Bernie Sanders rejects ceasefire calls, says Israel must defend itself against Hamas

Vermont senator reiterates Biden’s call for humanitarian pause to protect Gaza civilians, urges world leaders to ‘give hope to the Palestinian people’ for a future beyond Hamas

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vermont, during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 10, 2023. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vermont, during the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 10, 2023. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

US Senator Bernie Sanders rejected calls for a ceasefire in Gaza on Sunday, breaking from a growing group of progressive lawmakers who have been urging an end to the fighting.

“I don’t know how you can have a ceasefire, a permanent ceasefire, with an organization like Hamas, which is dedicated to turmoil and chaos and destroying the State of Israel,” Sanders told CNN. “I think what the Arab countries in the region understand is that Hamas has got to go.”

Israel’s war with Hamas erupted after the October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking at least 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of thousands of rockets.

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, and to destroy its infrastructure. The IDF has been targeting the areas where Hamas operates both with airstrikes and a ground operation, and has said it is working to minimize civilian casualties.

Sanders, a Jewish senator from Vermont who sought to the Democrat Party’s presidential nomination in 2016 and 2020, is one of Israel’s most vocal critics in the US Congress and has regularly called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government racist and blasted its policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank.

By rejecting calls for a ceasefire, Sanders broke with the stance he has held in the past. In May 2021, during Operation Guardian of the Walls, Sanders wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times in which he urged Israel to agree to a ceasefire against Hamas, saying at the time that “in this moment of crisis, the United States should be urging an immediate ceasefire.”

In his interview with CNN on Sunday, Sanders also condemned the humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding in the Gaza Strip, where some 800,000 Gazans are thought to have been displaced by war.

In line with the stance of US President Joe Biden, Sanders called for a humanitarian pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in order to allow intelligence to be gathered on the location of the hostages being held in the Strip and for aid to reach civilians safely.

“Clearly, Israel has a right to defend itself. Hamas has sworn that its goal is to destroy Israel, they gotta deal with that,” he said. “But there has to be a better way than killing thousands of men, women, and children. So once again, the immediate concern is, you gotta have a pause in the bombing, you got to take care of the immediate disaster.”

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip has claimed that some 9,700 people have been killed since October 7. However, that figure cannot be independently verified and is believed to include Hamas terror operatives as well as civilians killed by misfired rockets that fell within the enclave.

While Israel has rejected calls for a humanitarian pause, it has repeatedly urged civilians to evacuate northern Gaza, where the bulk of the fighting against the ruling terror group is taking place. Over the weekend, the IDF attempted to open a safe evacuation corridor for civilians but came under attack from Hamas while doing so.

Additionally, Hamas has tried to take advantage of the humanitarian aid that has been able to enter Gaza from Egypt via the Rafah Crossing, as well as of the wounded who have been permitted to leave Gaza for medical treatment.

On Saturday, a senior Biden administration official alleged that Hamas tried to sneak its fighters over the border into Egypt via ambulance, amid efforts to relocate the wounded and allow foreign passport holders to evacuate.

Palestinian border guards check the documents people leaving Gaza as dual national Palestinians and foreigners prepare to cross the Rafah border point with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 2, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Shortly after the US official’s comments were published, Hamas suspended the evacuation of foreign passport holders.

Touching on Hamas’s mistreatment of Gaza’s civilians, Sanders told CNN that “we have to give hope to the Palestinian people,” and reiterated the Biden administration’s call for Israeli and Palestinian officials to come back to the table to discuss a two-state solution once Hamas has been deposed.

“What we need is the world to come together to give hope to the Palestinians, we need a two-state solution, and we need to have many of the very wealthy countries in the region, the United Arab [Emirates], Saudi Arabia, Qatar, they are extraordinarily wealthy,” he said. “Work with the United States, work the community in order to provide some hope and decency and freedom to the Palestinian people, which Hamas will never do.”

Later on Sunday, White House deputy communications director Herbie Ziskind tweeted out quotes from Sanders’s interview, as well as from Democratic Representative Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts, who said that Israel critics are “outlier members of the Democratic Party.”

The move appears aimed at demonstrating widespread support for Biden’s opposition to a ceasefire, despite growing calls from far-left lawmakers and groups who are pushing for one.

Sanders’s comments were also welcomed by Israeli officials, and Israeli Government Spokesman Eylon Levy shared a clip of the interview on X, formerly Twitter, as have several others, ostensibly in order to demonstrate the widespread political opposition in the US to calls for a ceasefire.

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