Bernie Sanders * is an Independent politician and candidate for President in 2020. He was born in New York on September 8, 1941, to Jewish working-class immigrants from Poland. Sanders was never especially religious, and according to one of his childhood friends, “Some of us went to Hebrew school, but mainly it was an identity in that it got us out of school on Jewish holidays.”
Growing up, Sanders noticed innequality and economic disparity everywhere around him. After spending one year at Brooklyn College, Sanders transfered to the University of Chicago where he became heavily involved in the civil rights movement. He knew Dr. Martin Luther King and worked with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). During his time at college and immediately after, Sanders participated in as well as organized many rallys, protests, sit-ins, and other activities.
Sanders moved to Israel for six months following his college graduation and worked on a kibbutz, before making his way back to the United States and settling in Vermont. For many years the identity of the kibbutz Sanders was involved with in Israel remained a mystery, but in February 2016 an article in the Haaretz archive from 1990 was uncovered in which Sanders said he stayed on Kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim in the North.
When he first arrived in Vermont, Bernie lived in poor conditions in an abandoned mill with dirt floors, and made a living writing as well as doing various odd jobs. Sanders found his calling after attending a local meeting of the Liberty Union political party, and over the next decade ran two Senate campaigns and two Gubernational campaigns as the party’s nominee, but was unsuccessful. In 1977, he left Liberty Union and took a break from politics, attempting to make a living producing educational films for college students.
After being convinced by friends that he still had a strong base of support in Burlington, Sanders launched a mayoral campaign in 1980, and strategized to knock on as many doors as possible and address the issues that truly concerned the citizens. In his first political victory, Sanders was elected Mayor of Burlington in 1981. He won the election by a margin of only 12 votes. After serving as Mayor, in 1990 he successfully ran a campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives and was elected as an Independent. While serving as a Representative, Sanders earned a reputation for taking risks and tackling issues that others were not willing to touch. He vehemently opposed the Iraq war, citing the the human cost and adverse consequences for the economy. In 2006, Sanders defeated Richard Tarrant for a seat in the Senate.
Sanders held meetings with the Jewish community of Iowa, a pivotal primary state, during late September 2015. During these meetings he compared himself to Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, claiming that he believes Ben-Gurion was a Democratic socialist like him.
While reminiscing on his life and upbringing on NPR in early November 2015, Sanders recalled, “in the community that I grew up in, seeing people in the community who had numbers that were on their arms (pulls up sleeve) and these were the Nazis’ identification numbers that they put on prisoners in the concentration camps. And I, certainly, was aware of the fact that much of my father’s family was killed in the Holocaust.” Speaking of his visit to the Polish village where his father grew up, he said, “it was a very traumatic experience for me as a young man to know that my father’s family was killed by Nazis - killed by Hitler. And that left - if not intellectually - at least an emotional part of me that would say: God, we have got to do everything we can to end this kind of horrific racism and anti-Semitism, and I’ve spent much of my life to fight that.”
In his book Why Bernie Sanders Matters, author Harry Jaffe delves into the background of the Vermont Senator. Bernie grew up in a tight-knit area of Brooklyn that was 80% Jewish, but did not live in an observant household. Jaffe described Sanders as a cultural Jew, explaining that he did have a Bar Mitzvah but his family did not have weekly Shabbat dinners. During an interview with Moment about the book, Jaffe stated based on interviews with Bernie’s friends and family, he concluded “Sanders is not a practicing Jew in any way, shape or form. He’s not an observant Jew in any way, shape or form. He married a Catholic woman. I would seriously doubt that he raised his one natural son as a Jew.”
Sanders stated in People on January 20, 2016, “I am proud to be Jewish, and it’s a very important part of my life.” Despite this, Bernie has painted himself as a non-participant in much of the Jewish faith, even professing to the Washington Post in January 2016 that he is, “not actively involved with organized religion.” He stated, “I think everyone believes in God in their own ways. To me, it means that all of us are connected, all of life is connected, and that we are all tied together.” When asked on the Jimmy Kimmel show about his religious beliefs, Sanders skirted the question and confidently said, “I am what I am. And what I believe in, and what my spirituality is about, is that we’re all in this together.”
In 2001, Sanders was the only Jewish member of the House who disagreed with a resolution blaming all of the violence of the Second Intifada on Palestinian terrorism. Sanders was one of 45 representatives in 2004 who voted against a resolution expressing support for Israel’s security fence after it was deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice. Sanders was one of 21 U.S. Senators who did not sign onto a resolution espousing unconditional solidarity with Israel during 2014’s Gaza War.
Sanders told CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer on February 3, 2016, that he did not believe his identity as a Jew would hinder his ability to work with and compromise with Arab nations in the fight against ISIS.
An interview was uncovered from 1990 in the Haaretz newspaper archive, in which he said he would like to see the United States press Israel harder on the Palestinian issue. Sanders also stated during the interview that as a Jew he was embarassed by the Israel’s trade with Latin American dictators.
During early 2016, Sanders was continously questioned about his foreign policy experience, or percieved lackthereof. Shooting back at detractors, Sanders stated over and over, “The most important foreign policy issue in the modern history of this country was the war in Iraq. I was right on that issue, Hillary Clinton was wrong.”
When asked about reports that he was downplaying his Jewishness during the campaign at the March 6, 2016, Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, Sanders responded that he is, “very proud to be Jewish,” and that being Jewish is, “so much of what [I am].”
