Sanders again inflates Gaza civilian death toll, though he’s getting closer

Democratic candidate, who on Monday suggested Israel killed over 10,000 innocents, then accepted he was wrong, now claims UN says ‘over 2,000 civilians’ killed; UN figure is actually 1,423; Israel says true number is lower

Bernie Sanders on MSNBC April 8, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)
Bernie Sanders on MSNBC April 8, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

A day after he acknowledged that he got his numbers wrong when suggesting Israel killed over 10,000 Palestinian civilians during the 2014 war with Hamas, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders again cited an incorrect and inflated figure for the civilian death toll in a US television interview.

On Thursday, Sanders and his campaign had belatedly acknowledged that the 10,000 figure he twice cited in a New York Daily News interview was wrong — actually some seven times the figure cited by the United Nations and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Sanders told its CEO Jonathan Greenblatt that he had accepted a correction provided during the course of that interview, and that he would henceforth “make every effort to set the record straight.”

Speaking on MSNBC on Friday morning, however, Sanders again cited an incorrect figure — though far less inflated this time. Acknowledging that he hadn’t known “the exact number” when he spoke to the New York Daily News, Sanders said that, “according to the United Nations, over 2,000 civilians were killed” in the war, and repeated his allegation that Israel’s military actions were “disproportionate.”

In fact, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) puts the Gaza civilian death toll in the 2014 war at 1,423, while Gaza’s terrorist rulers Hamas cite a similar number of 1,462. Israel has argued that the figure for civilian deaths is likely lower, since Hamas fought out of uniform in some cases and also had an interest in misrepresenting dead gunmen as civilians. Israel has also stressed that Hamas deliberately placed Gaza civilians in harm’s way, by emplacing its rocket launchers and terror tunnel openings in civilian areas.

The overall death toll in Gaza — of combatants and non-combatants — was 2,205, according to the UN. That figure is presumably the source of Sanders’ ongoing confusion.

In his MSNBC interview Friday, Sanders acknowledged that Hamas had been amassing weaponry, but did not acknowledge the thousands of rockets fired into Israel during the war, or the use of terror tunnels dug under the border.

“Israel has a right to protect itself from terrorism. The idea that in Gaza, weapons and missiles and bombs were being created, is obviously unacceptable,” Sanders told MSNBC. “Do I think that Israel reacted in a disproportionate way? I do,” he went on, however. “In that same [New York Daily News] interview, when I did not know the exact number, but it turns out that, according to the United Nations, over 2,000 civilians were killed, and some 10,000 people were wounded. I think that is, you know, understanding that there was a war, I think that was a disproportionate reaction.”

Sanders also stressed Israel’s “paramount” right to live in peace and security but said Israel had to recognize “the plight of the Palestinians.” He said the current situation in Gaza was “deplorable” in an area that had been “annihilated.” A two-state solution was needed, he said. Asked if he had a specific positions on territorial compromise relating to the pre-1967 lines in the West Bank, he said “not at this point.”

On Thursday, three days after the New York Daily News published an audio and written transcript of its editorial board’s interview with Sanders, in which the Democratic presidential hopeful twice said he believed Israel killed “over 10,000” innocent Palestinian civilians in the 2014 Gaza War, the senator told the ADL that his figures had been inaccurate, noted that he had accepted a correction in the course of the interview, and reportedly added that he would “make every effort to set the record straight.”

His campaign, meanwhile, issued a statement saying his words had been “distorted,” asserting that the senator had conflated the number of dead with the number of total casualties, and confirming that he had acknowledged a corrected figure in the course of the interview.

While the ADL welcomed his walk-back, a second leading US Jewish group, the American Jewish Committee, said his clarification had not gone far enough, and that he still needed to withdraw his “stinging and unjust” claim that Israel waged an “indiscriminate” war in Gaza in 2014.

“Senator Sanders, in repeatedly calling Israel’s actions in Gaza ‘indiscriminate,’ has leveled a serious charge against Israel,” said AJC CEO David Harris. “This accusation flies in the face of everything we know — and military leaders around the world have testified — about Israel’s extraordinary care in fighting terrorists embedded in civilian populations.”

Sanders’s misrepresentation of the Gaza war was castigated by former Israeli ambassador to the US, MK Michael Oren, earlier Thursday as a “blood libel.”

MK Michael Oren at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting in the Knesset, November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Michael Oren at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting in the Knesset, November 19, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Oren issued a demand for an apology from Sanders for his mischaracterization of what happened in Gaza, including Sanders’s charge that Israel bombed hospitals in an indiscriminate military campaign.

“First of all, he should get his facts right. Secondly, he owes Israel an apology,” Oren had said in an interview. “He accused us of a blood libel. He accused us of bombing hospitals. He accused us of killing 10,000 Palestinian civilians. Don’t you think that merits an apology?”

“He doesn’t mention the many thousands of Hamas rockets fired at us,” Oren continued. “He doesn’t mention the fact that Hamas hides behind civilians. He doesn’t mention the fact that we pulled out of Gaza in order to give the Palestinians a chance to experiment with statehood, and they turned it into an experiment with terror. He doesn’t mention any of that. That, to me, is libelous.”

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