Bernie Sanders' Stand for Racial Justice Requires That He Stand for Palestine

Sanders at Houston town hall meeting in July

With a surprising number of Americans now rallying behind the Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders is polling around 39 percent support from Democrats in the latest Monmouth University survey, a number that has risen since April coinciding with a drop for Clinton, who still leads with 43 percent Democratic support. However, Sanders leads Clinton by 7 points in New Hampshire, with his 43% succeeding her 36%. Meanwhile he has closed the gap in Iowa, with polls placing him at 41% and Clinton at 40%. He has raised the second most amount of money directly, and his candidacy is drawing some of the largest crowds on the campaign trail, with his town hall meetings across the nation filling crowded stadiums of thousands. If not successful in securing the nomination, he has already succeeded in bringing the party's most leftist views to the forefront of the national debate. His progressive stance on many social and economic issues in the country has served to be refreshing to many voters.

The promising candidate supports progressive domestic policies on a range of economic and social issues. He addresses the wide income gap, raising the minimum wage, providing free public education for undergraduates as well as expanding social security benefits. Additionally, Sanders has firmly supported marriage equality, universal health care and combatting climate change. But Sanders leaves a missing link in his liberal views.

Sanders' passion for tackling economic issues often serves to refocus attention away from foreign policy. He argues that global issues shouldn't be our primary concern because the real crisis is at home. However, America is far too deeply invested in such a wide variety of foreign policy issues that anyone taking on the presidency must address them. In fact, polls show national security and foreign policy are the leading issue in the 2016 presidential race.

On the few international fronts that Sanders has addressed, he doesn't say much. Sanders has repeatedly shown his support for diplomatic efforts by the United States and other world powers to negotiate an agreement with Iran. Additionally, Sanders is known to be a critic of overseas military interventions, deeming them to be expensive and often counterproductive. In February, he opposed sending US ground troops into "another bloody war in the Middle East" against ISIS combatants. However his 'anti-war' stance does not quite add up. Despite opposing the war in Iraq, he supported Clinton's airstrikes in Kosovo and the 2001 Afghanistan War. But perhaps most importantly he remains complicit in - and at times in support of - the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Ruled to be breaching international law, committing war crimes, suppressing human rights, abusing children and violating at least 70 U.N. Security Council Resolutions, the state of Israel and its war policy has become a hot issue for candidates in the presidential race. The United Nations, Humans Rights Watch and Amnesty International have all condemned Israel for these actions.

While a pro-Israel stance has traditionally received bipartisan support in American politics, the views of the general public are rapidly changing. As the views of American Democrats shift, politicians have been slow to adjust. In a GfK poll, 77 percent of Democrats said they want the United States to be neutral in dealing with Israel and Palestine. Only 17 percent wanted the US to side with Israel compared with 51 percent of Republicans.

The Vermont senator's views on the Israel-Palestine conflict increasingly do not reflect the party's left wing and don't align with his other leftist policies. Rather they remain characteristic of mainstream Democrats who occasionally critique controversial Israeli policies that may undermine America's stated interests, but otherwise remain silent regarding Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

In fact, Sanders encountered an infamous town hall meeting in his home state, as seen here, when he told hecklers to "shut up" after repeated questions about Operation Protective Edge. On the other hand, Sanders spoke out against Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress and did not attend the speech. His reasoning, however, did not focus on Netanyahu nor Israel's actions, but rather that it was "inappropriate for any foreign leader to use an appearance before Congress for their own domestic political purposes" and the disrespect this showed to President Obama.

With Sanders now running for the presidency, his inconsistent policy views are coming more and more under the spotlight. Progressives are concerned about his avoidance of foreign policy discussions and supporters are distraught over his ambiguous support for Israel.

Prominent activist and academic, Cornel West, whose support has been elusive for Democratic candidates (despite supporting Barack Obama in 2008, he has since criticized him extensively), has expressed support for Sanders but is clear in calling for an end to Israeli occupation.

"I don't hear my dear brother Bernie hitting that, and I'm not gonna sell my precious Palestinian brothers and sisters down the river only because of U.S. politics," he said in an interview with Grit TV. "The truth cuts over and against whatever the political arrangement is. So we've got to be able to somehow keep track of anti-Jewish hatred, which is evil, and occupations of whatever sort--in this case, the vicious Israeli occupation that's evil as well."
Many supporters of the candidate were disappointed to learn of his stance with Twitter breaking out in response:

Sanders serves as an example of those who are progressive except for Palestine (PEP), however he actually falls through on a number of progressive issues as well. Despite his radical economic views, his inconsistencies in foreign policy and statements on race and immigration leave much to be desired from American progressives.

On immigration reform, although he supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Sanders wants stricter immigration policies and opposes open borders citing economic concerns. "I'm very dubious about the need to bring foreign unskilled labor into this country," he said in 2013. "What I do not support is, under the guise of immigrant reform, a process pushed by large corporations which results in more unemployment and lower wages for American workers." His stance mirrors those of nationalistic Republicans who fear immigrants taking jobs and overlook the issues facing migrants at our borders.

Furthermore, he has been slow to tackle issues of race in America, often only citing involvement in the 1960's civil rights march as a testament to his views. In fact, he chose not to address police violence or mass incarceration in his announcement speech. Many #BlackLivesMatter activists have criticized his focus on economic uplift and lowering unemployment for solving problems they see as a direct result of structural racism. For many, Sanders has not addressed this disconnect in causation effectively. After continued pressure, he has begun to address these issues and recently tweeted about #BlackLivesMatter.

Recently, #BlackLivesMatter activists interrupted a Seattle rally held by Sanders. The youth demanded a moment of silence for Michael Brown as the crowd of 15,000 grew agitated. While some saw this as greater criticism of Sanders on the issue, as opposed to other candidates, many have recognized that Sanders shows potential in his growth towards dismantling structural racism as it exists today. Activists were scrutinized for not recognizing that Sanders is their best option, yet that is precisely why they have focused their efforts on pressuring him to listen and adjust his policies. These protests have proved themselves fruitful as Sanders introduced an extensive addition to his platform dedicated to racial justice the next day. His new plan addresses ways to demilitarize our police forces, uphold accountability and more, which is receiving praise from many fronts.

With election season only beginning, Sanders has time to adjust to the needs of his constituents. The primaries represent a time for candidates to not only present their views, but also reassess and solidify them as representative of their party. It's a radical thought, but Sanders may be able to salvage his progressivism and truly draw in support from all sides if he listens to those he represents - rather than shouting them down. Among candidacies that are increasingly run by corporate interests, this raw interaction between protesters and Sanders as well as his response offer some hope towards a truly more democratic process.