A poll of Israelis conducted in February 2016 (499 Jews and 102 Arabs) found that 38% of Israelis supported Clinton for President, 23% favored Donald Trump, and 7% backed Bernie Sanders.
Sanders told MSNBC that he believes that anti-Semitism is inherent within the BDS movement. “I think there is some of that, absolutely,” Sanders said on March 22, 2016, when questioned about whether anti-Semitism is a driving force behind BDS. Sanders defended his stance, stating, “Israel has done some very bad things, so has every other country on earth. I think the people who want to attack Israel for their policies, I think that is fair game. But not to appreciate that there is some level of anti-Semitism around the world involved in that I think would be a mistake.”
During an interview with the editorial board of the New York Daily News in early April 2016, Bernie Sanders stated his recollection stands that Israel killed “over 10,000 innocent people” in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblat, issued a statement following the interview’s publication in which he asserted that “even the highest number of casualties claimed by Palestinian sources that include Hamas members engaged in attacking Israel is five times less than the number cited by Bernie Sanders.”
Bernie Sanders conceded the 2016 nomination to Clinton at the Democratic National Convention on July 28, 2016, after receiving 1,894 delegates to Clinton’s 2,807.
In 2017, Peter Beinart took Sanders to task for scheduling a major foreign policy address on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. In 2015, he also spoke on Rosh Hashanah, “ironically enough,” Beinart noted, on “religion and public life, at Liberty University, an institution founded by Jerry Falwell.” In 2016, Beinart noted, Sanders “spent Yom Kippur at the White House meeting Pope Francis and talking about it on CNN.” As a contender for the presidency, “flaunting his disrespect for his own religious tradition isn’t smart,” Beinart concluded.
On February 19, 2019, Sanders announced that he would again seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for President.
Sanders began to speak more openly about being a Jew during the 2020 campaign. In a CNN town hall on February 6, 2020, he said, “It impacts me very profoundly....when I try to think about the views that I came to hold there are two factors. One I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money … and the second one is being Jewish.”
He said when he was a child he would read books about World War II and “tears would roll down my cheeks” when he saw what happened to Jews.
“At a very early age, even before my political thoughts were developed, I was aware of the horrible things that human beings can do to other people in the name of racism or white nationalism, or in this case Nazism,” Sanders recalled. Members of his extended family were murdered in the Holocaust and he said “the pain that my family, my father's family suffered in Poland is something that has impacted my life, absolutely.”
In February 2020, Sanders released a campaign video in which he said he is “very proud to be Jewish” and that he looks forward to “becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country.”
Sanders has been married twice: his first wife was Jewish but his current wife, Jane O’Meara Driscoll, is not.
After winning the most votes in the first three Democratic primaries, and Joe Biden falling far behind, Sanders was cast as the front-runner. He steadily rose in the polls until Biden beat him decisively in South Carolina. Sanders still expected to dominate the primaries held on Super Tuesday and perhap win enough delegates to build an insurmountable lead. Biden, however, built on the momentum of South Carolina, won the backing of fellow moderates who dropped out of the race, and shocked most observers by winning nine of the 14 state primaries with two undecided to regain his front-runner status. Sanders did win the biggest prize of the night, California, however, it appeared he would fall behind Biden in total delegates.
Foreign Policy Advisers
Robert Malley served as Special Assistant to President Obama and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region. He is now President and CEO of the International Crisis Group and a member of the National Security Action’s advisory board, which is lobbying to end support for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the war in Yemen and opposes President Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
Matt Duss formerly served as the head of the pro-Palestinian Foundation for Middle East Peace.
“Opposing anti-Semitism is a core value of progressivism. So it’s very troubling to me that we are also seeing accusations of anti-Semitism used as a cynical political weapon against progressives. One of the most dangerous things Trump has done is to divide Americans by using false allegations of anti-Semitism, mostly regarding the U.S.–Israel relationship. We should be very clear that it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the policies of the Israeli government.”
“It is true that some criticism of Israel can cross the line into antisemitism, especially when it denies the right of self-determination to Jews, or when it plays into conspiracy theories about outsized Jewish power. I will always call out antisemitism when I see it. My ancestors would expect no less of me. As president, I will strengthen both domestic and international efforts to combat this hatred. I will direct the Justice Department to prioritize the fight against white nationalist violence. I will not wait two years to appoint a Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, as Trump did; I will appoint one immediately. I will also rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council, which Trump withdrew from. The United States should not be sitting on the sidelines on these important issues at the UN; we should be at the table helping to shape an international human rights agenda that combats all forms of bigotry and discrimination.”
“The forces fomenting antisemitism are the forces arrayed against oppressed people around the world, including Palestinians; the struggle against antisemitism is also the struggle for Palestinian freedom. I stand in solidarity with my friends in Israel, in Palestine, and around the world who are trying to resolve conflict, diminish hatred, and promote dialogue, cooperation, and understanding.” (Jewish Currents, November 11, 2019)
“It is not antisemitism to say that the Netanyahu government has been racist. It is a fact.” (J Street Conference, October 28, 2019)
“I’m Jewish. My family came from Poland. My father’s whole family was wiped out by Hitler and his white nationalism….We will go to war against white nationalism and racism in every aspect of our lives.” (AP, August 17, 2019).
