Criticizing Israel Shouldn't Be Confused With anti-Semitism, Sanders Tells Jewish Supporter

'Israel has every right to live in peace and security, but so does the Palestinian people,' Democratic presidential hopeful tells town hall meeting

2020 Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders before speaking at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., August 11, 2019.
Scott Morgan / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said on Tuesday that he does not think criticism of Israel's government should be conflated with anti-Semitism.

“As somebody who is proudly Jewish, to be critical of a right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel is not to be anti-Semitic,” Sen. Sanders told a town hall meeting in New Hampshire.

He added that “the fault is not all with Israel” when it comes to the conflict, and that the current Palestinian government is “corrupt.”

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Sanders addressed the issue after a Jewish supporter of his, who was likely affiliated with the left-wing Jewish group IfNotNow, asked him about his opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. IfNotNow later posted a video of the conversation on Twitter.

“It’s a funny thing. All that I have ever said about this issue is that U.S. foreign policy should be even-handed. That’s all,” Sanders said. “We respect Israel. It has every right to live in peace and security, but so do the Palestinian people.”

Sanders has often criticized Netanyahu, and has recently called his government racist. When addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sanders has emphasized his Jewish identity and the fact he lived in Israel for several months as a young man and volunteered on a kibbutz.

The goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East, the Vermont senator added, should be “to bring people in the region together, to create peace that works for everybody.” Sanders reiterated that the United States could “leverage” the aid money it provides to Israel, “in order to end the racism we have recently seen in Israel.” 

Sanders slammed Saudi Arabia for having a negative influence in the region, describing the kingdom's regime as “corrupt and murderous.” 

In addition, Sanders spoke about the turnout by young voters in the United States.

“I’m delighted you’re involved in the political process,” he said, addressing a supporter. “If your generation voted in the same percentage as people 65 years of age or older, we would transform this country.” He also accused Republicans of “trying to make it harder for young people to vote.