The Bernie Sanders Miracle: American Crowd in Brooklyn Cheers Palestinian Dignity

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The Democratic debate in Brooklyn last night took an unusual turn when a grumpy old Jewish American upbraided a slightly younger Illinois Methodist for not respecting the dignity of the Palestinian people.

BLITZER [Used to work for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby] : . . . Senator, let’s talk about the U.S. relationship with Israel. Senator Sanders, you maintained that Israel’s response in Gaza in 2014 was, quote, “disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of innocent life.”


What do you say to those who believe that Israel has a right to defend itself as it sees fit?

SANDERS [former kubbutznik, i.e. left wing Zionist annoyed by the rise of the far right wing Likud Party]: Well, as somebody who spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate.


But — but what you just read, yeah, I do believe that. Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Free Palestine!

SANDERS: Now, if you’re asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was, and let me say something else.


SANDERS: And, let me say something else. As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run — and this is not going to be easy, God only knows, but in the long run if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.


SANDERS: So what is not to say — to say that right now in Gaza, right now in Gaza unemployment is s somewhere around 40%. You got a log of that area continues, it hasn’t been built, decimated, houses decimated health care decimated, schools decimated. I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people.

That does not make me anti-Israel. That paves the way, I think…

BLITZER: … Thank you, Senator…

SANDERS: …to an approach that works in the Middle East.

The Israeli propaganda line is that the Palestinians are natural, intrinsic terrorists who are always attacking Israelis out of blind hatred for Jews and who casually deploy terrorism on a mass scale and refuse to recognize the inexorability and naturalness of several million European and North African and other Jews living in Palestine.

Perhaps Sen. Sanders would not agree with what I am going to say. But this narrative ignores that in 1800 there were virtually no Jews in Palestine. It ignores that the Jewish settlers in British Mandate Palestine derailed British plans for a Palestinian state by 1949 (as put forward in the 1939 White Paper), in accordance with all the other Class A Mandates established at and after the Versailles Peace Conference that ended World War I. That is, the French Mandate of Syria became Syria and Syrians have Syrian citizenship, the British Mandate of Iraq became Iraq and Iraqis have Iraqi citizenship. Even Class B Mandates became independent countries and their inhabitants became citizens– Tanganyika became Tanzania and Zanzibar, Ruanda-Urundi became Rwanda and Burundi. Why did not the Mandate of Palestine result in a state of Palestine in which the Palestinians were citizens?


It was because the Jewish settlers let in by British Mandate authorities over the objections of the native Palestinians (whose families had lived there since time immemorial) who conducted an ethnic cleansing campaign in 1947-1948 and expelled 720,000 Palestinians out of 1.2 million, then declared Israel and locked the refugees out. Many of those refugees were forced to crowd into refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, where they still huddle, penniless and displaced and besieged permanently by the Israelis.

The simple-minded Zionist talking point that the British split their Mandate into Palestine and Jordan, and that Jordan is Palestine, is historically laughable and does not answer the question of why the Palestinians don’t have a state of their own and why over 5 million of them are stateless, lacking the rights of citizenship in any state. French Syria was also split into Syria and Lebanon, and everybody got citizenship; this is also true of Ruanda-Urundi, which was split.

Part of what Sen. Sanders likely means by Palestinian dignity is that you can’t have dignity as a human being in the modern world if you don’t have the right of citizenship in a state. Palestinians are deprived of that dignity. There are likely only about 12 million stateless people in the world, and Palestinians are the largest single such group. Not only do Palestinians not have a state and not only are they therefore left without the basic human rights that come with citizenship, they labor under Israeli military occupation

Israel is actively depriving the Palestinians of the right to be citizens of a state. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu actually ran on this platform in the last election in Israel, and won on it.

Sen. Hillary Clinton [whose campaign in part is being funded by billionaire cartoonist Haim Saban, a virulent opponent of Palestinian rights and investor in squatter settlements in the West Bank] responded that Israel withdrew from Gaza (which it occupied in 1967) in 2005, but then was subjected to thousands of rocket attacks, and had no choice but to attack Gaza.