- “Anti-Semitism is not some abstract idea for me, it is very personal, it destroyed a good part of my family.” (Comments to American Jewish Committee, June 4, 2019)
- “I will do everything in my power, and I hope that every member of Congress will fight not only anti-Semitism, but racism and anti-Muslim activity so that we create a non-discriminatory society. But it is not antisemitic to be critical of a right wing government in Israel. That is not anti-Semitic.” (Fox News Town Hall, April 15, 2019)
- Asked about his defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitic remarks, Sanders said: “I think that Ilhan has got to do, maybe, a better job in speaking to the Jewish community.” (Fox News Town Hall, April 15, 2019)
- “While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to engage in political activity. It is clear to me that this bill would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.” (JTA, February 8, 2019) This was his reason for being one of the 22 Democrats who voted against the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019 (76 senators voted aye) a bill that authorizes state and local governments to demand that contractors declare they do not support boycotts of Israel or its settlements in the West Bank. (JTA, February 7, 2019)
- “It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity. Democrats must block consideration of any bills that don’t reopen the government. Let's get our priorities right.” (@SenSanders January 6, 2019)
- In a letter co-signed with Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “While we do not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctons (BDS) Movement, we remain resolved to our constitutional oath to defend the right of every American to express their views peacefully without fear of actual punishment by the government” (Haaretz, December 19, 2018)
- Brennan: “Do you see a political cost in taking on the pro-Israel lobby in this way (referring to Sanders saying AIPAC gives a platform to bigotry)?”
Sanders: “Yeah, I do. I mean, they have a lot of money. They have a lot of power. Look, I'm Jewish and I'm very proud of my Jewish heritage. As a kid, I spent time in Israel. I am not in- anti-Israel. I will do everything I can to protect the independence and the security and the freedom of the Israeli people. 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. 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 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.” (“Face the Nation,” March 1, 2020)
Garrett: “If elected, Senator Sanders, you would be America’s first Jewish president. You recently called a very prominent, well-known American Israel lobby a platform for, quote, “bigotry.” What would you say to American Jews who might be concerned you’re not, from their perspective, supportive enough of Israel? And specifically, sir, would you move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv?”
Sanders: “I am very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months. But what I happen to believe is that, right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country. And I happen to believe that what our foreign policy in the Mideast should be about is absolutely protecting the independence and security of Israel, but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people.
We have got to have a policy that reaches out to the Palestinians and the Americans. And in answer to your question, that will come within the context of bringing nations together in the Mideast.” (Democratic Debate, February 25, 2020)
“The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference. As president, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region.” (@BernieSanders, February 23, 2020)
“We need a foreign policy in this country, we need a Mideast policy which absolutely protects the integrity and the independence and safety of Israel, but also understands that the Palestinian people have needs and they have got to be treated with respect and dignity. And that is not the case right now. So that is my view. We will treat all people with respect and dignity.” (JewishInsider, February 5, 2020)
Following the release of the Trump administration’s peace plan, Sanders tweeted: “It must end the Israeli occupation and enable Palestinian self-determination in an independent state of their own alongside a secure Israel. Trump’s so-called ‘peace deal’ doesn’t come close, and will only perpetuate the conflict. It is unacceptable.” (@SenSanders, January 28, 2020)
Speaking during the fifth Democratic debate Sanders said, “Israel has — and I say this as somebody who lived in Israel as a kid, proudly Jewish – Israel has the right to exist, not only to exist but to exist in peace and security. But what US foreign policy must be about is not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian as well.”
“We must understand that right now in Israel we have leadership under Netanyahu, who has recently, as you know, been indicted for bribery, who, in my view, is a racist. What we need is a level playing field in terms of the Middle East, which addresses the terrible crisis in Gaza, where 60 percent or 70% of the young people are unemployed.” (Times of Israel, December 20, 2019)
The New York Times asked each candidate a series of questions related to Israel. Sanders said military aid to Israel should be “conditioned on Israel taking steps to end the occupation and move toward a peace agreement.” He believes, “American taxpayers shouldn’t be supporting policies that undermine our values and interests, in Israel or anywhere. That’s why, when Bernie is president, he will use every tool at his disposal, including the conditioning of military aid, to create consequences for moves (such as settlements or annexation) that undermine the chances for peace.” He added, “The U.S. gives a lot of aid to both Israel and the Palestinians, and it's totally appropriate to withhold that aid when they do things we don’t like.”
Sanders said the U.S. embassy should not be moved from Jerusalem “as a first step.” However, he added, “it would be on the table if Israel continues to take steps, such as settlement expansion, expulsions and home demolitions, that undermine the chances for a peace agreement.”
“The right of refugees to return to their homes after the cessation of hostilities is an internationally recognized right, but this issue will be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians as part of a peace agreement.”
“Bernie is a strong supporter of the right of Israel to exist in independence, peace and security. But he also believes that the United States needs to engage in an even-handed approach toward that longstanding conflict, which results in ending the Israeli occupation and enabling the Palestinian people to have independence and self-determination in a sovereign, independent, economically viable state of their own.”
“The parameters of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are well known….two states based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. Ultimately, it’s up to the Palestinians and Israelis themselves to make the choices necessary for a final agreement, but the United States has a major role to play in brokering that agreement.”
