(JTA) – It would be a mistake to count out anti-Semitism as a driver of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, Sen. Bernie Sanders said.
“I think there is some of that, absolutely,” Sanders, I-Vt., said Monday evening on MSNBC after being asked if he would link BDS to anti-Semitism like his rival for the Democratic U.S. presidential nod, Hillary Clinton.
“Israel has done some very bad things, so has every other country on earth,” Sanders said. “I think the people who want to attack Israel for their policies, I think that is fair game. But not to appreciate that there is some level of anti-Semitism around the world involved in that I think would be a mistake.”
In the interview Sanders, who is Jewish, repeated some of the expansions on his Israel views that he delivered earlier in the day in a foreign policy speech. He said the United States needed to be more even-handed in how it dealt with Israel and the Palestinians, and singled out for criticism Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I spent many months on a kibbutz on Israel, so I know something about Israel,” he said. “Israel has got to be defended, has a right to exist, but you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people.”
Sanders slammed Netanyahu particularly for the speech the prime minister delivered to the U.S. Congress a year ago against U.S. President Barack Obama’s Iran policies. The senator appeared to be questioning Clinton, as well as the Republican presidential candidates, for their tendency to avoid criticism of Netanyahu.
“When you look at somebody like a Netanyahu, to simply not understand that this is a right-wing politician,” he said. “A guy who kind of crashed the United States Congress to give his speech there, ignoring President Obama, not even consulting with him, using it for political purposes back home, a guy who has supported the growth of settlements.”
Sanders was the only presidential candidate not to address this week’s annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference (AIPAC) in Washington, D.C. He was travelling in Western states ahead of primaries this week, where he hopes to narrow Clinton’s delegate lead. He offered to deliver a speech via video link, but AIPAC declined, although it has hosted remote speeches by presidential candidates in the past.
Sanders in the interview also reiterated how his Judaism has shaped his political outlook.
“I would say that being Jewish, what has been most significant in my life is understanding what a Hitler, what horrible politics can mean to people, and I think that’s been one of the motivating factors in my life in fighting against racism and bigotry of all kinds,” he said. “Because when it gets out of hand, as we have seen, it obviously has unbelievable repercussions.”