She also alleged that Hamas uses human shields and that therefore Israelis have no choice but to kill women and children.

Neither of these allegations is true. Even if they were, you’re not allowed deliberately to kill women and children and innocent non-combatants in order to get at the enemy.

Israel did not actually withdraw from Gaza. It retains 1/3 of Gaza land as a buffer zone, and routinely shoots Palestinian farmers who own that land and try to farm it. It denies Gaza an airport and a seaport. It even routinely shoots Gaza fishermen. It controls the major checkpoint. It coerces Egypt (with a standing threat of violence) into policing the Rafah checkpoint on the Sinai. It keeps Gaza Palestinians in a large outdoor concentration camp. In a particularly evil and creepy move, the Israeli military even set a calorie limit for Palestinians, including Palestinian children, in Gaza (a limit it has been embarrassed into lifting). Gaza is still occupied, and the UN recognizes Israel as the occupying authority, which lays all the obligations of the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the Israeli state with regard to nurturing the welfare of the people living under its occupation.

Sen. Sanders’ statistics give a good indication of whether Israel is fulfilling its duties under the Geneva Conventions (Conventions that were intended to forestall any more Axis-like aggression and war crimes).

As for configuring the nearly two million people in Gaza, half of them children, as terrorists, usually this discourse is just a form of racism. And although small chemistry-experiment rockets fired from Gaza (often not by Hamas) occasionally do property damage or inflict human casualties, saying that there are “thousands” of them gives a propagandistic impression. All but a handful land uselessly in the desert. All life is precious, but in 2005-2008 in the lead-up to the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza, rockets killed 11 Israelis; in the same period, Israel killed 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children.

Oh, and those towns on which the rockets sometimes manage to fall? They are the home towns of the Palestinians displaced to wretched huts in Gaza, to which they could walk home in an hour or a few hours if they were allowed to.

The biggest problem is actually the future of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Are you going to keep them under Occupation forever? Are you going to push them into the Mediterranean and give Europe millions more refugees?

It has been clear for some years that the far-right Likud government’s policies are unacceptable to most Americans, including to most Jewish Americans. Our political class and the AIPAC lobbyists have tried to obscure this truth just as they obscure climate change.

In response to Sen. Sanders’s comments, Jewish Voice for Peace issued this statement:

Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace: “It was heartening to hear the beginning of a much needed conversation about Israel’s disproportionate use of force against Palestinians in Gaza during the Democratic debate tonight. Today showed that the movement for Palestinian rights is shifting the discourse at the highest political levels. However, there is still a long way to go before we see our political leaders take courageous steps not just to recognize the humanity of Palestinians but to take action to secure their rights.”

What Sen. Sanders is saying is that the status quo is not sustainable. Sen. Sanders is right.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “CNN New York Democratic Debate | The Biggest Loser Was…”

30 Responses

  1. Well, Sanders wouldn’t agree with you for a very good reason: you’re wrong.
    When Herzl witnessed Dreyfus’ downfall in the square, and the Zionist movement was effectively born, 30,000 of the 50,000 inhabitants of Jerusalem were already Jewish; the descendents of those reintroduced in the train, and under the protection, of Salah al Din, the one the British called ‘Saladin’.
    But these were Jews, not rabid Zionists, their children playing together with their friends in the street, and Jewish families spending their holidays on the orange orchards of Palestinian friends along the Jaffa road.

    The Zionists have forgotten how to share and, consequently, have failed as a spiritual state, and very obviously, as an administrative one. I spent some time in Jabalia some years ago and can attest to this personally.
    They have been fully financially supported for some, what? Seventy years now, and still can;’t stand on their own hind legs?
    I see nothing ‘chosen’ or otherwise special about that.

    The rest is just a matter of time.

