Monday, March 02, 2020

Even-Handed, Not Even-Handed

Clearly not amused

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders “is a liar, an ignorant fool or both,” Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon told the annual Washington gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Sunday morning.

“We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel. Anyone who calls our prime minister a ‘racist’ is either a liar, an ignorant fool or both,” Danon said.

He spoke in response to a comment Sanders made during a Democratic presidential debate, in which he called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a racist.

Bad timing. If Danon had waited an hour or two, he might have had more grist for the mill. On Sunday's Face the Nation, CBS' Margaret Brennan received a surprisingly revealing response from Bernard Sanders following the journalist's question about politics, not policy. Brennan asked

You've been sparring with the pro-Israel lobby known as AIPAC. You said it gives a platform for bigotry, which was seen as a swipe at Prime Minister Netanyahu. Today, Israel's ambassador to the U.N. says of you that you're not welcome in that country and anyone who calls our prime minister a racist is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both. Do you see a political cost in taking on the pro-Israel lobby in this way?

Sanders has run an excellent campaign, and this was a softball enabling the Vermont senator to suggest either that the American people see things his way, or that he always has believed that comforting sacred cows must give way to principle, or (similarly) that Americans don't want politicians who won't take on the "special interests."  Instead, Sanders replied

Yeah, I do. I mean they have a lot of money. They have a lot of power. Look, I'm Jewish and I'm very proud of my Jewish heritage. As a kid I spent time in Israel. I am not in-- anti-Israel. I will do everything I can to protect the independence and the security and the freedom of the Israeli people. But what we need in this country is a foreign policy that not only protects Israel but deals with the suffering of the Palestinian people as well. You got seventy percent youth unemployment in Gaza. People can't even leave that district, that area, major, major crises. It is not sustainable that we-- continued conflict in the Middle East until the United States develops an even-handed policy.

Sanders dispenses with "more even-handed" than President Trump's policy, which has been brazenly solicitous of Netanyahu's hawkish policies.  "Even-handed policy" without qualification is as it always has been- a shout-out to opponents of Israeli territorial integrity.

It's not surprising that Sanders, a long-time critic of USA foreign policy, would support a foreign policy tilted toward Arab Palestinians at the expense of Israel. But the real tell is "I will do everything I can to protect the independence and the security and the freedom of the Israeli people."

The "Israeli people?" Israel exists as a Jewish state, with the Arabs living in Israel proper given full citizenship. (Residents of the occupied territories have far less.)  The threat to the rights of Arab citizens comes not because Israel was founded as, and has been, a haven for Jewish refugees for over 70 years but from its current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

So Sanders would be right to call out Netanyahu for being an impediment to a peaceful resolution of the ongoing Middle East crisis. He would be right, also, to support the independence, security, and freedom of Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike.

However, when he substitutes "of the Israeli people" for "Israel as a Jewish state" or "the Israelis, Jew and non-Jew alike," he is saying something very significant.  When the Democratic front-runner refers- without explanation- to the Prime Minister of our nation's most loyal ally in the region as a "racist," he knows what he is doing.  And it appears that under a President Sanders, if Israel's security is threatened, Tel Aviv probably will not be able to look to Washington for the support it has received in the past.

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