WASHINGTON — The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and an Israeli minister pushed back Tuesday against Sen. Bernie Sanders for calling Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “racist.”
The pro-Israel lobby, in a tweet that did not mention the Democratic presidential hopeful by name, said it was counterproductive when American leaders used “name-calling” against their Israeli counterparts.
“The US-Israel alliance serves America’s interests,” AIPAC said Tuesday on Twitter.
“We benefit from the close bonds between the governments and peoples. Name-calling by political leaders against the democratically elected government of Israel is counterproductive to maintaining close ties and advancing peace.”
The U.S.-Israel alliance serves America’s interests. We benefit from the close bonds between the governments and peoples. Name-calling by political leaders against the democratically elected government of Israel is counterproductive to maintaining close ties and advancing peace.
— AIPAC (@AIPAC) April 23, 2019
An AIPAC official confirmed that the tweet was aimed at Sanders, I-Vt., currently the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Sanders defended his outspoken criticism of Israel in a CNN town hall on Monday broadcast from Manchester, New Hampshire, the first primary state.
“The goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing — dare I say — racist government,” he said to applause.
Tzachi Hanegbi, a cabinet member and key Netanyahu ally, told Israel’s Channel 13 news that he condemned Sanders’ remarks, calling them “strange.”
“The remarks deserve every condemnation. They don’t represent the general feeling of the Democratic Party even among the moderate liberal wing,” said Hanegbi, the minister for regional cooperation.
“Israel’s government is not a racist government. There isn’t a single racist minister. Sander’s should hold back on what he’s saying,” he added. “Being right wing is not forbidden. It’s strange that the Democratic party would allow one of its members to not respect the democratic choices of Israel.”
He said Jerusalem was making efforts to make sure it continued to enjoy bipartisan support in Washington, amid worries that ties between Israel’s government and Democrats were becoming increasingly strained.
Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks called Sanders’s comments “absurd and offensive.”
“We won’t let Israel become a punching bag for Democrats to score points with their radical base.”
Netanyahu, who earlier this month won re-election as prime minister, is in the midst of forming a new right-wing government expected to include the United Right-Wing Parties, which includes far-right and Kahanist politicians.
A number of Democratic candidates before the election blasted Netanyahu for brokering the URWP merger with Otzma Yehudit, a party whose extremist views were inspired by a rabbi, the late Meir Kahane, who was expelled from Israel’s parliament for “racist incitement.”
AIPAC at the time of the vote-sharing deal also blasted Otzma as “racist,” although it did not explicitly fault Netanyahu for making the deal.
“AIPAC has a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party,” it said in a February tweet, referring to the far-right party.
Sanders at the town hall also called himself “100 percent pro-Israel.”
“Israel has every right in the world to exist, and to exist in peace and security and not be subjected to terrorist attacks,” he said. “But the United States needs to deal not just with Israel, but with the Palestinian people as well.”