Sanders Says He Will 'Not Be Mourning' Netanyahu's Departure From Israeli Politics

Top Obama admin official celebrated Netanyahu’s pending ouster, tweeting the Israeli leader, 'a master of creating divisions, finally managed to unite people: his opposition'

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Sen. Bernie Sanders, last month.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, last month.Credit: J. Scott Applewhite,AP

The last-minute announcement Wednesday on the formation of a coalition that appears poised to bring an end to the rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew only a handful of reactions from world leaders and Jewish advocacy organizations.

In contrast, just hours earlier incoming President Isaac Herzog was congratulated on his election by the likes of U.S. President Joe Biden and Jewish organizations in the U.S.

The European Union, U.S. State Department and Russia all refrained from responding officially to the major political shift and no statements have been issued by the Jewish Federations of North America, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Simon Wiesenthal Center or the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Senator Bernie Sanders, a long-time critic of the Netanyahu government, was one of the few major American politicians to comment on the tectonic shift, telling CNN's The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer that he was happy to see the back of Israel’s longest serving prime minister.

“We’ll see what happens in terms of that coalition, but it is no great secret that I am no great fan of Benjamin Netanyahu,” the former U.S. presidential candidate said.

“I think over the years the coalition that he has put together has become more right-wing and in some cases part of that coalition is overtly racist. So I will not be mourning the departure of the Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, and I hope that Israel will have a government that we will be better able to work with.”

Two weeks ago, amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Sanders also said that Netanyahu has empowered "overt racists" in his government and helped foment the violence in Jerusalem and Gaza. Sanders accused Netanyahu of legitimizing far-right forces as part of a "frantic effort to stay in power and avoid prosecution for corruption."

Sanders, long one of the most vocal critics of Netanyahu in American politics, was a leader of the unprecedented wave of criticism from Democratic lawmakers over Israel's actions in Gaza during the recent round of violence. He introduced a Senate resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire that explicitly stated that both Israeli and Palestinian lives matter, as well as introducing a last-ditch effort to block a sale of precision-guided missiles to Israel.

Natftali Bennett and Yair Lapid in the Knesset in April.Credit: Marc Israel Sellem

Like Sanders, Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security advisor for strategic communications in the Obama administration, celebrated Netanyahu’s pending ouster, tweeting that the prime minister, a “master of creating divisions, finally managed to unite people: his opposition.”

Among all the other consequential dimensions, Netanyahu (like his buddy Trump) can’t evade accountability anymore,” he tweeted.

On Monday, while coalition negotiations were still ongoing, former British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, a harsh critic of Israel who has been repeatedly accused of antisemitism by British Jews, tweeted that he did not believe that kicking Netanyahu out of the prime minister’s office would have an effect on Israeli policy.

“An independent Palestine looks no nearer in spite of moves to install a new government in Israel. Nothing suggests Naftali Bennett would support an end to the occupation, the siege and the settlements which have been condemned by the UN,” he asserted.

Democratic Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel organization that seeks to increase and ensure support for Israel within the Democratic Party, welcomed the announcement of the new government.

Founded by Mark Mellman, a veteran pollster and senior advisor to Yair Lapid, the group's co-chairs Ann Lewis and Todd Richman said in a statement they "note with pride that this government is not only expansive, including parties representing the right, left, and center of Israeli politics, it is also inclusive, with Arabs, women, and Jews of color holding key positions."

"We congratulate Yair Lapid and his colleagues for achieving what many considered impossible: bringing together a broad spectrum of Israel’s political parties to form a new unity government," they added.

Three Jewish organizations which did comment on the new coalition were the pro-Israeli lobbying groups AIPAC and J Street and the Anti-Defamation League, which tweeted that it welcomed “reports a new Israeli governing coalition has been formed. This diverse coalition includes an Arab party - a historic first pulling in a broad spectrum of Israeli society. We hope this new government brings stability, cohesion & peace to Israel.”

AIPAC congratulated Lapid and Bennett for “assembling a broad and diverse coalition—spanning the political spectrum of Zionist and Arab parties—to form an Israeli government pending Knesset approval,” asserting that the formation of a government only weeks after the latest round of fighting of Hamas demonstrated “the resilience of Israel’s democracy and its commitment to democratic values.”

“We look forward to further bolstering the bond between the U.S. and Israel as the two democracies work in close partnership to advance our shared interests and values,” the group said in a statement.

J Street was slightly less upbeat, declaring that “for all those who care about Israeli democracy and still believe that a better future is possible, Netanyahu’s fall from power is a cause for great relief — even as we recognize that the political defeat of one dangerous man will not magically bring about all the change we still yearn for, or meaningfully alter the lives of Palestinians living under occupation.”

“In the coming weeks and months, as a new government finds its feet, American leaders should reaffirm their commitment to Israel’s security and future — while at the same time making absolutely clear that the disastrous, right-wing policies and ideology of the Netanyahu era have put both in terrible jeopardy,” the group wrote in a statement on its website.

Describing Bennett as “a thoroughly right-wing politician who came up under Netanyahu’s tutelage and has consistently presented himself as an even more hard-line, pro-settlement, anti-Palestinian, right-wing alternative,” J Street urged U.S. leaders to “reaffirm their commitment to Israel’s security and future — while at the same time making absolutely clear that the disastrous, right-wing policies and ideology of the Netanyahu era have put both in terrible jeopardy.”