In his now infamous April Fools’ Day interview with the New York Daily News editorial board, Bernie Sanders broke new ground in US presidential politics. Candidates in New York usually laud Israel as America’s friend and ally. Not Bernie.
Sanders asserted that in the 2014 Gaza war, Israel indiscriminately slaughtered 10,000 Palestinian civilians.
He went on to demand that Israel withdraw and expel roughly fifteen percent of its population from territories it has controlled for almost fifty years.
Sanders’ charge of mass murder elicited a public outcry. Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called it a “blood libel.” The Anti-Defamation League demanded an apology.
In fact, the number and circumstance of Palestinian civilians killed in the 2014 Gaza War is a matter of dispute. Israel puts it at 932 (and says they were unintended victims caused by the Palestinian tactic of placing its launching sites among civilians). The notoriously anti-Israel Human Rights Council of the United Nations—citing Hamas statistics—put the number of civilian deaths at 1,462.
Nobody but Sanders said it was 10,000.
It took the candidate a few days to grudgingly admit that his number was false. The question is why did he give such an inflated and easily checkable casualty figure--seven times higher than Hama’s own estimate—in the first place?
It is possible that Sanders, at 74, has a declining memory for facts.
It is more likely that he—like many other Jewish “progressives”—disapproves of Israel so strongly that even the most egregious slander against the Jewish State seems to him to be obviously true.
Senator Sanders’ unique solution to the Israeli-Palestinian impasse was equally jarring.
The Daily News: “You've called not just for a halting construction of so-called settlements on the West Bank, but you've also called for pulling back settlements, just as Israel did in Gaza. Describe the pullback you have in mind.”
Sanders responded with a cloud of clichés about peace and security for all. But he didn’t correct the Daily News premise that he was calling for a pullback “just as Israel did in Gaza.”
That reference is to an Israeli government decision, carried out in the summer of 2005, to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza. Troops were sent to 8500 Jewish settlers from Gaza and raze their villages. That action, which Israel took for its own strategic reasons, proved to be a serious military mistake. The self-governing Hamas mini-state that emerged has become a base of chronic terrorism and recurrent missile attacks on Israel like the one that precipitated the 2014 war.
The Daily News asked how far Sanders wanted the Israeli withdrawal to go this time.
The answer was: All the way.
Sanders: “I think if the [Israeli] expansion was illegal, moving into territory that was not their territory, I think withdrawal from those territories is appropriate.”
Daily News: “And who makes the call about illegality, in your mind?”
Sanders: “Well, I think that's based on previous treaties and ideas. I happen to think that those expansions were illegal.”
It is unclear what treaties and ideas Senator Sanders happens to think should lead to an Israeli withdrawal. The U.N. and the Obama administration, view Israel’s control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, which date back to the Six Day War, as illegal. The government of Israel does not.
This is a matter of opinion and Senator Sanders is entitled to his. But his demand that the Gaza model be applied to East Jerusalem and the West Bank ignores reality. Approximately 800,000 Israelis live in these areas. No conceivable Israeli government could even contemplate sending in the army to expel them at gunpoint, or selling the public on a unilateral withdrawal. The army would rebel. And there would be a civil war that would inevitably affect the Palestinians as well. Bernie Sanders own version of Syria.
That’s why not even the Palestinian Authority is demanding a reprise of Gaza.
The Daily News asked Senator Sanders what would happen if Israel happened to decline his modest plan. His answer came in the form of a threat. Israel is an independent nation, he said, it can do as it sees fit. But if it wants a “positive relationship” with the United States during the Sanders administration, it had better do what it is told.
Later, a Sanders spokesman assured the press that Bernie is being misunderstood. Bernie hostile to Israel? Bernie loves Israel.
Hey, he even lived on a kibbutz once for a few months. He’s got a cousin there. He’s the first Jewish candidate for president, for Pete’s sake!
Well, of course he is. Only a Jewish candidate would have this kind of chutzpah.
Zev Chafets is a Fox News contributor. His latest book is "Remembering Who We Are: A Treasury of Conservative Commencement Addresses" (Sentinel 2015).