WASHINGTON — Two days after the New York Daily News published the transcript of its editorial board’s interview with Bernie Sanders, in which the Democratic presidential candidate twice inaccurately said he believed that Israel killed “over 10,000” innocent Palestinian civilians during the 2014 Gaza War, he had yet to correct his misstatement or issue an apology as of Wednesday evening.
Earlier Wednesday, the Anti-Defamation League, a major Jewish organization that monitors civil and human rights issues, urged Sanders to correct his misstatement. “Even the highest number of casualties claimed by Palestinian sources that include Hamas members engaged in attacking Israel is five times less than the number cited by Bernie Sanders,” noted ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt. “We urge Senator Sanders to correct his misstatements.” The ADL, a tax-exempt nonprofit, generally avoids inserting itself into the fray of political elections and declines to take positions on candidates running for public office.
Following the transcript’s publication, The Times of Israel reached out repeatedly to Sanders campaign communications director Michael Briggs and national press secretary Symone Sanders to ask whether the Vermont senator would acknowledge and correct his mistake in massively inflating even Hamas’s own estimation of how many civilian lives were lost during Operation Protective Edge. There was no response from either official.
In the interview, 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.
“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?” he asked.
Told that his estimation was “probably high,” Sanders responded: “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,” he went on. “Hospitals, I think, were bombed. 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 Palestinian figures 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 launches, tunnels and other military installations among civilians. Seventy-three people were killed on the Israeli side of the conflict.
It was clear from the context that Sanders was referring to the 2014 war, but the Palestinian civilian death toll from all three rounds of Israel-Hamas fighting in the years since the terror group seized control of the Strip in 2007 also falls far short of the figure he cited.
In an interview with The Times of Israel on Wednesday, the head of the Democratic Party’s Israel branch suggested Sanders may have been referring to those wounded, rather than killed in Gaza. Foreign affairs are not Sanders’s “forte”, Hillel Schenker said, but the candidate, who is Jewish and spent time in his youth as a kibbutz volunteer, “is committed to Israel.”
Added Schenker: “He’s also committed to the idea that it is in the American and in the Israeli interest to achieve peace, and he would try to make a contribution to move that forward.”
The 74-year-old candidate has criticized Israel’s military response during Operation Protective Edge in the past, while at the same time condemning Hamas for launching rocket attacks into Israeli population centers, building tunnels into Israel and embedding its military infrastructure within densely populated civilian areas.
Sanders reiterated the same sentiment in his interview with the Daily News, saying, “I believe 100 percent not only in Israel’s right to exist, a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks.”
Sanders, who won the Wisconsin primary on Tuesday, faces an uphill battle to defeat former secretary of state Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nod. Clinton leads him by 688 delegates and needs roughly 34 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the nomination.
The next primary contest between the two will be April 9 in Wyoming.