Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) responded Sunday to insults and accusations from an Israeli official who disagreed with critical comments the senator made about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
During the Feb. 24 Democratic debate, Sanders, who is Jewish, answered a question about his support for Israel by declaring that the country must be allowed to maintain its independence in the Middle East, but he criticized Netanyahu for his treatment of Palestinians and Arabs in the region.
“I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months,” Sanders said. “But what I happen to believe is that right now — sadly, tragically in Israel — through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country.”
Sanders’s comments followed his previous statements condemning the conservative American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, for providing a platform for “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.” Sanders’s comments were widely seen as criticism of Netanyahu, who is scheduled to speak at the AIPAC conference on Sunday.
During a discussion at the conference on Sunday, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, lobbed several insults at Sanders.
“We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel,” he said, according to The Jerusalem Post. “Anyone who calls our prime minister a ‘racist’ is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both.”
A source close to Netanyahu reportedly told The Jerusalem Post that Danon’s comments “were not coordinated with the prime minister.”
During a Sunday appearance on CBS’s “Face The Nation,” Sanders responded to Danon, saying he supports Israel but he is aware of Palestinians suffering in the region as well.
“I am not anti-Israel,” Sanders said. “I will do everything I can to protect the independence and the security and the freedom of the Israeli people. But what we need in this country is a foreign policy that not only protects Israel, but deals with the suffering of the Palestinian people as well.”
Sanders is not the first to accuse Netanyahu of bigotry. In the past, the Israeli prime minister has issued warnings about Arabs voting in droves during Israeli elections; he has referred to Arabs ― many of whom are Israeli citizens ― as an “enormous danger” to Israel; he partnered with racist, homophobic organizations to bolster his reelection bid in 2019; and under his watch, Israel continues to control settlements in the West Bank, defying the U.N.’s human rights office.