Bernie Sanders: Prime Minister Netanyahu Overreacted in Gaza

If elected, the Jewish Democratic candidate tells Rolling Stone he will pursue an even-handed Israeli-Palestinian policy.

Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said if he succeeds President Barack Obama as president, he will pursue an even-handed policy in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“The United States will support the security of Israel, help Israel fight terrorist attacks against that country and maintain its independence,” said the U.S. Senator from Vermont, who is Jewish, “but under my administration, the United States will maintain an even-handed approach to the area. I believe in a two-state solution, where Israel has security and the Palestinians have a state of their own,” he told the magazine.

“The United States has got to work with the Palestinian people in improving their standard of living, which is now a disaster, and has been made much worse since the war in Gaza,” a reference to the war between Israel and Hamas and its allies in Gaza in the summer of last year.

In the course of the war, thousands of rockets were fired from Gaza at Israeli population centers and the Israeli army caused considerable damage while fighting in urban centers in the Strip.

“Do I think that Netanyahu overreacted? Yes, I do. War is terrible unto itself. But I think that Israel overreacted and caused more civilian damage than was necessary. They have very sophisticated weapons systems. They make the case, and I respect that, that they do try to make sure that civilians are not damaged. But the end result was that a lot of civilians were killed and a lot of housing was destroyed. There was terrible, terrible damage done.”

Terror and climate change

On the war on terrorism, Sanders said: “What Obama has been trying to do is thread a very difficult needle. And that is not to put American troops back into combat. I support that. Number two, to try to support forces who can take the war to Al-Qaida and to ISIS. That’s very difficult – to make sure that the people we are arming do not end up surrendering their weapons to anti-American forces. In Syria, we all want to get rid of Assad – who is a horrendous dictator – but a greater priority is to defeat ISIS. And the president is right, that if we can work with Iran, with Russia, with Saudi Arabia to defeat ISIS, that will be a step forward.”

While acknowledging that terrorism is a very serious threat, Sanders said that "everything being equal, climate change is a greater threat to this country." He called climate change an "international problem," adding, "we have got to begin to summon the resources and the political will."

Sanders, who is 74, also told Rolling Stone that he has early memories of stories about members of his father’s family who were killed in the Holocaust.

“Clearly, one of the factors that influenced my life was the knowledge, as a kid, that my dad’s family – and probably my mother’s as well, but I knew more about my dad – that many members of his family were killed by Hitler. So what you learn, not intellectually when you’re seven years of age, but it goes into your emotional, instinctual base, is that politics makes a difference.”

Asked whether he believes in God, Sanders said he does, but is “not into” organized religion.