Ex Israeli Ambassador Calls Sanders' Gaza Death Count a 'Blood Libel'

Cabinet minister Zeev Elkin also criticizes Sanders, and labels his inflated Gaza death toll as 'weird and loony.'

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Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin April 4, 2016.
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin April 4, 2016. Credit: AP

Israel's former ambassador to Washington accused Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Thursday of committing a "blood libel' for accusing Israel of killing many more Palestinians in the last Gaza war than official estimates say.

"First of all, he should get his facts right. Secondly, he owes Israel an apology,” MK Michael Oren (Kulanu), told Times of Israel. “He accused us of a blood libel. He accused us of bombing hospitals. He accused us of killing 10,000 Palestinian civilians. Don’t you think that merits an apology?”

“He doesn’t mention the many thousands of Hamas rockets fired at us," Oren said. 

Ored added: "He doesn’t mention the fact that Hamas hides behind civilians. He doesn’t mention the fact that we pulled out of Gaza in order to give the Palestinians a chance to experiment with statehood, and they turned it into an experiment with terror. He doesn’t mention any of that. That, to me, is libelous.”

Zeev Elkin, Minister of Immigration Absorption, offered more measured criticism of the interview by the Vermont senator in the New York Daily News on Monday.

Taking a more forgiving tack, Elkin called the remarks "loony." He added that politicians "sometimes make mistakes" in the heat of a campaign.

"Sanders told the newspaper: I don't remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?" Sanders told the newspaper. "I do believe and I don't think I'm alone in believing that Israel's force was more indiscriminate than it should have been."

Sanders, who trails Hillary Clinton in the pledged delegates needed to win the nomination ahead of the Democratic party's July convention in Philadelphia, also criticized Gaza militants for launching rockets at Israel from civilian areas.

The war in 2014 killed around 2,100 Palestinians, according to Gaza officials, Israel and foreign observers. The Palestinians say most of the dead were civilians. Israel says more than half were fighters. Israel lost 67 soldiers and six civilians in the war.

Asked about Sanders' toll, Elkin said in a radio interview: "Anyone who knows a little about what happened in Operation Protective Edge understands that this was a weird and loony statement."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has kept out of the often acrimonious U.S. election race - a practice that Elkin, one of his closest cabinet colleagues, endorsed.

"What is ultimately important is what they (candidates) do and not what they say in election campaigns," Elkin told Israel Radio.

"Therefore I recommend to us all that we get a little less excited about this-or-that statement that is made."

On Wednesday, the Anti-Defamation League called on Sanders to correct his figures.

"As Mr. Sanders publicly discusses his approach to key U.S. foreign policy priorities ... accuracy and accountability are essential for the voting public, but also for U.S. credibility in the international community," said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt.

Sanders, who is Jewish, spent several months in Israel in the 1960s as a volunteer on a kibbutz, or communal farm.

"I lived in Israel. I have family in Israel. I believe 100 percent not only in Israel's right to exist, a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks," he told the New York Daily News.

He added: "I think the United States has got to help work with the Palestinian people as well. I think that is the path toward peace."

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