“When we are in the White House, we will restore funds to UNRWA….Bernie will call upon Israel to end policies that violate international humanitarian law, such as home demolitions and settlement construction in the occupied territories, and work to ensure that U.S. aid is not used to support these activities. Bernie will also continue to condemn violence against civilians by all sides.” (New York Times, December 2019)
- “It is no longer good enough for us simply to be pro-Israel. I am pro-Israel. But we must treat the Palestinian people as well with the respect and dignity that they deserve. What is going on in Gaza right now, where youth unemployment is 70 percent or 80 percent, is unsustainable. So we need to be rethinking who our allies are around the world, work with the United Nations, and not continue to support brutal dictatorships.” (Democratic debate transcript, November 20, 2019)
Responding to the Trump administration’s announcement that it does not consider settlements illegal, Sanders said, “Israeli settlements in occupied territory are illegal. This is clear from international law and multiple United Nations resolutions. Once again, Mr. Trump is isolating the United States and undermining diplomacy by pandering to his extremist base.” (Times of Israel, November 19, 2019)
“I have a connection to Israel going back many years. In 1963, I lived on a kibbutz near Haifa. It was there that I saw and experienced for myself many of the progressive values upon which Israel was founded. I think it is very important for everyone, but particularly for progressives, to acknowledge the enormous achievement of establishing a democratic homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of displacement and persecution.”
“We must also be honest about this: The founding of Israel is understood by another people in the land of Palestine as the cause of their painful displacement. And just as Palestinians should recognize the just claims of Israeli Jews, supporters of Israel must understand why Palestinians view Israel’s creation as they do. Acknowledging these realities does not ‘delegitimize’ Israel any more than acknowledging the sober facts of America’s own founding delegitimizes the United States. It is a necessary step of truth and reconciliation in order to address the inequalities that continue to exist in our respective societies.”
“When I look at the Middle East, I see Israel as having the capacity to contribute to peace and prosperity for the entire region, yet unable to achieve this in part because of its unresolved conflict with the Palestinians. And I see a Palestinian people yearning to make their contribution—and with so much to offer—yet crushed underneath a military occupation now over a half-century old, creating a daily reality of pain, humiliation, and resentment.”
“Ending that occupation and enabling the Palestinians to have self-determination in an independent, democratic, economically viable state of their own is in the best interests of the United States, Israel, the Palestinians, and the region. My pride and admiration for Israel lives alongside my support for Palestinian freedom and independence. I reject the notion that there is any contradiction there.” (Jewish Currents, November 11, 2019)
“I would use the leverage, $3.8 billion is a lot of money and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government, or any government....If you want military aid, you’re going to have to fundamentally change our relationship with the people of Gaza. In fact, I think it is fair to say that some of that $3.8 billion should go right now to humanitarian aid in Gaza.” (J Street Conference, October 28, 2019)
Responding to President Trump’s remark that Jews voting for Democrats “shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty” (JTA, August 20, 2019), Bernie Sanders tweeted, “I am a proud Jewish person and I have no concerns about voting Democratic. And in fact, I intend to vote for a Jewish man to become the next president of the United States.” (@BernieSanders, August 20, 2019)
“All that I have ever said on this issue [the Israeli-Palestinian conflict], is that U.S. foreign policy should be even-handed. That’s all — even-handed…. We respect Israel. Israel has every right to live in peace and security, but so do the Palestinian people. And as somebody who is proudly Jewish, to be critical of a right-wing Netanyahu government in Israel is not to be anti-Semitic…. The United States government gives a whole lot of money to Israel and I think we can leverage that money to end some of the racism that we have recently seen in Israel.” (Times of Israel, August 14, 2019).
Bernie Sanders said in an interview on the Pod Save America podcast that he would “absolutely” consider using U.S. aid to Israel to pressure the Israeli government on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. “I lived in Israel. Actually, I worked in a kibbutz for a number of months. I have family in Israel. I am Jewish. I am not anti-Israel,” Sanders said. “I believe that the people of Israel have absolutely the right to live in peace, independence and security. End of discussion — that is what I fervently believe. But I think what has happened is in recent years under Netanyahu, you have an extreme right-wing government with many racist tendencies.” (Pod Save America, July 26, 2019)
Axios asked candidates if they would move the U.S. embassy back to Tel Aviv, Sanders refused to comment despite having criticized Trump’s decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem, saying that the move would “dramatically undermine the prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and severely, perhaps irreparably, damage the United States’ ability to broker that peace.” (Axios, July 14, 2019)
Asked by the New York Times, “Do you think Israel meets international standards of human rights?” Sanders responded, “I have great concerns about the role that Netanyahu is playing in Israel and the relationship with the Palestinians. As I have said many times, I believe one hundred percent in the right of Israel not only to exist but to exist in peace and security. But the role of the U.S. is to work with all of the entities in the region, including the Palestinians, and to do that in an evenhanded way.” (New York Times, June 19, 2019)
In June 2019, Sanders and several other senators submitted a resolution to the Senate warning that “unilateral annexation of portions of the West Bank would jeopardize prospects for a two-state solution, harm Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbors, threaten Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity, and undermine Israel’s security.” (Haaretz, June 27, 2019)
“As someone who believes absolutely and unequivocally in Israel’s right to exist in peace and security who as a young man lived in Israel for a number of months [and] as someone who is deeply concerned by the rise of global anti-Semitism, we must say loudly and clearly that to oppose the reactionary policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu does not make anyone anti-Israel.” (Comments to American Jewish Committee, June 4, 2019)
Chuck Todd: On the issue of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, would you move it back out of Jerusalem, if you thought it was a way to get a peace deal?
