Bernie Sanders condemns what he calls ‘racist nationalism’ from Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu while calling for an immediate ceasefire

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US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks with reporters about potential efforts to raise the minimum wage at the US Capitol in Washington, March 1, 2021.

  • In a New York Times essay, US Sen. Bernie Sanders called for an “evenhanded approach” to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
  • Sanders said the debate over Israel’s “right to defend itself” lacks context.
  • “[W]hy is the question almost never asked: ‘What are the rights of the Palestinian people?'”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sen. Bernie Sanders does not question Israel’s “right to defend itself.” But in an essay for The New York Times, published Friday, he argued that right must be discussed in the context of the Israeli government’s mistreatment of Palestinians.

“No one is arguing that Israel, or any government, does not have the right to self-defense,” Sanders wrote. But “why is the question almost never asked: ‘What are the rights of the Palestinian people?'”

At least 122 Palestinians have been killed this week by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, including 31 children, according to local health officials. The attacks have come in response to rockets indiscriminately fired by militants with Hamas, the group that controls the Palestinian territory, which is home to more than two million people.

Calling for an immediate ceasefire, Sanders wrote that while Hamas’ actions are condemnable, “today’s conflict did not begin with those rockets.”

As Insider has reported, the latest round of fighting began after an Israeli court ruled Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem could be evicted from their homes to make way for Jewish settlers. Israel recognizes a Jewish “right of return” that is denied to Palestinians, thousands of whom were forced to flee their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war that marked its founding.

A recent report from Human Rights Watch described Israel’s discriminatory policies as amounting to “apartheid.”

Sanders, who as a young man worked on a commune in Israel, said those evictions “are just one part of a broader system of political and economic repression,” one that has worsened under Benjamin Netanyahu.

For more than a decade, the Israeli prime minster, a close ally of the former President Donald Trump, “has cultivated an increasingly intolerant and authoritarian type of racist nationalism,” Sanders wrote. And with the US providing nearly $4 billion a year in aid to Netanyahu’s government, it shares responsibility for Israeli actions, he said.

“We must change course and adopt an evenhanded approach,” Sanders wrote, “one that upholds and strengthens international law regarding the protection of civilians, as well as existing U.S. law holding that the provision of U.S. military aid must not enable human rights abuses.”

The essay comes amid a progressive backlash to President Joe Biden’s support for the Israeli government and its offensive on Gaza. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, like Sanders a democratic socialist, this week accused Biden of making statements that “dehumanize Palestinians” and provide a de facto green-light for Israeli military operations.

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