Speaking the Truth

March 22, 2016

Four of the five presidential candidates spoke to an influential Jewish organization yesterday, each declaring their affinity for Israel. The only candidate not attending the  American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) gathering in Washington, D.C, was Senator Bernie Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to ever win a presidential primary. Out West campaigning, Sanders offered to speak via video, but AIPAC refused - even though they allowed then-Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich to do so in 2012.

While the other four candidates offered similar pledges to support AIPAC's nearly-unconditional support of Israel, Sanders gave an alternative speech yesterday laying out his Middle East foreign policy. The media mostly ignored it even as they lavished attention on the AIPAC speeches - especially the speeches of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump that both received strong applause. Yet, Sanders speech is particularly noteworthy as it might be the most significant departure by a major presidential candidate from the dominant political perspective on Israel and Palestine.


Sanders noted he "spent a number of months there when I was a young man on a kibbutz" and that the U.S. is "committed not just to guaranteeing Israel’s survival, but also to make sure that its people have a right to live in peace and security." He denounced terrorism against Israel and insisted that all must recognize the right of the nation of Israel to exist. He added, however, that friends must tell the truth. He then did exactly that:
But to be successful, we have also got to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza unemployment today is 44 percent and we have there a poverty rate which is almost as high. ... You can’t have good policy that results in peace if you ignore one side.

... But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people. Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza - once considered an unthinkable move on Israel’s part.

... It is absurd for elements within the Netanyahu government to suggest that building more settlements in the West Bank is the appropriate response to the most recent violence. It is also not acceptable that the Netanyahu government decided to withhold hundreds of millions of Shekels in tax revenue from the Palestinians, which it is supposed to collect on their behalf.

... Peace will also mean ending the economic blockade of Gaza. And it will mean a sustainable and equitable distribution of precious water resources so that Israel and Palestine can both thrive as neighbors. Right now, Israel controls 80 percent of the water reserves in the West Bank. Inadequate water supply has contributed to the degradation and desertification of Palestinian land. A lasting peace will have to recognize Palestinians are entitled to control their own lives and there is nothing human life needs more than water.
Sanders also condemned the 2014 destruction of Gaza and urged the international community to help with rebuilding. Overall, Sanders's speech is balanced, but I've focused on snippets showing what he said that others won't. We need more prophetic voices for peace and justice.

The only problem with the speech was that Sanders delivered it from Salt Lake City. Although his speech wouldn't have resonated well with most of the AIPAC crowd (who cheered for one-sided rhetoric of the other candidates), they needed to hear it. It would've been great for "holy Monday" for Sanders to walk in to AIPAC and turn over some tables with this speech. 

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