The American Jewish Congress is dismayed and deeply perplexed by Senator Bernie Sanders’ comments at the J Street Conference. Senator Sanders not only reiterated his pledge to use the US security aid to Israel as “leverage” to pressure our ally, but he also showed a concerning lack of understanding of the real impediments to peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Senator Sanders surrounds himself with individuals that have publicly expressed anti-Israel bias and rhetoric, he seems more inclined to embrace positions that are uninformed, misguided, and that disregard the viewpoints of the majority of the American people.
Senator Sanders referred to Israel in his speech and stated that “if you want military aid, you are going to have to fundamentally change your relationship with the people of Gaza." He also added that he believes "it is fair to think that some of that $3.8 billion [US aid to Israel] should go to humanitarian aid to Gaza.”
In his position, Senator Sanders diverges from the overwhelming bipartisan and bicameral majority in Congress, as well as the overwhelming majority of Americans that have historically favored a robust security aid to Israel. The aid helps our close ally to defend itself against multiple threats in the Middle East and to remain a point of stability in the turbulent region. Aid to Israel, which supports Israel's missile defense system, contributes to protecting the lives of innocent civilians from rockets fired into Israel from Gaza. At the same time, this aid serves the interest of the United States. As the US presence in Syria is diminishing, a safe and strong Israel is key in containing Iran and preventing its further entrenchment and expansionism in the country. Israel is also pivotal in keeping in check other malevolent actors in the region, including Hezbollah, the Assad regime, and the remnants of ISIS.
In his speech, Senator Sanders fails to mention and condemn the destructive role of Hamas, the US-designated terrorist organization, which governs Gaza. Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist and is responsible for firing thousands of rockets at Israel. Hamas’ record with the Palestinians is not much better. In fact, Hamas represses dissent and beats protestors and the Palestinians that it claims to represent, all while instigating riots and violence toward Israelis.
The situation in Gaza should be improved, but humanitarian aid has been previously squandered by Hamas. Assistance provided to the Gaza Strip to improve the life and wellbeing of Palestinians has been continuously directed by Hamas towards the acquisition of rockets used against innocent Israelis, and towards building terror tunnels that infiltrate into Israeli territory. Our elected officials should criticize and be vigilant against human rights violations, including from our allies. But this zealousness in criticizing Israel for the situation, while neglecting the actual rulers of Gaza, is not justifiable.
American Jewish Congress