Israel's Top Diplomat Slams 'Horrifying' Sanders Comment Calling Netanyahu a 'Reactionary Racist'

Yisrael Katz claimed that those who support Israel would not back Sanders after his remarks, while reiterating that Israel will not intervene in the U.S. electoral process

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate at the Gaillard Center, February 25, 2020
Patrick Semansky,AP

Israel's foreign minister denounced Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders on Wednesday for what he called his “horrifying comment" about Jerusalem, saying that those who support Israel would not back Sanders' presidential candidacy after such remarks.

On Tuesday night, during a heated Democratic debate, Sanders was asked whether he would the U.S. Embassy from Jerusalem. Sanders replied that “it’s something we need to take into consideration.” He then added that he is “very proud of being Jewish” and that he “actually lived in Israel for several months,” referring to his volunteering in a kibbutz in northern Israel in the 1960s.

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Sanders said, however, that “right now, sadly, tragically, Israel has a reactionary racist who is now running that country,” referring to Netanyahu. Sanders added that if he is elected president, he would “absolutely protect the independence and security of Israel, but we cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinians."

In a rare foray into U.S. domestic politics, Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said there was a not a Jew in the world who “hasn't dreamed of Jerusalem,” and Sanders words were so severe that he had no choice but to retort.

“We don't intervene in the internal American electoral process, which is splendid,” Katz told Army Radio, before noting that Sanders had a long history of attacking Israel and the things most sacred to its identity and national security.

“Naturally, people who support Israel will not support someone who goes against these things,” he added.

Sanders' comments at the debate came after he recently announced he would skip an appearance before the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which he called a “platform for bigotry.”

He's also called for cutting back U.S. foreign aid to Israel and redirecting it to the Palestinians instead. Sanders, who if elected would become America's first Jewish president, doubled down Tuesday, saying: “What you cannot ignore is the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

Sanders prefaced his remarks by saying he was “very proud of being Jewish,” and noted how he had volunteered in the 1960s on a kibbutz, where he honed his leftist leanings. But his harsh criticism of modern-day Israeli policies, and embrace of supporters who have called to boycott Israel and been accused of anti-Semitism, has raised great concerns in the Jewish state about his surging candidacy.

Sanders has firmly established himself in the lead after scoring primary/caucus victories in the first three nominating states: Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

Yair Lapid, a leading opposition figure who aims to replace Katz as foreign minister after next week's Israeli election, said in a recent TV interview that he was “very worried” about Sanders' rise because of his “lack of understanding of our unique situation in the Middle East."

The majority of American Jews vote Democrat and have been very critical of the Trump presidency.

But in Israel, Trump has been warmly embraced by Netanyahu and his allies, which has contributed to undermining the traditional bipartisan support for Israel in the United States.

Even so, Trump has remained very popular in Israel for backing it in a hostile region and delivering it a string of diplomatic achievements. Last month, Trump unveiled his much-anticipated Mideast plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It sided with Israel on most of its core demands and granted it sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank that the Palestinians seek for a future state.

Previously, Trump reversed decades of American foreign policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moving its embassy there.

Michael Bloomberg, another Jewish candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, said at Tuesday's televised debate in South Carolina that it was too late to reverse the embassy move and people should instead focus on advancing a two-state solution.