Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders dismissed criticism of his grossly exaggerated estimates of Palestinians killed in the last Gaza war, claiming he referred to “total number of casualties”.
During an interview with the New York Daily News this week, Sanders criticized Israel saying, ““I don’t have it in my number … but I think it’s over 10,000. My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed,” the Jewish senator from Vermont said. “So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I’m alone in believing Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has estimated that 2,125 Palestinians were killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and 936 of those were militants. The United Nations’ Human Rights Council estimated that 2,251 Palestinians were killed. Actual estimates of casualties in the conflict vary but no source places the number above 2,300. Israel National News noted that this was “the lowest combatant to civilian ration of any conflict ever recorded”, making Sanders mistake even more egregious.
GRAPH OF MIDDLE EAST DEATH TOLL PUTS ISRAELI- PALESTINIAN CONFLICT INTO PERSPECTIVE pic.twitter.com/ik0XZSr5Ko
— Bless the Just (@gloriakatz120) July 14, 2015
The Israeli response to Sanders’ statement was immediate. In an interview with Times of Israel, Former Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren (MK Likud), called it a “blood libel”, demanding an apology.
“First of all, he should get his facts right. Secondly, he owes Israel an apology,” Oren said. “He accused us of a blood libel. He accused us of bombing hospitals. He accused us of killing 10,000 Palestinian civilians. Don’t you think that merits an apology?”
Sanders has been ambiguous about his stand on the Arab Israeli conflict, though proponents of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and Muslims are strong supporters of his campaign. Max Blumenthal, an anti-Israel journalist who has been accused of anti-Semitism on numerous occasions, ran a petition to convince Sanders to boycott the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington. Sanders did not attend, citing scheduling conflicts.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an NGO that fights anti-Semitism, called on Sanders to make a public statement correcting his claim.
“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,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement Wednesday. “As Mr. Sanders publicly discusses his approach to key U.S. foreign policy priorities, including Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, accuracy and accountability are essential for the voting public, but also for U.S. credibility in the international community. We urge Senator Sanders to correct his misstatements.”
After a telephone conversation with Sanders on Thursday, Greenblatt stated, “The senator assured me that he did not mean his remarks to be a definitive statement and that he would make every effort to set the record straight.”
The ADL added: “We appreciate his responsiveness on this issue, especially at a time when there are many false and incendiary reports blaming Israel for applying disproportionate force in its struggle for self-defense.” The ADL also said it “welcomed Sen. Sanders’ clarification.”
In a press release issued by communications director Michael Briggs, the Sanders campaign said , ““As many people know, Sen. Sanders, as a young man, spent months in Israel and, in fact, has family living there now. There is no candidate for president who will be a stronger supporter of Israel’s right to exist in freedom, peace and security,” said Sanders’ spokesman, Michael Briggs. “The path to peace in the Middle East is not an easy one,” Briggs added. “As we go forward in this campaign, distorting the truth is not useful. We hope there can be an honest discussion of this important issue.”
Briggs noted that during the interview, the interviewer from the New York Daily News did a fact check, correcting Sanders, but citing 10,000 total Palestinians reported injured in the conflict.
“Understanding that his recollection was about the total number of casualties, not the death toll, the senator immediately accepted that correction and the discussion moved on to other topics,” the press release stated.
“The idea that Sen. Sanders stated definitely that 10,000 Palestinians were killed is just not accurate and a distortion of that discussion,” Briggs said. “Bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be easy. It would help if candidates’ positions on this issue are not distorted.”
Briggs noted that Sanders, a Jew, spent time in Israel when he was young, and had family in Israel, saying, “There is no candidate for president who will be a stronger supporter of Israel’s right to exist in freedom, peace and security.”
Bible scholars will be quick to point out that there were countless kings of Israel, also Jews, who were catastrophic for Israel.
There have been no reports of Sanders apologizing for his remarks about Israel’s “”indiscriminate” bombing of hospitals and apartment buildings.