Sanders to Trump's Envoy Pick Friedman: Should Some of U.S. Aid to Israel Go to Gaza?

Bernie Sanders poses questions to Trump's choice for ambassador to Israel, asking for clarification on three issues that lead the left-wing agenda when it comes to Israel.

In this Jan. 17, 2017 file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, questions Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Carolyn Kaster/AP

Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) delivered a letter this week to David Friedman, President Donald Trump's nominee for the position of ambassador to Israel, containing a number of questions regarding the situation in the Gaza Strip, the financial support of Israeli settlements by organizations in the United States and Friedman's position on a two-state solution. 

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz on Thursday, highlights three issues that could lead the agenda of the progressive, left-wing parts of the Democratic Party when it comes to Israel: The two-state solution, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and U.S. military aid to Israel.

"You are on record calling the two-state solution an 'illusion,' and have bragged about your role in removing support for a Palestinian state from the 2016 Republican Party platform," wrote Sanders. "Do you believe the Palestinians have a right to a state of their own? How would you propose to advance U.S. interests and values in the region in the absence of a two-state solution?"

Sanders also directly addressed Friedman's involvement in West Bank settlements. "Indeed, your name adorns a building in the Beit El settlement that was constructed on private Palestinian land and illegal even under Israeli law. Why, as an American citizen, did you finance these activities?" asked Sanders. "As ambassador, would you take steps to end the flow of donations to illegal settlements, perhaps by supporting the re-examination (of) their tax-exempt status?"

Finally, the senator and former Democratic presidential candidate noted that, "Last year the U.S. and Israel signed (an) agreement to give Israel $38 billion over ten years beginning in 2018, a significant increase from past years. Given that Israeli experts and officials have acknowledged that the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza and the lack of reconstruction there contributes to continuing instability and violence, do you believe that a portion of this aid should be directed toward measures that would facilitate a much greater flow of humanitarian and reconstruction materials?" 

Sanders spoke this year for the first time before the annual conference of J Street, the left-wing Jewish group that has been leading the fight against Friedman's nomination. In his speech, Sanders said that Israel's occupation of the West Bank runs against both American and Israeli values and called for its end.

"We need to end this 50-year-long occupation," he said.

"There is no question that we should be and will be Israel's very strong friend and partner in years to come," the Vermont senator told the 2017 J Street National Conference. "But we also need to recognize that the Israeli occupation runs contrary to American values and I believe, Israeli values as well."