    • I’m not wrong. The French under Bonaparte estimated the Jewish population in Palestine in 1800 at 3,000.

      In the course of the 19th century Jewish charities allowed Jews to retire to Jerusalem from Russia and Eastern Europe. Those are the people you’re counting. They weren’t mostly permanent residents. And there weren’t many of them given the total population.

      Zionism was a small and controversial movement in the Jewish community before 1930 and roundly rejected by American Jews.

      • According to s British study cited in the book The Arab Israeli Dilemma by Khouri, in 1919 at the time of the Versailles Treaty, there were more Christians than Jews in Palestine (74 k to 58 k) while Arab Muslims made up about 80% of the population (568k). In short, Jews comprised about 8% of the total population. The Jewish population didn’t start increasing significantly until 1930, probably due at least in large part, to the depression in the US and Europe.

    • Harry, Jewish population of Palestine commenced to increase only from about 1923/1924. Before that, at the time of the Partition Plan in 1917, they represented only 8.1 % of the population – (the Jewish virtual Library gives that figure as in 1918.)

  2. Hillary’s indebtedness to Saban is evidenced by her adoption of his views on the Israeli- Palestinian issue. This is exactly what Sanders has been talking about throughout the campaign. If Hillary gets millions from Wall Street and is paid a quarter of a million dollars to give a speech by billionaires….who do you think will have her ear if she makes it to the oval office? I have no doubt she would throw us under the bus to please the AIPAC constituency.

    Somewhat in defense of Hillary. She is not alone in bowing to big money. It’s prevalent in local mayor races all the way to the the race for the presidency. Bernie might be the exception to the rule.

  3. Good for Rebecca Vilkomerson.
    Senator’s Sanders look warm critique to Israel, stands in contradiction to other pronouncements by him, on human issues, which he always does with gusto, soul and pepper.
    Is he patronizing Israel?

    • I think he’s triangulating. Taking a position well to the left of the mainstream, but not so far as to risk it becoming a show stopper. By and large, being targeted by AIPAC used to mean one’s political career was over. So he is trying to stay just close enough to have a chance of making it into office, where he could at least move the needle a little. I don’t think we will see substantial change in policy towards Israel unless/until there is a much larger shift in public opinion.

  4. A peaceful solution to the middle east religious quarrels will disappear like a fart in the wind when humans realize that sky fairies are a delusion.

  5. I read recently that, in America, an Atheist is more hated more than a Muslim. Moderate that.

  6. The earth moved under our feet a bit during debate. Bernie not grumpy just no nonsense.

    Amazing Carole King supporting such a proven war hawk

  7. On this issue it is a no-brainer for anyone with a basic sense of justice to vote for Sanders.

    There are many other reasons to vote for Sanders and many more to vote for (almost) anybody but Clinton.

    “Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists,” Wasserman Schultz, chair of the DNC, calmly explained. – link to

  8. Missed the debate but caught a bit of the CNN post-anlysis. Even Van Jones noted how incredibly unique Sanders was from all the other candidates on that huge point on Palestinians. Overall though the CNN analysts thought Sanders was just ok in the debate but got killed by the gun violence issue. No pun intended.

  9. I thought some other facts should be mentioned about Palestine and the Jews. Before Israel was created as n independent state, in both the 30’s and 40’s there were numerous terrorist acts committed. Most were directed at British authorities, some at the local population and almost all perpetrated by Zionists. In 1948 members of the notorious Stern gag assassinated the UN mediator Count Bernadotte. It was the Jews who introduced terrorism as a political tactic in Palestine. And, as recounted in Robert Fisk’s book Pity the Nation he recounts how the Mossad were the first to use a car bomb as a form of assassination/terror (he found Israeli markings on bomb parts after the explosion).

  10. Okrable

    @TariqRamadan Looking at that map you can’t believe it’s a place where part of “humanity” resides! #shame #BDS

  11. I really like the green graphic showing the growth of Israel, which speaks very eloquently. It’s small wonder you’ve used it several times in posts like this, which go far to educate people to the realities on the ground.

