Bullshit Philosophy

Half-assed political and religious commentary from a cynical left-winger

Statement from Bernie Sanders on Gaza

Posted by Kevin on February 7, 2009

Last week I finally heard something back from the office of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Israel’s attack on Gaza:

Thank you very much for contacting me about the recent Israeli incursion into Gaza that resulted in the loss of hundreds of Palestinian lives. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to you on this important issue.

As you know, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been of the world’s most difficult disputes over the last half century. The hatred, violence and loss of life that define this conflict make living an ordinary life a constant struggle for both peoples. This crisis not only endangers the Middle East but also creates enormous instability throughout the region and ultimately, the world.

Recently, this decades-old conflict spilled over once more as Israel launched a major military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in order to counter Palestinian rocket fire into its cities and, more broadly, to significantly weaken Hamas rule in Gaza. Tragically, the operation resulted in more than 1,200 Palestinian deaths, the majority of whom were civilians. Thirteen Israelis also lost their lives in the battle before both sides declared temporary cease-fires.

While I fully support Israel’s right to defend itself from the constant barrage of rockets Hamas fires into its homes and urban centers, I have strongly condemned the use of violence by either side as a means for achieving its goals. Leaders on both sides must recognize that the only solution to this conflict is thorough a political process that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and the right of Jews to a safe and secure homeland in Israel.

Unfortunately, the approach of the Bush administration over the last eight years has been one of disengagement from the conflict and complacency with the status quo. This approach has been shown to be not just ineffective, but detrimental to achieving the long-term goals each side seeks. Worse yet, the United States’ inaction on this issue has consistently been out of sync with our allies and has weakened the international coalition’s efforts to resolve this conflict.

That is why I wholeheartedly support the new Obama administration is its commitment to expand our diplomatic presence in the region and to take a more active role in facilitating negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. To that end, President Obama recently appointed Senator George Mitchell as a Special Envoy to the Middle East. I believe Senator Mitchell is uniquely qualified for this role due to his ability to listen to both sides in conflicts, his non-confrontational manner and his years of experience in negotiating peace agreements.

Moving forward, the United States must again be a leader in helping bring both sides together to negotiate a final status agreement. We must work with those Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are truly committed to peace, security and statehood rather than empty rhetoric and violence. We must also enlist the help of the United Nations and the international community to lend support for a two-track process that provides the Palestinians with a state of their own while ensuring the security of the Israeli people.

A two-state solution must include compromises from both sides to achieve a fair and lasting peace in the region. The Palestinians must fulfill their responsibilities to arrest terrorists, confiscate terrorists’ weapons, dismantle terrorist organizations, halt all anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement, and recognize Israel’s right to exist. In return, the Israelis must end their policy of targeted killings, prevent further Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Further, instead of being used as a political football, the Palestinians should be given the financial support of wealthy Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as well as the rest of the international community. Frankly, I have little respect for the leaders of wealthy Arab countries who express great concern about the plight of the Palestinians, while they put billions in Swiss bank accounts. Economic assistance is desperately needed to help create jobs and improve the desperately low standard of living that afflicts so many Palestinians.

I have long believed that one of the best antidotes to war and international tension are citizen exchange programs. In many instances, when people of different backgrounds get to know each other on a personal and human level, differences of opinion can be worked out or, at least, a mutual understanding can be established.

To that end, I was proud to sign a letter last year calling for $20 million in funding for the Israeli-Palestinian Peace, Reconciliation and Democracy Fund, which helps support “through Palestinian and Israeli organizations, the promotion of democracy, human rights, freedom of the press, and non-violence among Palestinians, and peaceful coexistence and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.” Included is $10 million for the People-to-People Exchange Program, which among other things, trains hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian teachers in peace education.

While I was in the U.S. House of Representatives, I was also very pleased to introduce and pass legislation that established the Arab-Israeli Peace Partners Program in Vermont. This program allocated $1.5 million over a two-year period to enable Arabs and Israelis to come to the United States to work together in our local communities, and develop ways to expand democracy and the peace process.

With the help of the United Nations and the international community, we must intensify our diplomatic efforts to bring peace to this embattled region. Rest assured, I will continue to support the Palestinian right to national sovereignty while at the same time ensuring the security of Israel. In addition, it is essential that we work toward improving human rights in the region and provide economic support if we are to achieve our political goals.

