In a Sunday interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” talk show, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said he was determined to take a “more balanced position” on Israel than other American politicians, rejecting the notion that he is more critical of Israel.
“Whether you’re Jewish or not Jewish, I would hope that every person in this country wants to see the misery of neverending war and conflict ended in the Middle East,” he said. “It’s a difficult issue and good people have tried to deal with it for years.”
While the US must support Israel, he said, “you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza right now: poverty, unemployment, their community has been decimated. You can’t ignore that fact. And you can’t just be only concerned about Israel’s needs. You have to be concerned about the needs of all of the people of the region.”
He also reiterated that Israel’s response during the 2014 war against the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip was “disproportionate.”
“Israel has a 100% — and no one will fight for that principle more strongly than I will — has the right to live in freedom, independently and in security without having to be subjected to terrorist attacks,” he said.
“But I think that we will not succeed to ever bring peace into that region unless we also treat the Palestinians with dignity and respect, and that is my view.”
Asked about criticism from Member of Knesset Michael Oren, an American-born former Israeli ambassador to the US, who termed his comments a “blood libel,” Sanders asked, “Who is Mr. Oren?”
Told who Oren is, Sanders said, “I see. And he’s attacking me for a statement I did not make.”
Sanders has also come under fire recently for misstating facts, including an accusation that rival Hillary Clinton had said he was unqualified to be president and a claim that the pope had invited him a conference at the Vatican.
The senator has repeatedly in recent days cited grossly inflated numbers for the Palestinian civilian death toll in the 2014 war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.
In a New York Daily News interview last week, he said 10,000 civilians were killed by Israel’s “disproportionate” attack on Gaza targets during the conflict, more than seven times higher than the figure given by Hamas, and higher still than Israel’s assessment of the casualties.
On Thursday, Sanders and his campaign belatedly acknowledged that the 10,000 figure was wrong. 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 placing its rocket launchers and terror tunnel openings in civilian areas.