    It may be a bit off-topic, but notice how less than a month ago Zionist apologists managed to have McGraw-Hill scrub this very graphic out of a major textbook.

    link to

    The point here is how well-organized these people are, and they are relentless. It would be a mistake to underestimate their power or the lengths they intend to go to have their way.

  12. A fine analysis, Dr. Cole, spoken from both the heart and the mind as was that of Senator Sanders, the only actual New Yorker on the stage.

    New York is the world’s greatest Jewish city and not coincidentally its cultural capital too. Its well and fairly earned influence in the United States is immense as it should be, but it is not surprising that the right wing there is the home of American Zionism which in turn is the domestic epicentre of the worst and most vexing foreign policy and economic problems we Americans have faced over the last 30 years.

    And into that cauldron walks rumpled old Bernie Standers of Brooklyn whom I had never heard of before about a year and a half ago. And what in essence does he say to THIS particular audience? That we must change our national policy regarding the Palestinian People! He breaks ranks with the Zionist/Lobby power structure. I think it was one of the greatest acts of political courage in our history.

  13. Bernie somehow manages to deliver a breath of fresh, unpolluted air from the dirty center of the American candidate manufacturing industry. His courage to simply apply what used to be American ideals of freedom, respect, and equality to America’s best fake friend Israel is highlighted by the absolute absence of any such comment, clarity, or courage by any other presidential candidate. Israel is a nuclear equipped loose cannon directed by more loose cannons that has put and keeps the world at risk. Mid east peace will never come without an end to Israeli oppression of Palestinians. I don’t think Bernie’s candidacy run is just about the presidency. Its success or failure will determine whether the Democratic Party will survive. If the Democrat machine sticks with machine candidate Clinton then it can kiss goodbye all those independents, Democrats, and Republicans who see Bernie as sole source of fresh air in a horribly polluted system. A Bernie loss will spell the advent of a new third party.

  14. This part of the debate along with the segment where they argued over/past one another for an extended time. If, on the very outside chance that Clinton should lose on Tuesday, my thought is that it’ll be as a result of the combined effect of these two facets – her rapid, rat-a-tat, shrill harrangue did not help her cause and a majority of voters are fed up with politicians in D.C. being prostitutes for AIPAC dollars.

  15. Interesting to think about how Hillary (war hawk) Clinton is attending a 350,000 dollar a plate dinner put on by George (supporting a war hawk) Clooney which is almost double what the Bernie and Jane Sanders make in a year. You heard the comparison heard here first…just saying…. Boom. Shameful

  16. Bernie Sanders is a very brave man who knows what he believes and decided to act on it. Very risky in the US at this time in history.

  17. Bernie didn’t go far enough. Don’t the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves also? Avigdor Lieberman likened
    the Palestinians to “vermin”, Goebbels is smiling from his grave.

  18. I’ve never been more proud of Bernie than when he defended Palestinians and snubbed the AIPAC craven-Bowl. It is even more amazing since I really didn’t know where he would come down on this issue. I’ve been mystified where Hill’s fervent love of Israel (right or wrong), as inexplicable as the fundamentalists’, comes from.

    But to quibble on your facts, the Kurds are the largest stateless pop by far @ 32 million spread across 4 countries. Kurdistan is the closest they’ve come to their own state, but it’s not official + they are still persecuted and attacked by the Turks. And wasn’t the death toll from the Israeli 2006 Gaza Invasion >2200?

  19. When Mr. Sanders discusses proportionality, is there a reason the “Dahiya Doctrine” is not raised? Disproportionate violence, it appears, is not just an accusation leveled by opponents of Israel. Disproportionate violence is official Israeli policy. Or is that incorrect?

    Why is this even debatable when it official Israeli policy?

    link to

  20. Sajid Anjum

    #BernieSanders is a leader of True Principal which Americans can never choose him. But the Dummy Republican #Trump is possible.

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