There’s some good and some bad in here. Overall, I’m happier with Sanders’ statement than with Welch’s, or with what I heard on the visit to Leahy’s office (or the visit to Sanders’ office, for that matter). But I do have some problems.

I’ll deal with the good news first. He makes note of the civilian nature of most of the Palestinian casualties, something not many in his position have been willing to do. And he shows a slight willingness to criticize Israeli actions and point out how their actions are counterproductive. I basically agree with his point about Arab governments that only pretend to care about the Palestinians, as well as his remarks on Bush’s policies. He doesn’t go nearly as far as I’d prefer on any of the above – he doesn’t seem to be willing to stick his neck out very far – but it’s something. At least he’s a lot more detailed and specific on the matter than Welch.

Probably my biggest gripe is Sanders’ apparent embrace of a key piece of Israeli framing of the conflict: Hamas started it! The attack was primarily “to counter Palestinian rocket fire into its cities,” he says (leaving out the fact that it was planned months ago, ready to be executed when an appropriate excuse could be found). And then there’s this egregious piece of hyperbole, referring to “Israel’s right to defend itself from the constant barrage of rockets Hamas fires into its homes and urban centers”. I’ve already written about the tendency of him and others to massively overstate the effect and importance, and to ignore the causes, of Hamas’ rocket attacks in the process of decrying what “both sides” are doing. Sanders here comes pretty close to saying – whether he realizes it or not – that Gazans brought it on themselves, that they have no right to resist occupation.

[To make myself clear, I'm not saying I think the rocket attacks are justified, just that it's pretty minor compared to what Israeli forces regularly do. It's incredibly frustrating to see bottomless emphasis placed on Hamas "terrorism" which poses no existential threat to Israel, while much greater Israeli crimes are barely mentioned and often rationalized.]

Regarding the necessary compromises Sanders outlines toward the end, I don’t have a major beef with it (although I might come back to it in a later post). My only quibble is with the idea that the Israelis should “prevent further Israeli settlements on Palestinian land”. Well, not with the idea itself, but with the implicit notion that the settlements already there are fine. And with the concept that even just not building more of them is a concession of any sort on the part of Israel. I don’t remember where I read it, but someone once suggested that dismantling the settlements, every last one of which is on stolen land, isn’t a concession any more than it would be for a thief to return stolen jewels. It’s just the bare minimum they should be expected to do.

I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other on the citizen exchange programs Sanders talks about. My gut response is that it’s not a bad idea, but I wonder about its long-term effectiveness. Does anyone else have an opinion?

Also important is what Sanders doesn’t say. Not a word about the ongoing blockade. Not a word about Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure during the conflict, like police and schools. Not a word about white phosphorus. Not a word about the role of US military aid in conflict. And not a word about why he supported (or at least wouldn’t publicly oppose) the noxious Senate resolution granting 100% support to Israel.

I want to be clear at this point that while I’m certainly nitpicking, I’m not being a perfectionist about this issue; I recognize that any politician that fully embraces my position is going to be a virtual pariah to the DC establishment (sure there’s Kucinich, who I still admire, but no one really takes him seriously), and there’s not exactly a lot of people to support someone willing to stick their neck out, so I realize that the muddled positions like the ones I’ve been critiquing are probably the best we’re going to get absent some large public outcry that doesn’t appear to be forthcoming. But I still think it’s important for those against Israel’s occupation to voice criticisms even when a given position, like Bernie’s, is better than those of the sociopaths running both the Democratic and Republican parties (and we should of course praise them when they do give us something better, as I’d like to think I’m doing here). If no one is at least talking about justice for the Palestinians, that guarantees it will never happen.

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10 Responses to “Statement from Bernie Sanders on Gaza”

  1. Alex Petrucci said

    Well put, spot on. And I’d like to add a few other things such as the Israeli check points, the nearly 12,000 kidnapped Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, etc, etc. Mr. Sanders is not an honest man, he’s just deluding the real cause of the problem by sponsoring some water downed peace workshop. Mr. Sanders is a true zionist at heart.

    • k said

      I hope you are right, when someone is a Zionist that means they are for freedom

      Lets hope he is a Zionist and is not intimidated by the anti-Israel pieces of Shit in this earth

  2. A Kashen said

    Thank you for your article. I wish others were as informed as you. Keep up the good work.