Sanders: “Yeah. I think it’s something that we should — I can't give you a definitive answer, but yeah. The answer is, look, whether it is Iran and Saudi Arabia, whether it is Israel and the Palestinians, the United States needs to bring people together, needs an even handed policy.”
Todd: Would you move the embassy, now, out of Jerusalem? Or would you keep it there for the present?
Sanders: “We'll take that one step at a time. It’s something — you know, bottom line is, we need to be a — we are the most-powerful country on earth. Let's bring people together and try to bring peace.” (NBC News, May 19, 2019)
- Responding to a question about violence in Gaza: “I have been criticized over and over again, and I said this four years ago, and I repeat it to you right now: In terms of the Middle East, we need an evenhanded policy. Alright? I am a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. OK. I lived in Israel when I was a young man. But we need a policy which brings the Palestinians and the Israelis together. You’ve got a situation in Gaza right now where the unemployment rate for young people is 60 or 70 percent. People cannot leave the area. Does anyone think that that is going to result in long term peace– it is not. So the function of the United States is to play an evenhanded role in bringing the Israelis and the Palestinians together. It is difficult, it is complicated, I am no fan of Netanyahu, who is a rightwing leader, and the Palestinians have their problem with leadership, but our job is to do everything we can to try to bring a lasting peace to that very, very troubled region. And as president that’s exactly what I will try to do.” (Town Hall, Perry, Iowa, May 4, 2019)
- “As a young man I spent a number of months in Israel. I worked on a kibbutz for a while,” Sanders said in response to a question on his views regarding the Jewish state. “I have family in Israel. I am not anti-Israel. But the fact of the matter is that Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who, I think, is treating the Palestinians extremely unfairly.” He added: “The United States gives billions of dollars in military aid to Israel. I just believe that the U.S. should deal with the Middle East on a level-playing-field basis. In other words, the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing and, dare I say, racist government.” (Haaretz, April 23, 2019)
- “When election time comes in Israel, he always tries going even further to the right by appealing to racism within Israel, I think it’s unfortunate....I’m not a great fan of his, and, frankly, I hope he loses his election.” (Haaretz, April 9, 2019)
- “I think that Benjamin Netanyahu is an extreme right-wing leader in Israel....I do not support his policies, and I think that to speak out against Netanyahu is not to be anti-Israel.” (Times of Israel, April 8, 2019)
- Sanders spotlighted the United States’s leverage in Israeli politics, because of its alliance and economic support (“$3.8 billion is a lot of money!”). Asked if he would make that aid contingent, on greater political rights for Palestinians. Sanders responded, “I’m not going to get into the specifics.” (The New Yorker, April 13, 2019)
“I think that the idea of going and meeting face-to-face with your adversaries is a good idea. I would like the president of the United States to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together, to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis together, all right?” (CNN Townhall, February 25, 2019)
- “I gotta tell you, I am not a great fan of President Netanyahu. I did not attend the speech that he gave before the joint session of Congress. I think it was opportunistic. I think he was using it as part of his campaign for re-election. I think he was being used or did use the Republicans to go behind the president’s back. And I think in that region, sadly on both sides, I don’t think we have the kind of leadership that we need.” (Times of Israel, February 1, 2016)
- “The United States has got to work with the Palestinian people in improving their standard of living, which is now a disaster, and has been made much worse since the war in Gaza.” (Times of Israel, November 18, 2015)
- “The United States will support the security of Israel, help Israel fight terrorist attacks against that country and maintain its independence. But under my administration, the United States will maintain an evenhanded approach to the area.” (Haaretz, November 9, 2015)
- “Let me be very personal here if I may. I’m Jewish. My father’s family died in the concentration camps. I will do everything that I can to rid this country of the ugly stain of racism which has existed for far too many years.” (Jewish Insider, October 29, 2015)
- “The United States of America is pouring billions of dollars into arms and into other types of aid in the Middle East. Has the United States of America used its clout, the tremendous clout that it has by providing all kinds of aid to the Middle East, to demand that these countries sit down and talk about a reasonable settlement which will guarantee Israel’s sovereignty, which must be guaranteed, but will begin to deal with the rights of Palestinian refugees.” (Alternet, July 2, 2015)
- “A Zionist? What does that mean? Want to define what the word is? Do I think Israel has the right to exist? Yeah, I do. Do I believe that the United States should be playing an even-handed role in terms of its dealings with the Palestinian community in Israel? Absolutely I do. Again, I think that you have volatile regions in the world, the Middle East is one of them, and the United States has got to work with other countries around the world to fight for Israel’s security and existence at the same time as we fight for a Palestinian state where the people in that country can enjoy a decent standard of living, which is certainly not the case right now. My long-term hope is that instead of pouring so much military aid into Israel, into Egypt, we can provide more economic aid to help improve the standard of living of the people in that area.” (Haaretz, August 18, 2015)
- “I have a problem with appropriating $2 billion dollars to Egypt and $3 billion dollars to Israel. Let’s take care of some of the problems we have at home first.” (House Floor, 1991)
- “It is wrong that the United States provides arms to Israel. We are not going to be the arms merchant for Middle Eastern nations.” (Press Conference at University of Vermont, 1988)
Hamas and the Situation in Gaza
- Palestinians in Gaza already faced hardship under a blockade. Now they're dealing with the coronavirus. My Senate colleagues and I call on Trump to send U.S. medical relief. And the Israeli government must also lift its restrictions on humanitarian aid. (@SenSanders, March 29, 2020)
- “The bottom line is that Israel must have the right to exist in peace and security, just as the Palestinians must have the right to a homeland in which they and they alone control their political system and their economy.” (Bernie Sanders Campaign Website)
- “I think that Israel overreacted and caused more civilian damage than was necessary. They make the case, and I respect that, that they do try to make sure that civilians are not damaged. But the end result was that a lot of civilians were killed and a lot of housing was destroyed. There was terrible, terrible damage done.” (Haaretz, November 9, 2015)
- “You have a situation where Hamas is sending missiles into Israel... and you know where some of those missiles are coming from? They’re coming from populated areas... Hamas has very sophisticated tunnels into Israel for military purposes. Hamas is very clear: their view is that Israel should not have a right to exist.” (Mondoweiss, May 1, 2015)
“I will do everything I can to protect the independence and the security of the people of Israel. Israelis have the right to live in a safe and secure nation. But I must tell you this, also, that to be for the Israeli people and to be for peace in the Middle East does not mean that we have to support right-wing, racist governments that currently exist in Israel. And let me tell you this, also. And I feel strongly about it, as somebody who is Jewish, and knowing how much our people have suffered over the years. Take a look at what's going on in Gaza right now. You've got youth unemployment, 70 percent. You have people who can't even leave the area.’
