Sanders defends himself: I’m not anti-Israel

The Democratic candidate says he just wants to help the suffering Palestinians as well as protect Israel.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders defended his harsh criticism of Israel and its prime minister Sunday after Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon slammed him at the pro-Israel conference he had refused to attend.

Danon had fired back on Sunday that anyone who called Netanyahu a racist was “a liar, an ignorant fool, or both.”

Speaking on “Face the Nation,” Sanders was asked about the fallout from his comment last week that the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) provides “a platform” for “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”

Sanders had doubled-down on his comments, calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a reactionary racist” at a recent Democratic debate.

Interviewer Margaret Brennan asked, “Do you see a political cost in taking on the pro-Israel lobby in this way?”

Sanders answered, “Yeah, I do. I mean, they have a lot of money. They have a lot of power.”

He then repeated an oft-made claim that he was “very proud” of his Jewish heritage, and stated, “I am not anti-Israel. I will do everything I can to protect the independence and the security and the freedom of the Israeli people.”

He then went on to blame the Trump administration for not being “even-handed” in its approach to the Middle East conflict.

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“But what we need in this country is a foreign policy that not only protects Israel, but deals with the suffering of the Palestinian people as well,” he said.

“You’ve got 70 percent youth unemployment in Gaza. People can’t even leave that district, that area, major, major crises. It is not sustainable that we continued conflict [sic] in the Middle East until the United States develops an even-handed policy.”

“So, I am pro-Israel. I am pro-Palestinian. I want to bring people together to finally achieve peace in that region,” Sanders added.

Sanders was not the only Democratic presidential candidate to turn down a chance to speak at the AIPAC conference. Only two of them, Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg, addressed the thousands who attended the annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

After four primaries, the senator from Vermont is leading the Democratic pack of candidates with 58 delegates of the 1,991 needed to win the nomination to run against President Donald Trump.

Former vice president Joe Biden is close behind with 50.

Super Tuesday on March 3 will be a critical test for all the remaining candidates, as 14 states are decided on that day alone.