Well, it has finally happened. Bernie Sanders put Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians on the table. For years no presidential candidate has dared mention Palestinian human rights. Criticizing Israel was the third rail of politics. Not even when Israel attacked our USS Liberty, an unarmed reconnaissance ship, flying the American flag, bombing the ship, killing 34 US sailors, wounding 171, strafing life rafts with machine gun fire when our troops tried to abandon the ship was there an outcry from Washington. Our Chair of the Joint Chief of Staff, Thomas H. Moorer, never believed Israel’s claim that it was a mistake, “Israel’s attack was a deliberate attempt to destroy an American ship and kill her entire crew.” Our president at the time, Lyndon Johnson, said that he did not want to embarrass an “ally.” To this day, there has been no official condemnation of Israel.
More recently, in 2010, Israel invaded a “Freedom Flotilla” in international waters, killing nine humanitarian workers, including an American, seeking to bring food, medicine and toys to the Gaza Strip which Israel had bombed and sealed off from the world. A midnight attack on an unarmed ship of ordinary people cannot be justified by claiming self-defense. Yet, our government voiced no condemnation. Those abused and terrorized by Israel are still trying to reclaim their private property confiscated by Israel. All, but one, of our presidential candidates continue to give Israel a pass.
It’s easy to understand why. Any thinking person knows that we, meaning the United States, have a lot of Palestinian blood on our hands. It is less disturbing to leave it under the table.
Then, suddenly, Bernie Sanders addressed the wrongs of our American practice and policy in supporting Israel. He did not attend the Netanyahu speech to our congress in which the Prime Minister of Israel stood before our congress and undercut our president’s efforts to avoid a violent confrontation with Iran.
He declined to speak to AIPAC, choosing to support the interest of US citizens over the interest of a foreign nation. Then, of all things, he called for rational dialogue with the Palestinian leadership. After a half century of demonizing anything Palestinian, he alone of all the presidential candidates, says we must hear their side of the story.
If we are ever going to bring peace to that region that has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity … One has got to say that right now in Gaza unemployment is somewhere around 40 percent. You got a lot of that area continues – it hasn’t been rebuilt, decimated. Housing decimated, health care decimated, schools decimated. I believe the United States and the rest of the world has got to work together to help the Palestinian people.
Of course, Hillary Clinton responds by pulling out her playbook, supplied by AIPAC and Netanyahu, declaring Israel’s right to defend itself and how Israel “pulled out of Gaza” giving them the opportunity for freedom and prosperity. She counts on Americans not knowing the real history of what happened when Israel left Gaza and barred the gates.
I have been asked, “How could Sanders say such things, after all, he is a Jew.” I say, “Yes, but he is a Jewish Jew, not a Zionist Jew.” He expresses concern for the Palestinians precisely because he is a Jew. He seeks to follow the ethical requirements of his Jewish faith.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)
Wash yourselves; made yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doing from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-18)
You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him. (Exodus 22:21)
You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land. (Deuteronomy 15:11)
And most of all that which has become known as the golden rule:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)
Many Jews have ignored these text and chosen the State of Israel as the measure of their faith, equating any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic.
Even when his criticism of the policies and practice of Israel brought condemnation from fellow politicians, the media and from other Jews, Sanders listened to his Jewish heart and spoke up.
The sad commentary of our day is that he is losing the race for the democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton. She says exactly the opposite. To Hillary, Israel is sacred and Netanyahu is never wrong. No matter how many children are killed by Israeli rockets, how much water is stolen from the West Back or how many illegal settlements are built on Palestinian land, to her, Israel is simply “defending itself.” She is indifferent to Palestinian pain because she is convinced that the Jews in America, especially those with money, view Israel as their substitute god and will vote for her as Israel’s defense attorney. But Bernie Sanders is shifting the ground. More and more Jews are growing concern over the abuse of Palestinians and they are doing so precisely because of their Jewish faith and commitment to their Jewish scriptures.
April 26, 2015