“What American foreign policy has got to be about is in the Middle East bringing the Israelis, bringing the Palestinians together under the banner of justice, all right? And that means -- and we can do it. We have the wealth to do it. It cannot just simply be a one that we're just pro-Israel and we ignore the needs of the Palestinian people. We've got to pay attention to both.” (CNN Townhall, February 18, 2020)
- “The role of the United States, and this is not easy — you know, believe me — [Bill] Clinton tried it, [Barack] Obama tried it, Jimmy Carter tried it. This is not easy stuff — is to try to finally bring peace to the Middle East and to treat the Palestinian people with a kind of respect and dignity they deserve. 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.” (Pod Save America, July 26, 2019)
- While I am very critical of Netanyahu’s right-wing government, I am not impressed by what I am seeing from Palestinian leadership, as well,” he said. “It’s corrupt in many cases, and certainly not effective.” (The New Yorker, April 13, 2019)
- “And what I believe is that we, in fact, need a two-state solution to the Middle East ongoing crisis and that the United States needs to have an even-handed policy.” (JTA, April 8, 2019)
- “I have always and will always be 100 percent supportive of Israel’s right to exist and live in peace and security. I also believe that lasting peace in the region will not occur without fair and respectful treatment of the Palestinian people. I believe that most Democrats agree with that position and that a strong consensus will be achieved at the Democratic National Convention.” (Haaretz, May 27, 2016)
- “ I think that we will not succeed to ever bring peace into that region unless we also treat the Palestinians with dignity and respect, and that is my view... You can’t ignore that fact. And you can’t just be only concerned about Israel’s needs. You have to be concerned about the needs of all of the people of the region.” (CNN, April 10, 2016)
- “I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, I have lived in Israel, I’m a strong defender of Israel. But let me also say this, I think we cannot continue to ignore the needs of the Palestinian people and I would hope very much that I could move us forward in what has been so intractable over the years, bringing Palestinians, bringing Israelis together, bringing peace finally to the Middle East.” (NBC, March 31, 2016)
- “I spent many months on a kibbutz on Israel, so I know something about Israel. Israel has got to be defended, has a right to exist, but you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people.” (JTA, March 22, 2016)
- “All I can tell you is I will make every single effort to bring rational people on both sides together so that hopefully we can have a level playing field, the United States treating everybody in that region equally. I know, I know there are people of good will in Israel and the Arab communities, this is not an easy task, but it is a task that we must pursue. We cannot continue to have for another 60 years with the kind of hatred and conflict that exists in the Middle East.” (Jerusalem Post, March 9, 2016)
- “What is going on in the Middle East right now is obviously a tragedy, there’s no question about it. The sight of Israeli soldiers breaking the arms and legs of Arabs is reprehensible. The idea of Israel closing down towns and sealing them off is unacceptable. You have had a crisis there for 30 years, you have had people at war for 30 years, you have a situation with some Arab countries where there are still some Arab leadership calling for the destruction of the State of Israel and the murder of Israeli citizens. I don’t have a magical solution to that problem.” (Times of Israel, February 1, 2016)
- “I believe in a two-state solution, where Israel has security and the Palestinians have a state of their own. The United States has got to work with the Palestinian people in improving their standard of living, which is now a disaster, and has been made much worse since the war in Gaza.” “War is terrible unto itself. But I think that Israel overreacted and caused more civilian damage than was necessary (during 2014’s Gaza war). They have very sophisticated weapons systems. They make the case, and I respect that, that they do try to make sure that civilians are not damaged. But the end result was that a lot of civilians were killed and a lot of housing was destroyed. There was terrible, terrible damage done.” (Times of Israel, November 18, 2015)
- “Palestinians are entitled to a state of their own, and the United States should do what it can to make sure that state has a strong economy. Israel is entitled to live in security, not be attacked.” (Washington Post, August 4, 2015)
- “I wholeheartedly support the new Obama administration is its commitment to expand our diplomatic presence in the region and to take a more active role in facilitating negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. A two-state solution must include compromises from both sides to achieve a fair and lasting peace in the region. The Palestinians must fulfill their responsibilities to arrest terrorists, confiscate terrorists’ weapons, dismantle terrorist organizations, halt all anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement, and recognize Israel’s right to exist. In return, the Israelis must end their policy of targeted killings, prevent further Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and infrastructure.”
