The New York Times published a series of video interviews in which it queried Democratic presidential hopefuls on, among other questions, whether “Israel meets international standards of human rights,” in what it described as an attempt to gauge their willingness to voice criticism of the Jewish state.
Most, the newspaper said, were reluctant to do so.
In the videos themselves, however, many offered guarded criticism or urged Israel to “get back” to upholding human rights.
Some expressed their concern over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent public support for extending Israeli law to West Bank settlements, seen as a form of de facto annexation.
The paper asked 21 candidates — excluding former vice president Joe Biden, who refused to participate — the question, “Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?”
“Democratic views of Israel are in flux,” the paper explained. “President Trump has redefined the American role in the region and a younger generation of liberals are questioning Democrats’ longstanding support of Israel’s security policies. We thought this question would gauge Democrats’ willingness to criticize Israel, and found few candidates who would do so.”
Senator Bernie Sanders an Independent from Vermont and the only Jewish candidate, responded, “I have great concerns about the role that Netanyahu is playing.”
“The role of the United States is to work with all of the entities in the region, including the Palestinians,” he continued. “And to do that in an even-handed way.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “I believe Israel doesn’t work to ensure human rights. There is more that could be done…. The current Israeli government has made a lot of mistakes that have hindered the peace process.”
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren granted that “Israel is in a really tough neighborhood.” While urging the need to work with Israel, which is a “strong ally” and a “liberal democracy,” Warren said the US should “encourage our ally the way we would encourage a good friend” towards peace negotiations.
“The current situation is not tenable,” she said. “It may be tenable for a week, it may be tenable for a month but it is not in the long-term interest of the Israelis or the Palestinians.”
Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, described Israel’s human rights record as “problematic and moving in the wrong direction under the current right-wing government.”
He added: “I’m very worried, especially with the latest talk of annexation of the West Bank, that their government is moving away from peace in a way that is damaging in the long run to Israel and the Palestinians, and for that matter, American interests.”
Earlier this month Buttigieg warned that the annexation of West Bank settlements by Israel would be met with cuts in American aid to the Jewish state, should he be elected US president in 2020.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker said, “We have a problem right now in America with the way we are debating issues surrounding Israel.” He urged recognition of Israeli security concerns and vowed to “affirm the dignity and self-determination of the Palestinian people.”
“I believe that we can get back to the kind of policies that affirm the two-state solution, affirm human rights,” he said.
Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke said, “I know that Israel attempts to meet international standards of human rights. I know that they could do a better job.”
Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman from Hawaii, said there are “some challenges with Israel that need to be addressed.”
Andrew Yang affirmed that “Israel is a very, very important ally,” but added, “Certainly, some of the actions that are being taken there are deeply problematic and run afoul of standards we’d like to see countries meet.”
Sanders and Warren were among the Democratic presidential candidates who decried Netanyahu’s pledge, before Israel’s April 9 elections, to annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The elections were indecisive and Israelis go to the polls again in September, while Netanyahu remains prime minister.
Warren and Sanders reiterated their opposition to annexation earlier this month, with both senators backing a resolution decrying any such Israeli plan.