WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders says he is working with Sen. Chuck Schumer to ensure the U.S. works toward alleviating the Gaza humanitarian crisis alongside replenishing Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.
“President [Joe] Biden is attempting to restore America’s position in the world as a supporter of human rights and dignity for all people. For us to provide an additional billion dollars in aid to Israel while ignoring the suffering of the people in Gaza would be wrong and unconscionable,” Sanders told Americans for Peace Now’s 40th anniversary gala on Thursday.
“That is why I asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for his commitment to work with me to ensure that we significantly increase U.S. assistance for Palestinian people in Gaza in the very near future. And Sen. Schumer agreed to work with me on this,” he said.
Sanders’ remarks were made while directly addressing the controversy surrounding the $1 billion in emergency Iron Dome funding over the past several weeks. He described Iron Dome’s saving of civilian lives as “unquestionably a good thing and something I support.”
He stressed that the $1 billion was in supplemental funding on top of the already committed and delivered funds stipulated by the 2016 memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Israel.
“Contrary to what some have claimed, Iron Dome has never been at risk of being defunded or decommissioned. If the goal of this supplemental funding is to help Israel replenish Iron Dome after the war that took place in May, in my view it would be irresponsible if we do not at the same time address the enormous destruction and suffering that caused the Palestinians in Gaza.”
Sanders had written Schumer prior to the bill's discussion on the Senate floor expressing his belief that the Gaza humanitarian aid and Iron Dome supplemental funding need to be linked and equal in value, effectively leveraging his vote in favor of the Iron Dome funding in exchange for committing $1 billion in Gaza aid. The letter was first reported by Jewish Currents.
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The Vermont senator, who caucuses with the Democratic Party, told the gala that while he’s glad Benjamin Netanyahu is no longer in power, he is unimpressed with the policies of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Sanders said the Trump administration and Netanyahu government were partners in working to “entrench a permanent one-state reality” where Israel controls the entire territory between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River in perpetuity, and where Palestinians are provided limited autonomy within a disconnected series of communities.
“Unfortunately, the current Israeli government led by Mr. Bennett is pursuing basically the same policy,” Sanders said. “They may dress it up in nice words like ‘shrinking the conflict,’ but it means the same thing: a one-state reality in which one people enjoy perpetual political dominance over another.”
Sanders said the U.S. must actively work to oppose and end the occupation, including being “willing to bring real pressure to bear, including restricting U.S. military aid in response to moves by either side that undermine the chances for peace.”
In perhaps his most explicit endorsement yet of conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel, he added: “The United States gives an enormous amount of aid to Israel – nearly $4 billion a year. It is totally appropriate for the United States to say what that aid may and may not be used for.
“I believe that we must adopt an evenhanded approach, one that upholds and strengthens international law regarding the protection of civilians as well as existing U.S. law, holding that the provision of U.S. military aid must not enable human rights abuses,” he continued.
Sanders said that if the United States is going to be a credible voice on human rights on the global stage, it must uphold international standards of human rights consistently, even when it is politically difficult.
“We must recognize that past Palestinian rights matter, Palestinian lives matter,” he told the audience. “This isn’t about singling out any one country. It’s about acting in an evenhanded way in the region, and making sure that American aid works to advance American interests and values, not undermine them.”
Sanders noted that he shares Americans for Peace Now’s stance on conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel. The left-wing organization became the first U.S. Zionist group to publicly endorse such a position last June, arguing that it is not a punitive measure and is in the best interest of both Israel and the United States.
“Sen. Sanders is well known for his commitment to security and justice, to peace and shared prosperity. Hearing him speak out in support of conditioning aid to Israel is a clear indicator that this concept is now part of the mainstream political discourse,” said Americans for Peace Now President and CEO Hadar Susskind.