- “Has Israel overreacted? Have they bombed U.N. facilities? The answer is yes, and that is terribly, terribly wrong.” (Haaretz, August 18, 2015)
- “We are pouring billions of dollars in arms into Arab countries. We have the clout to demand they and Israel, who we’re also heavily financing, to begin to sit down and work out a sensible solution to the problem which would guarantee the existence of the State of Israel and which would also protect Palestinian rights.” (Haaretz, August 18, 2015)
“I believe that instead of being really cozy with Mohammad bin Salman there, the billionaire dictator of Saudi Arabia, I believe, you know, President Obama made good progress in this way, and we've got to build on that, that we can bring the Saudis and the Iranians together, tell them that we're sick and tired as a nation spending trillions of dollars on endless wars. They're going to have to get their act together. And we have the resources to help bring that about.” (CNN Townhall, February 18, 2020)
The New York Times asked each candidate a series of questions related to U.S. policy toward Iran and the nuclear deal. Sanders “would re-enter the deal with no new preconditions, provided Iran is also meeting its commitments. He would then pursue wider talks to resolve issues of ballistic missiles, support for terrorist groups, and human rights.”
Sanders said, “Clearly there is evidence that Suleimani was involved in acts of terror. He also supported attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. But the right question isn’t ‘was this a bad guy,’ but rather ‘does assassinating him make Americans safer?’ The answer is clearly no.”
“Bernie would work with our European allies to de-escalate tensions with Iran and engage in aggressive diplomacy that would safeguard the security of the U.S. and our partners while preventing a disastrous war with Iran.” (New York Times, February 2020)
“As you know, the nuclear deal with Iran was worked on with a number of our allies,” the Vermont senator said at the debate. “We have got to undo what Trump did, bring that coalition together and make sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.” (JTA, January 17, 2020)
- “We have got to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia together in a room under American leadership and say we are sick and tired of us spending huge amounts of money and human resources because of your conflicts.” (Democratic debate transcript, November 20, 2019)
“I will do everything I can to prevent a war with Iran, which would be far worse than the disastrous war with Iraq.” (New York Times, June 28, 2019)
“Right now, I am doing everything that I can to prevent Donald Trump and John Bolton from taking us into a war with Iran — a war which would be much worse than the war in Iraq and could lead, literally, to perpetual warfare in the region — a never ending war that U.S. troops would remain involved in. And I make no apologies for that either.” (JewishInsider, May 28, 2019)
“I am working hard to see if we can get 51 members of the U.S. Senate, as well as a majority in the House of Representatives to make clear that before the President takes any military action in Iran or anyplace else, he must seek authorization from the Congress…. Taking us into a war without congressional authorization would be unconstitutional and illegal.” (CBS News, May 14, 2019)
- When asked if he would rejoin the Iran nuclear deal, a Sanders aide said that “as president, Sen. Sanders would rejoin the JCPOA and would also be prepared to talk to Iran on a range of other issues, which is what Trump should’ve done instead of simply walking away. Rejoining the JCPOA would mean meeting the United States’ commitments under the agreement, and that includes sanctions relief.” (Al-Monitor, March 19, 2019)
- “Please don’t suggest that I think we normalize relations with Tehran tomorrow. We don’t. But I would like to see us move forward, and hopefully some day that will happen.” (Democratic Presidential Debate, February 4, 2016)
- “In terms of Iran and in terms of Saudi Arabia, of course they hate each other. That’s no great secret. But John Kerry, who is I think doing a very good job, has tried to at least get these people in the room together because both of them are being threatened by ISIS.” (Democratic Presidential Debate, February 4, 2016)
- “I think what we’ve got to do is move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran, understanding that Iran’s behavior in so many ways is something that we disagree with: their support for terrorism, the anti-American rhetoric that we’re hearing from some of their leadership is something that is not acceptable. On the other hand, the fact that we managed to reach an agreement, something that I very strongly supported, that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon - and we did that without going to war - and that I believe we’re seeing a thaw in our relationships with Iran is a very positive step. So if your question is, do I want to see that relationship become more positive in the future? Yes. Can I tell you that we should open an Embassy in Tehran tomorrow. No I don’t think that we should. But I think the goal has got to be, as we have done with Cuba, to move and warm relations with a very powerful and important country in this world.” (Democratic Presidential Debate, January 18, 2016)
- “It’s so easy to be critical of an agreement which is not perfect. But the United States has to negotiate with, you know, other countries. We have to negotiate with Iran. And the alternative of not reaching an agreement, you know what it is? It’s war. Do we really want another war, a war with Iran? An asymmetrical warfare that will take place all over this world, threatening American troops? So I think we go as far as we possibly can in trying to give peace a chance, if you like. Trying to see if this agreement will work. And I will support it.” (Haaretz, August 18, 2015)
