Bernie Sanders 'Lacks Understanding' of Israel, Yair Lapid Says

Kahol Lavan co-chairman expresses doubts about front-runner in Democratic primary, who has called for some U.S. military aid to Israel to be sent to Gaza instead

Bernie Sanders speaks an outdoor campaign rally in Austin, Texas, U.S., February 23, 2020.
REUTERS/Mike Segar

Kahol Lavan co-leader Yair Lapid, who openly aspires to be Israel’s next foreign minister, said Sunday that he was “very worried” about Bernie Sanders’ frontrunner status in the race for the U.S. Democratic presidential nomination. 

Sanders, Lapid said in an interview with i24news, was “completely wrong” to say that some of the money used by the United States for military aid to Israel should be sent to Gaza instead. 

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“Things Senator Sanders has said about Israel” reflect the Jewish Vermont politician’s “lack of understanding of our unique situation in the Middle East,” said Lapid, speaking the day after Sanders’ sweeping victory in the Nevada caucuses shot him to a clear lead in the Democratic race, and a week before Israelis are set to go to the polls in their national election.  

Lapid, who heads together with Benny Gantz the biggest party competing against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud, repeatedly qualified his comments with concern that his views could be interpreted as foreign involvement in a U.S. election – which he strenuously emphasized was not his intention.

“I will not interfere with an American election or an American primary that is in process – it’s not the right thing to do,” he said. “We will try and work with whoever is elected by the American public.”

Lapid’s interviewer, i24news anchor Jeff Smith, noted that even as the interview was taking place, rockets were falling on Gaza and pressed Lapid as to whether he believed that Sanders and his desire to “slash” U.S. aid was “bad for Israel” and whether he was “afraid” of his possible election. 

Lapid repeated that he felt it would be “wrong” for him to elaborate further on what it was about Sanders’ positions that concerned him.

“There are things, Jeff, you can say as a commentator and an anchorman and I can’t say as a politician especially when there is an election going on … but what I’ve said is that I’m very worried and we have reasons to be worried.”

Lapid's comments come hours after Sanders announced that he would not be attending the AIPAC policy conference next week. “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people,” Sanders tweeted. “I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference.”

AIPAC called Sanders’ announcement “outrageous” and “shameful,” and released a statement saying the Vermont senator had “never attended our conference,” unlike many other senators and members of Congress.