By Ron Kampeas
WASHINGTON (JTA) – Sen. Bernie Sanders called Israel’s new government “racist.” Sanders was one of five contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination who participated in CNN town halls Monday evening, April 22, in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was the only candidate to field an Israel question: A man noted that Sanders was known for his “outspoken” criticism of the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was re-elected earlier this month.
Sanders repeated his longstanding argument that the United States must be more evenhanded in how it approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for the first time also called Netanyahu’s government “racist.”
“The goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing – dare I say – racist government,” he said to applause. Sanders also was applauded for calling Netanyahu “a right-wing politician who, I think, is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly.”
Another candidate, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, previously called Netanyahu a “racist.”
Sanders also noted his own attachment to Israel. “I am 100 percent pro-Israel,” he said. “Israel has every right in the world to exist, and to exist in peace and security and not be subjected to terrorist attacks. But the United States needs to deal not just with Israel, but with the Palestinian people as well.”
AIPAC pushed back against Sanders stating in a tweet that did not mention the Democratic presidential hopeful by name, that it was counterproductive when American leaders used “name-calling” against their Israeli counterparts.
“The U.S.-Israel alliance serves America’s interests,” AIPAC said Tuesday on Twitter. “We benefit from the close bonds between the governments and peoples. Name-calling by political leaders against the democratically elected government of Israel is counterproductive to maintaining close ties and advancing peace.”