Foreign minister condemns Sanders’ ‘shocking’ comment on US embassy

After Democratic front-runner says he’ll weigh moving mission from Jerusalem, Israel Katz says ‘people who very much support Israel will not tend to support him’

Democratic US presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks with members of the media after a Democratic presidential primary debate, February 25, 2020, in Charleston, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Democratic US presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks with members of the media after a Democratic presidential primary debate, February 25, 2020, in Charleston, South Carolina. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Wednesday slammed US Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders for his “shocking” remark at Tuesday’s party debate that, if elected president, he would consider moving the US embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv.

Moderator Major Garrett first asked Sanders about his recent criticism of pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC. He asked, “What would you say to American Jews who might be concerned you’re not, from their perspective, supportive enough of Israel, and specifically, would you move the US embassy back to Tel Aviv?”

“The answer is it’s something we would take into consideration,” Sanders said.

“I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months, but what I happen to believe is that right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country,” he said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

“That remark is shocking,” Israel Katz said Wednesday in an interview with Army Radio.

He went on to assail the Independent senator from Vermont, while prefacing by saying that “we don’t intervene in the internal process in the United States, which is a strong democracy.”

“The remark by Sanders, who is of Jewish background, is his second against the State of Israel on topics that are at the core of Jewish belief, Jewish history and Israel’s security,” Katz said.

The first such remark was made at a J Street conference in October, when Sanders openly considered cutting US aid to Israel and giving the funds instead for humanitarian relief in Gaza in order to pressure the Jewish state to curb its settlement enterprise, enter peace talks with the Palestinians and improve the humanitarian crisis in the Strip.

“I would use the leverage of $3.8 billion,” he said at the time. “It is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government, or for that matter to any government at all. We have a right to demand respect for human rights and democracy.”

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

“The previous time he talked about Gaza… without at all understanding the reality and the threat and the rockets and everything we are facing as those who are being attacked by radical Islam and defending ourselves,” Katz said. “He in effect wanted to deny us the right to self-defense.

“And now, Jerusalem. There is no Jew who hasn’t dreamed of Jerusalem for thousands of years, to return, and we returned and I think President Trump did an important thing, without connection to internal disagreements within the United States,” he continued. “He recognized the reality that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the State of Israel.

“Now, in the new peace plan, the deal of the century, he recognizes Jerusalem in its entirety as Israel’s capital. And we will stick to that and insist on that, and of course act to persuade [people] in the US regarding those things. And whoever comes out against that — naturally, people who very much support Israel will not tend to support him,” Katz said.

Out of all the Democratic candidates running for president, Sanders has been the most outspoken on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, calling for an “even-handed” approach more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Democratic US presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event in San Antonio, February 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

On Sunday, Sanders said on Twitter that he would not attend the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference next week, emphasizing that he was “concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”

Sanders’s ties to Israel go way back. He spent months living on a kibbutz in the 1960s — an experience he has cited in the past to affirm his commitment to Israel’s security.

“I am very proud to be Jewish and look forward to being the first Jewish president,” he said at the J Street conference in October. “I spent many months on a kibbutz in Israel. I believe absolutely not only in the right of Israel to exist but the right to exist in peace and security. That’s not a question.”

“But what I also believe,” he continued, “is the Palestinian people have a right to live in peace and security as well.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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