Progressive US senator Bernie Sanders has once again condemned Israel’s violent actions in Gaza – and called on the Biden administration to re-examine the extent of the US’s support for one of its closest allies.
He stuck to that sentiment last week in an essay for The New York Times, writing that while “no-one is arguing that Israel, or any government, does not have the right to self-defence or to protect its people”, Benjamin Netanyahu “has cultivated an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian type of racist nationalism” and that “we can no longer be apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behaviour”.
“The devastation in Gaza is unconscionable,” he wrote in a tweet on Sunday. “We must urge an immediate ceasefire. The killing of Palestinians and Israelis must end. We must also take a hard look at nearly $4 billion a year in military aid to Israel. It is illegal for US aid to support human rights violations.”
On another front, one of Mr Sanders’s colleagues, Jon Ossoff of Georgia, marshalled 27 Democratic senators together in a joint statement on the conflict: “To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories,” it read, “we urge an immediate ceasefire”. Mr Sanders was one of the signatories.
The Vermont senator has criticised the behaviour of Mr Netanyahu’s government and aspects of the US-Israel relationship many times before, and not just during escalations of violence in the Palestinian territories or airstrikes by the Israeli military. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Mr Sanders was asked at a debate with Hillary Clinton to weigh in on the US’s position vis-a-vis the Israeli government.
“There comes a time,” he said, “when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time….
“It is a complicated issue and God knows for decades presidents, including President Clinton and others, Jimmy Carter and others have tried to do the right thing. All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.”
While the Biden administration has sent an envoy to the region to try and accelerate mediation efforts, president Biden’s statements on the conflict so far have grated with many on the left, who see Mr Biden passing up the chance to condemn Israel’s behaviour at a moment when its impact could not be more clear.
Among those speaking up is US Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the left’s most important national figures. Last week, after Mr Biden insisted that Israel has the right to defend itself against attacks – referring to rockets towards Israeli territory by Hamas militants – the congresswoman called on him to go further.
“By only stepping in to name Hamas’ actions – which are condemnable – & refusing to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians,” she tweeted, “Biden reinforces the false idea that Palestinians instigated this cycle of violence. This is not neutral language. It takes a side - the side of occupation.”
She went even further over the weekend, describing Israel as an “apartheid state” and not a democracy.
The pressure from the left has so far not produced any publicly detectable change in the Biden administration’s approach to the conflict. The US has blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a joint public statement condemning the violence, citing the risk to behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
In a statement delivered on Sunday, UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield declared that “the United States has been working tirelessly through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to this conflict because we believe Israelis and Palestinians equally have a right to live in safety and security.”
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