- “The United States must do everything it can to make certain that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, that Israel is not threatened by a nuclear Iran and that a nuclear arms race in the region is avoided.” (The Hill, August 7, 2015)
- “I congratulate President Obama, Secretary Kerry and the leaders of other major nations for producing a comprehensive agreement to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This is a victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling and could keep the United States from being drawn into another never-ending war in the Middle East. I look forward to learning more about the complex details of this agreement to make sure that it is effective and strong” (Bernie Sanders Campaign Website)
- “While much more work remains to be done this framework is an important step forward. It is imperative that Iran not get a nuclear weapon. It also is imperative that we do everything we can to reach a diplomatic solution and avoid never-ending war in the Middle East. I look forward to examining the details of this agreement and making sure that it is effective and strong.” (PoliticsUSA, April 2, 2015)
- “At this point, harsher sanctions won’t stop Iran’s nuclear program. Neither would a dangerous resort to military action. The sanctions currently in place have brought Iran to the bargaining table and current negotiations resulted in Iran freezing its nuclear program. And for the past year, Iran has been subject to heightened international inspections. All of those things have made us safer.” (Response to Netanyahu’s Congressional Address, March 3, 2015)
- “My plan is to tell Saudi Arabia that instead of going to war in Yemen, they, one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, are going to have to go to war against ISIS... To tell Qatar, that instead of spending $200 billion on the World Cup, maybe they should pay attention to ISIS, which is at their doorstep.” (Third Democratic Debate, 2016)
- “ISIS is a brutal, awful, dangerous army and they have got to be defeated. But, Candy, this is not just an American problem. This is an international crisis. This is a regional crisis. And I think the people of America are getting sick and tired of the world and the region, Saudi Arabia and the other countries saying hey, we don’t have to do anything about it. The American taxpayer, the American soldiers will do all the work for us.” (Real Clear Politics, October 12, 2014)
Sources: Peter Beinart, “Bernie Sanders Should Just Keep His Mouth Shut On The High Holidays,” Forward, (September 27, 2017);
Amir Tibon, “Sanders, Feinstein Urge Senate to Reject anti-BDS Bill: ‘Threat to Free Speech,’” Haaretz, (December 19, 2018);
Ron Kampeas, “Bernie Sanders blasts introduction of anti-BDS bill as ‘absurd,’” Times of Israel, (January 7, 2019);
Ron Kampeas, “5 things to watch in another Bernie Sanders presidential campaign,” JTA, (January 28, 2019);
Bryant Harris, “2020 Democrats vow to re-enter Iran nuclear deal,” Al-Monitor, (March 19, 2019)
“Bernie Sanders Says He Hopes Netanyahu Loses,” Haaretz, (April 9, 2019);
Benjamin Wallace-Wells, “Bernie Sanders Imagines a Progressive New Approach to Foreign Policy,” The New Yorker, (April 13, 2019);
Sean Sullivan, “Sanders keeps distance from Omar, even as he defends her against accusations of anti-Semitism,” Washington Post, (April 15, 2019);
Gregory Krieg and Annie Grayer, :Bernie Sanders backs Ilhan Omar again, but says she could do ‘a better job’ addressing Jewish community,” CNN, (April 15, 2019);
Bernie Sanders Town Hall with Fox News, April 15, 2019;
Amir Tibon, “WATCH 2020 Hopeful Bernie Sanders Says Netanyahu Leads ‘Racist Government,’” Haaretz, (April 23, 2019);
Town Hall, Perry, Iowa, (May 4, 2019);
Grace Segers, “Bernie Sanders says war with Iran would be "many times worse than the Iraq War,” CBS News, (May 14, 2019);
Comments to American Jewish Committee, (June 4, 2019);
Amir Tibon, “Democrats With Eye on White House Increasingly Willing to Bash Bibi While Supporting Israel,” Haaretz, (June 7, 2019);
“18 Questions. 21 Democrats. Here’s What They Said,” New York Times, (June 19, 2019);
Allison Kaplan Sommer, “Does Elizabeth Warren Have a Plan for Israel?” Haaretz, (June 27, 2019);
“2019 Democratic Debates, Night 2: Full Transcript,” New York Times, (June 28, 2019);
Alayna Treene and Barak Ravid, “Top 2020 Dems wouldn’t reverse Trump’s Jerusalem embassy decision,” Axios, (July 14, 2019);
Jon Favreau,“2020: Bernie Sanders On Democratic Socialism And Cardi B,” Pod Save America, (July 26, 2019);
“Jewish Insider’s Daily Kickoff,” Times of Israel, (August 14, 2019);
Bill Barrow, “Warren, Sanders get personal with young, black Christians,” AP, (August 17, 2019);
Al-Monitor, (September 13, 2019);
“Leading Democratic presidential candidates denounce US settlement decision,” Times of Israel, (November 19, 2019);
“Sanders calls Netanyahu a ‘racist,’ Biden slams PM’s ‘outrageous’ behavior,” Times of Israel, (December 20, 2019);
(Ron Kampeas, “Where the top 7 Democratic candidates stand on Iran,” JTA, (January 17, 2020);
(Jacob Kornbluh, “New Hampshire activist asks Bernie Sanders if he’ll be attending AIPAC’s conference in March,” JewishInsider, (February 5, 2020);
CNN’s Town Hall with Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, (February 6, 2020);
Marcy Oster, “Bernie Sanders releases new ‘proud to be Jewish’ video,” JTA, (February 17, 2020)