thursday. After their phone conversation, the ADL said, “Sanders issued a statement clarifying that his recollection that there were 10,000 civilian Palestinian civilian deaths was inaccurate and that the interviewer corrected him in the course of the conversation – a correction that he accepted.”
The ADL quoted its CEO Jonathan Greenblatt saying, “The senator assured me that he did not mean his remarks to be a definitive statement and that he would make every effort to set the record straight.”
The ADL added: “We appreciate his responsiveness on this issue, especially at a time when there are many false and incendiary reports blaming Israel for applying disproportionate force in its struggle for self-defense.” The ADL also said it “welcomed Sen. Sanders’ clarification.”
In its statement, issued by communications director Michael Briggs, the Sanders campaign said that “The idea that Sen. Sanders stated definitely that 10,000 Palestinians were killed is just not accurate and a distortion of that discussion.” Briggs added: “Bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be easy. It would help if candidates’ positions on this issue are not distorted.”
In the interview with the Daily News, Sanders acknowledged that he did not know the exact figures, but twice stated that he believed the Palestinian civilian death count exceeded 10,000, and ascribed such a high level of casualties to Israel’s “indiscriminate” military campaign and “disproportionate” use of force.
The 10,000 dead figure is seven times higher than Gaza’s own Hamas terrorist rulers have stated; Israel’s estimation is lower still. Sanders’s misrepresentation of the Gaza war was castigated by former Israeli ambassador to the US, MK Michael Oren, earlier Thursday as a “blood libel.”
The Sanders campaign said that even as the candidate admitted he was ignorant of official death count estimations, members of the newspaper’s board looked up the official UN estimations and gave him their figures, and that Sanders immediately accepted the correction.
“During a recent New York Daily News editorial board interview, Sanders was asked about the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict,” the Sanders campaign’s statement said. “‘Help me out here because I don’t remember the figures,’ [Sanders] said before saying his recollection was that 10,000 Palestinians were killed. He then immediately added, “Does that sound right?’ The interviewer did a quick search and found that, in fact, more than 2,000 Palestinians were killed and 10,000 were wounded.
“The United Nations has estimated that 2,104 were killed, including 1,462 civilians,” the Sanders campaign statement continued. “Understanding that his recollection was about the total number of casualties, not the death toll, the senator immediately accepted that correction and the discussion moved on to other topics.”
According to the audio, a Daily News interviewer indeed returns to the subject as follows: “Okay, while we were sitting here, I double-checked the facts. It’s the miracle of the iPhone. My recollection was correct. It was about 2,300, I believe, killed, and 10,000 wounded.” (The 2,300 total actually represents Hamas’s claims of dead non-combatants and combatants.) Sanders, in the audio, responds with an “okay,” accepting the correction. His okay does not appear in the written transcript. (The exchange is about 40 minutes into the audio of the interview, which is included at the top of the printed transcript here.)
Oren had earlier issued a demand for an apology from Sanders for his mischaracterization of what happened in Gaza, including Sanders’s charge that Israel bombed hospitals in an indiscriminate military campaign.
“First of all, he should get his facts right. Secondly, he owes Israel an apology,” Oren had said 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?”
“He doesn’t mention the many thousands of Hamas rockets fired at us,” Oren continued. “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.”
According to Palestinian figures of the 2014 conflict, which are cited by the UN Human Rights Council, 1,462 civilians were killed out of a total of the 2,251 Gaza fatalities during the 51-day conflict. Israel, for its part, has said that up to half of those killed on the Palestinian side were combatants, and has blamed the civilian death toll on Hamas for deliberately placing rocket launchers, tunnels and other military installations among civilians. Seventy-three people were killed on the Israeli side of the conflict.
In the Sanders campaign statement, Briggs reiterated the time his candidate spent on a kibbutz in 1964, along with family ties he has there now, saying “There is no candidate for president who will be a stronger supporter of Israel’s right to exist in freedom, peace and security.”
Added Briggs: “As we go forward in this campaign, distorting the truth is not useful,” he said. “We hope there can be an honest discussion of this important issue.”