Israel’s government is racist and does not have to be backed by those who support the Israelis and want peace, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said Tuesday during a CNN town hall event in Las Vegas.
The independent Vermont senator took questions from the audience along with fellow contenders for the Democratic nomination Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Sanders, who is currently the front-runner in the race, was asked, “How do US-Israel relations look under your administration?”
“To be for the Israeli people and to be for peace in the Middle East does not mean that we have to support right-wing, racist governments that currently exist in Israel,” Sanders responded, drawing applause from the audience.
.@BernieSanders on #CNNTownHall: "To be for the Israeli people and to be for peace in the Middle East does not mean that we have to support right wing racist governments that currently exist in Israel… pic.twitter.com/L3tqrt3pcE
— People for Bernie (@People4Bernie) February 19, 2020
Saying he feels “strongly about it as someone who is Jewish and knowing how much our people have suffered over the years,” Sanders added that American foreign policy in the region should be “about bringing the Israelis, bringing the Palestinians together under the banner of justice.”
US policy, he said, “cannot simply be one that we’re just pro-Israel and we ignore the needs of the Palestinian people.”
Sanders was apparently referring to US President Donald Trump’s plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unveiled last month at the White House. The plan is seen as favoring Israel’s demands and has been rejected outright by the Palestinians. By contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and his chief rival in the coming elections, Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz, have both said they would bring the Trump plan for approval by the Knesset.
Sanders has in the past referred to the Netanyahu government, and the prime minister, as racist.
In April 2019, at another CNN town hall event, he described Netanyahu’s approach toward the Palestinians as “oppressive” and said Israel is “now run by a right-wing — dare I say — racist government.”
At the fifth Democratic debate between candidates hoping to take on Trump in November 2020, held in December, Sanders said, “We must understand that right now in Israel we have leadership under Netanyahu… who, in my view, is a racist.”
On Tuesday, the democratic socialist also took a swing at Saudi Arabia, whose de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, has been tied to the murder last year of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
“For years we have loved Saudi Arabia, our wonderful ally; the only problem is the people who run that country are murderous thugs,” Sanders said.
As part of his campaign, Sanders has emphasized his Jewishness, releasing a video in which he said he is “very proud to be Jewish” and is looking forward to “becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country.”
I'm very proud to be Jewish and I look forward to becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country. pic.twitter.com/UOPvEomHNE
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 17, 2020
During his 2016 run for the Democratic nomination, Sanders was at first reluctant to mention his Jewish heritage, although he was the first Jewish major-party candidate to ever win nominating contests.
Sanders has called a number of times for the United States to consider making aid to Israel conditional as a means to nudge its government away from expanding settlements in the West Bank and other moves seen as impeding Israel-Palestinian relations.