Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Sunday assailed US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as an “ignorant fool,” two days before a key test for the Jewish frontrunner when primaries will be held in 14 states in Super Tuesday.
At a conference hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Danny Danon made the daring remark — which could be construed as Israeli interference in the election process in the United States — in reaction to Sanders recently calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “reactionary racist.”
“Whoever calls the prime minister of Israel a ‘racist’ is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both,” Danon said. “We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel.”
Out of all the Democratic candidates running for president, Sanders has been the most outspoken on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, calling for an “evenhanded” US approach more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.
Last Sunday, Sanders said on Twitter that he would not attend the powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference, emphasizing that he was “concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”
In a debate last week, Sanders said that “right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country.”
Sanders also said that if elected president, he would consider moving the US embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu gave a restrained response a day later, telling Army Radio simply: “What I think about this issue is that he is of course wrong, no question.”
But, he added: “I am not intervening in the US elections.”
Asked how he would handle a Sanders presidency, Netanyahu said he’d stood up to US leaders in the past and could do so again.
Netanyahu has enjoyed a close relationship with US President Donald Trump, whom he has praised as “the greatest friend” Jerusalem has had in the White House. But his relationship with Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama was decidedly frosty and strained in its latter years — particularly surrounding US negotiations with Iran that resulted in the 2015 nuclear deal.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz was more outspoken after the Tuesday debate, lambasting Sanders’ comments as “shocking.”
“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 added.
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.”
Katz said: “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. 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.
A poll by the nonpartisan Jewish Electorate Institute (JEI) has said Sanders would overwhelmingly outperform Trump with Jewish voters in a head-to-head match-up this fall.
The self-proclaimed democratic socialist would defeat Trump with the demographic group 65% to 30%, despite only 52% of American Jews having a favorable view of Sanders and 45% having an unfavorable view of him, the survey found.
Trump is far more unpopular with the US Jewish community. Sixty-six percent of the poll’s respondents disapprove of the job he’s doing in office.
Sanders spent months living in 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.”
AP contributed to this report.