The Democratic 2020 presidential candidate, who is Jewish and has lived in Israel in the past, made the remark Friday on the "Pod Save America" podcast.
“Our policy cannot just be pro-Israel, pro-Israel, pro-Israel,” Sanders said. “It has got to be pro-region, working with all of the people, all of the countries in that area.”
“Our policy cannot just be pro-Israel, pro-Israel, pro-Israel. It has got to be pro-region, working with all of the people, all of the countries in that area.”
The independent from Vermont said he fervently believes that “the people of Israel have absolutely the right to live in peace, independence, and security. End of discussion,” but added he has an issue with the way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has run the country in recent years, the Washington Examiner reported.
“I think what has happened is in recent years under Netanyahu, you have an extreme right-wing government with many racist tendencies,” Sanders said, blaming the prime minister for worsening tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. Sanders also criticized President Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to the holy city of Jerusalem, something he believes put peace negotiations with Palestinians at risk.
In May, the Trump administration officially opened the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, in a historic move cheered by Israelis but met with mass protests from Palestinians that turned deadly in the lead-up to the ceremony. Clashes at the border had left dozens of Palestinians dead and hundreds wounded by the time the ceremony ended. But Israel's prime minister praised the Israeli security forces for protecting the Gaza-Israel border, as U.S. officials held out hope that the prospect of peace remained in reach.
If he becomes president, Sanders said, he’d consider using the billions in aid the U.S. sends to Israel each year as leverage to force Netanyahu to change his actions, adding that Palestinians deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, the Examiner reported.
Netanyahu became the longest-serving Israeli prime minister this month, having held office for more than 13 years, according to The Guardian. He needs to win an election in September and survive three corruption cases against him in order to remain in office.
Fox News' Brooke Singman and Judson Berger contributed to this report.