Home Posts Bernie Sanders: Progressives Should "Tone Down" Calling Israel An "Apartheid State"
Bernie Sanders: Progressives Should "Tone Down" Calling Israel An "Apartheid State"
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Bernie Sanders: Progressives Should "Tone Down" Calling Israel An "Apartheid State"

Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Sunday that his fellow progressives should "tone down the rhetoric" when it comes to using words like "apartheid" to describe Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

The Vermont left-leaning independent appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation" with CBS's John Dickerson. Dickerson noted that a number of progressives, including some in the House, have labeled Israel an apartheid state in the midst of violence between the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the Israeli government.

Dickerson noted the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States, with the Anti-Defamation League reporting 193 incidents this week, up from 131 the previous week, and that American Jewish Congress Executive Director Joel Rubin, who handled Jewish outreach for Sanders’ campaign, has stated that using the word “apartheid” is a contributing factor to the rise.

“Do you believe those who agree with you should not use such language?” Dickerson inquired.

“Well, I think we should tone down the rhetoric,” Sanders said. “I think our goal is very simple: to understand that what is happening in Gaza today is unsustainable when 70% of the young people are unemployed, people are unable to leave the community, hospitals and wastewater treatment plants have been destroyed.”

“That is unsustainable,” he went on, “and the job of the United States is to bring people together, and that is what we must try to do.”

Some progressive lawmakers, including AOC, have used the term "apartheid" to describe Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Bernie Sanders' former Jewish outreach director says the charged language can fuel anti-Semitic incidents. "I think we should tone down the rhetoric," Sanders says. pic.twitter.com/lIsXnHhVTB — Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) May 23, 2021

Sanders, like other progressives and advocates for Palestinian human rights, has stated that it is possible to criticize Israeli policy without being anti-Semitic. The senator told Dickerson that it is critical to combat rising anti-Semitic attacks in the United States and around the world, just as it is critical to combat hate crimes against Asians, Latinos, and Black people.

Dickerson's question came after Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Cori Bush (Mo.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), the first and only Palestinian American member of Congress, publicly called Israel's treatment of Palestinians apartheid. An apartheid regime uses laws, practices, and organized violence to cement one group's supremacy over another.

It also came in the wake of recent reports of anti-Semitic attacks and an increase in Islamophobia in the United States. The lawmakers who called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government an apartheid state spoke out against the anti-Semitic attacks, condemning violence against Jewish people.

“We will never, ever tolerate antisemitism in New York or anywhere else in the world,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, attaching a link to New York City’s bystander intervention training. “The recent surge in attacks is horrifying. We stand with our Jewish communities in condemning this violence.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib spokespeople did not immediately respond to Stardia's request for comment on whether they would follow Sanders' recommendation and stop referring to Israel as an apartheid state.

Ocasio-Cortez is correct in that she is not the only one to use the term "apartheid" to describe Israel's treatment of Palestinians; the term has also been used by organizations such as Human Rights Watch and IfNotNow, the United Nations, B'Tselem (a Jerusalem-based nonprofit that documents Israel's human rights violations), and major media figures.

“Palestinians are at best third-class citizens in their birth country,” MNSBC’s Ali Velshi stated on May 15. “The idea that it’s even remotely controversial to call what Israel has imposed on Palestinians a form of apartheid is laughable. One look at a current map of Israel, Gaza, and the occupied territories conjures up only one other example: apartheid-era South Africa.”

MSNBC's @AliVelshi: "Palestinians are at best third-class citizens in their birth country; the idea that calling what Israel has imposed on Palestinians a form of apartheid is laughable." pic.twitter.com/hyx3QVGVfU — Ibrahim (@Ibrahimpols) May 15, 2021

On May 19, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told France24 that the violence in Gaza reminded him of the apartheid era in his own country, and that Israel's attacks on Palestinian civilians were reminiscent of an apartheid state. Ramaphosa stated that South Africa stands with Palestinians but urged both sides to negotiate, as was done in his country in the early 1990s.

Both the Israeli government and Hamas only recently reached a cease-fire after 11 days of escalating fighting. However, Hamas rockets killed 12 Israelis, despite the fact that the majority of the rockets were intercepted by Israel's missile defense system, while Israel's response of overwhelming bombing killed at least 248 Palestinians, 66 of whom were children.

On Thursday, Netanyahu declared that Israel had accepted the cease-fire, but on Friday, Israeli forces stormed the holy site of Al-Aqsa compound in East Jerusalem, where the escalating violence began on May 10, and fired tear gas at Palestinians celebrating the cease-fire after their prayers.

Watch as Israeli forces storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and fire tear gas at Palestinians celebrating the ceasefire following Friday prayers. LIVE updates: https://t.co/v8UKhitk1T pic.twitter.com/xM34b7iIJ6 — Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) May 21, 2021

“Well, what you have to understand is that the Netanyahu government has become extremely right wing over the years, and that there are people in the Israeli government now who are overt racists,” Sanders said on Sunday. “You have people being evicted from their homes in [East] Jerusalem. Tremendous pressure on people within Israel, the Arab community, and Gaza.

“You have Hamas, a terrorist organization, and you have a right-wing Israeli government, and the situation is deteriorating,” he continued. “And all I'm saying is that the United States of America has to be leading the world in bringing people together, not simply supplying weapons to kill children in Gaza.”

Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Bush, and at least four other lawmakers introduced legislation to postpone a $735 million sale of weapons to Israel that the White House attempted to approve, in addition to the annual $3.8 billion in aid provided by the United States. The president's decision to approve the sale at a time of intense violence in the region raised concerns among many in Congress who weren't even aware of the sale.

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