(JTA) – The day after his victory in the Wyoming Democratic caucus, Bernie Sanders doubled down on his assertion that Israel’s response in the 2014 Gaza war was “disproportionate.”
“Was Israel’s response disproportionate? I think it was,” Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, told CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview that aired Sunday on “State of the Union.”
The Democratic U.S. presidential candidate complained that public figures were focusing on his initial response in a New York Daily News interview that 10,000 “innocent people” were killed in the Gaza conflict, noting he said he did not know the exact number. He later accepted the total presented by a Daily News editor – that 2,104 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians. Israel has estimated a lower number of civilians were killed in the war.
He lashed out when informed of the criticism by Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who called the Sanders statement a “blood libel.”
“He’s attacking me for a statement I did not make,” Sanders asserted. The candidate had to ask who Oren is. Oren recently authored a well-publicized book, “Ally,” on the U.S.-Israel relationship based on his years in the ambassadorship.
Tapper called it “interesting … that the first Jew in American history to win a delegate, much less a primary, is taking this position with Israel. … You are taking a more critical position.”
Sanders corrected Tapper, saying he is taking “a more balanced position.”
“Whether you’re Jewish or not Jewish, I would hope that every person in this country wants to see the misery of never-ending war and conflict ended in the Middle East. It’s a difficult issue and good people have tried to deal with it for years,” Sanders said.
He added: “Of course we are going to support Israel, but you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza right now: poverty, unemployment, their community has been decimated. You can’t ignore that fact. And you can’t just be only concerned about Israel’s needs. You have to be concerned about the needs of all of the people of the region.”
On the same program, Hillary Clinton, who said she expects to be the Democratic Party nominee for president, criticized her party rival for his comments on Israel’s response to rocket fire from Gaza.
Clinton told Tapper that she support’s “Israel’s right to self-defense” and said she learned in negotiating the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in 2012 that “Hamas provokes Israel.” She also said that because Hamas bases itself in civilian areas, it is a “difficult undertaking for Israel to target” fighters.
“When you are being attacked with rockets raining down on your people and your soldiers are under attack, you have to respond,” Clinton said.
On Saturday, Sanders won the Wyoming Democratic caucuses with nearly 56 per cent of the vote, though he and Clinton will divide the state’s 14 delegates. Sanders has won eight of the last nine state votes.
Also on Saturday, Sanders at a Harlem rally said he was proud to be Jewish in response to an anti-Semitic claim.
Sanders, won applause with his answer Saturday at the historic Apollo Theater in the Manhattan neighbourhood. The rally featured African-American celebrities and politicians who back his campaign.
A man asked Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, about his Jewish identification and the time he spent in Israel in the 1960s, then expounded on theories of Jewish financial control.
“As you know, the Zionist Jews,” the man said, to rising cries of protest from the crowd, “they run the Federal Reserve, they run Wall Street.” Asked by a moderator to pose a question, the man said: “What is your affiliation to the Jewish community?”
“That’s not what you’re asking,” Sanders retorted. “I am proud to be Jewish.”
The audience erupted into applause.
Sanders has endeavoured to peel away minority support from Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is the Democratic front-runner.
“I am a strong defender of Israel, but I also believe that we have got to pay attention to the needs of the Palestinian people,” he said, to another extended round of applause.
“There are wonderful people and I have met them on both sides of that issue and there are bad people on both sides of that issue,” Sanders said. “And if we are going to bring peace, hopefully, God willing, in the Middle East, we’re going to have to treat both sides with respect and equality.”
The man continued to shout protests, and the crowd drowned him out, shouting “Bernie!”