  3. Arthur Pena said

    Excellent, well said. To insist on the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish State is itself to ultimately justify apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Demographically, the Jews simply cannot have a majority without moving Palestinians out. If the Jews accept a single, secular state in which all citizens have equal rights (which I think is the only fair solution), they will soon find themselves in the minority, and thus the Zionist dream of a Jewish State is doomed without ethnic cleansing and apartheid. They are conquering land for their State the way the Americans did it–‘settlers’ moved into “Indian Territory”, sometimes “legally”, sometimes “illegally”, establishing the “reality” of an “American” presence on the ground, which the American military was “obliged” to protect from the attacks of the original inhabitants of the land who were resisting the occupation. To be clear: I believe in the right of Jews to live in Palestine, and for all people, Jewish and Arab, to be safe. But there should be no “Jewish State” as such–for the reasons I gave above.

  4. How’s it going? I very much appreciate your post and analysis of Sanders’ response to “Israel’s Attack On Gaza.” I would just like to point out that I admire your objectivity in remaining SOMEWHAT unbiased in your commentary, however, I have a few talking points to introduce.
    First, I would like to point out your lack of acknowledgement in the Arab League’s(what you’ve described as wealthy Arab leadership) role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not only have just about every member of the Arab League exiled or repressed Palestinian refugees in their own nations while claiming to support the Palestinian people (I agree with Sanders that unfortunately, they’re used as a political tools by extremist political factions and the gov’ts that support them (Iran, Syria, Libya etc). In the same vein, in response to ARTHUR PENA: I propose a simple resolution to what you pessimistically claim cannot be achieved in the Zionist dream (a Jewish homeland in Israel); this resolution is for critics and loathers of Israel alike must FINALLY hold the actual parties accountable for the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. Organizations like Amnesty International and liberals such as yourself (I am also a very proud liberal)need to finally acknowledge the greater problem within the conflict, the Arab League and their power and influence over the conflict. If the leaders of states belonging to the Arab League genuinely cared for their Palestinian brothers and sisters they would provide land and economic opportunities in their EXTREMELY EXPANSIVE states and perhaps even the land Israel WILLINGLY returned to Jordan and Egypt.
    Finally I would just like to point out liberal discourse’s current ignorance of the Jewish People’s plight and its importance to liberalism and human rights. Have we really forgotten that in the modernized “Western” world in the 20th century that the Holocaust occurred targeting non-religious secularized Jews in Western Europe and mostly extremely religious, isolated, dirt-poor, economically repressed Jews in Eastern Europe (much in the circumstances of Palestinians). I just believe people need to start criticizing Israel less (although I despise the Likud and conservative asses in Israeli government who currently rule and through majority approved “the Wall” and further Israeli settlement) and criticizing the Arab League more for their human rights violations, their significant role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and their wealth and lack of commitment to their own people and the Palestinian people. The Jews had NOWHERE to go after the Holocaust, and Western European Jews found Zionism preposterous leading up to the Holocaust because they identified themselves as Germans, French, Italians (etc.) first and Jews second. Do you really believe after the Holocaust the Jews could return to their homes in countries and societies that enabled their annihilation? It is indisputable that Jews had nowhere to go and deserved and NECESSARILY needed a homeland.
    Lastly, I would like to mention that perhaps you are unaware or uneducated about the Jewish exodus from Arab states that occurred from 1948 and is still occurring today. These Mizrachi, or “Eastern” Jews who resided in ANCIENT communities that in some instances were present before Islam or Christianity existed! Before Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948, all of the states in the Arab league actively exiled or sponsored massacres of Mizrachi Jewish communities. These Jewish communities had nothing to do with Zionism which was a political response to anti-Semitism and lack of support from white liberals such as yourself in Europe (where most Jews resided due to HISTORIC EXILES AND EMIGRATION RESTRICTIONS). These communities identified more with their Arab cousins culturally than European Jews, but solely because of the ancient cultural affiliation to European Jews they were exiled and from all the Arab States equated to over 1,000,000 refugees, all or most of whom now live in Israel (thankfully due to Israel Rescue Operations) or exile.

