The leading Democratic presidential candidate sent an important message to Israel Wednesday. Israel would be wise to listen. During the 10th television debate among the party’s presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders called the Israeli prime minister a “reactionary racist.” His opponents did not respond to this characterization of Benjamin Netanyahu. Sanders also said he would consider returning the U.S. Embassy to Tel Aviv and promised to protect Israel’s security but also not to ignore the Palestinians’ suffering.
Sanders’ statements accurately reflect the new winds blowing through his party, which has been the American Jewish community’s political home for decades, and ought to gladden every lover of peace and justice in Israel. After years in which the United States paid only lip service to opposing the settlements while providing practical support to the occupation and almost every Israeli military operation, Sanders’ words are sweet music to the ears of anyone who believes that without vigorous steps by Washington, including conditioning American aid on a change in Israeli policy, no such change will ever happen.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to ignore the fact that a politician who may well reach the White House called Israel’s prime minister a “reactionary racist,” and nobody in the Democratic Party came to his defense. This is the rotten fruit not just of Israel’s policy of occupation, which Netanyahu did not begin, but also of his one-party policy in the United States. Netanyahu’s Israel has put all its hope and trust in the Republican Party in general and in President Donald Trump’s administration in particular, while riding roughshod over the tradition of maintaining good relations with both parties. And now, the check has come due. Netanyahu, who boasts of his close relationship with the U.S. administration, has opened a worrying gulf between Israel and the Democratic Party, Israel’s traditional friend in Washington.
Sanders is a friend of Israel. He is proud of his Jewishness and says that he will see to the welfare of the state. His voice is the new voice of his party, and he may well reach the White House. In order to repair Israel’s relationship with the man who might become the most important leader in the world, which has sunk to a nadir, Benjamin Netanyahu must be replaced Monday, Election Day.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.