  5. P.S. I really like your comment icons, I can’t decide if they remind me of certain Native American themes, or perhaps Appalachian themes

  6. Norman Finklechumps said

    Incredible the liberal garbage and revisionist, racist, history here. This diatribe of nonsense is shocking, even for the eternal liberal. Quick history lesson: “Palestine” is a roman word (no ‘p’ in the arabic language), derived from the insult philistine, who were seafaring greeks from the aegean. Romans renamed Israel this insult to deter the native Jews from returning to their homeland. Clearly they did not succeed, but that is another story. The arabs you refer to as “palestinians” began coming to the area around the middle to end of the 19th century. To insist on saudi arabia, and the other 56 muslim countries as muslim countries is racist and can only imply ethnic cleansing, as muslims have, and are continuing to do, in Sudan. Demographically, the Jews have virtually always had a majority. I believe in the right of muslims to live in Israel, and for all people, Jewish and arab, to be civilized, non misanthropic, terrorist, psychopaths, hell bent on the destruction of every single Jew. A recent poll showed that the majority of arabs in Israel believe that it 1. should not be a Jewish state, 2. should not exist, 3. it’s creation was a catastrophe (yet Jews don’t refer to their expulsion, and thus creation, from arab countries in the same year- numbering at over 1 million refugees). This proves that arabs cannot, and do not, want to live in peace. Yet why would people who so loathe a state want to live in it? It seems that only a perfect opportunist, who sees that it’s life will be far better in Israel than their own country, temporarily bides it’s time, milking the teat it plans to rip off.

    Referring to your baseless, and now disproven claim that the majority of deaths on the arab side were civilian: I am certain you have heard of Goldstone’s recantation. Nuff said.

    I suggest you and your ilk begin actually learning of this conflict, instead of getting into a few youtube fights and opening up a baby nazi blog.

  7. eliza said

    well i am just not going to believe anything he says now, this is obviously not true, what he says is wrong. it is not factual. Fucking israel. Genocide. That is what Israel is doing. this is a very good website, http://www.councilforthenationalinterest.org/israelpalestineconflict/origins-of-the-israel-palestine-conflict

  8. Disappointed in CA said

    Thanks for posting this. I am not a Vermont resident, but I am not getting very effective representation from my home state’s Congresscritters, so I am looking to give my support to somebody whose views on Palestine actually represent mine. After all, the votes they make affect all Americans regardless of which state you live in. I had high hopes for Sanders because I agree with his views on a lot of other issues. Your report was a major bummer. One can only hope that my Senators’ staffers or Sanders will notice what the public is thinking…

  9. Could it be, as some of you on this board imply, that Senator Sanders, who is objective, honest, and candid on all other subjects makes an exception when it comes to Israel? Or could it be that YOU are the ones who have lost sight of your objectivity? Neither Sanders nor I give Israel a hall pass to do whatever it wants with impunity, but we also recognize that the blame goes both ways. We, like others who have done our research, are aware of the nuanced nature of this dreadful conflict. I have spoken to NGO volunteers from Gaza who have attested to the truth: the Palestinians there who actually want peace with Israel are afraid to speak up for fear of the vast majority of their brethren, who wish to destroy Israel and murder the Jews who live there. How can you seriously believe these people share your dream of a secular, unified Israel? Don’t you realize that you are only projecting your western values on a people about whom you know very little, and with whom you share little in common? As a fellow progressive, you people make me feel ashamed of liberals. I feel shame because your liberalism comes not from facts, but from gut instincts, propaganda, and latent antisemitism. Yes, you heard me right–you instinctively blame the Jews, because Jews are disproportionately successful in the United States and Europe, and Israel thrives economically and is capable militarily. Because of your superficial understanding of history and contemporary reality, you are quick to assume this is a simple oppressor-oppressed dynamic akin to Apartheid, and your good intentions are easily manipulated by liars–liars like the Islamic Brotherhood, which promised to remain outside of politics in Egypt, but has–predictably to those of us with any sense–gone back on its word and now seeks to turn Egypt into a theocracy that persecutes women and gays. You would answer that Israel is itself a theocracy, but you forget that in Israel, women and gays are not persecuted, members of all religions are allowed to practice their religion in peace, freedom of speech is sacrosanct, and democracy–real democracy–survives. And in this sense, you are no different from the conservative idiots who burn Korans, claim Obama is a fascist, buy into supply-side economics, and vote against their own interests every time they put another “family values” bleating corporate shill in office who also make me sick. The BDS movement is an intellectually dishonest crock of sh_t, and you are nothing but its pawns. Congratulations. Pat yourselves on the back for your “humanitarianism.”

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