Following a painful gaffe in which Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders estimated the Gazan casualty count from the 2014 conflict with Israel at “over 10,000” and called Israel’s attacks “indiscriminate”, Sanders’ Jewish supporters are starting to take a step back from the self-proclaimed socialist.
At the same time, and Hillary Clinton is opening her arms to Sanders supporters on the fence, condemning Sanders’ comments and defending Israel’s right to self-defense.
Angry over Sanders’ weak stance on Israel and Jewish issues, supporters lashed out during a “Jews for Bernie Brunch” in Manhattan on Sunday.
“I’m very frustrated with the campaign,” Lisa Harbatkin, 72, told JTA, the Times of Israel reported. “Given where today’s left is on Israel, I felt Bernie was too fuzzy on the Palestinians, but good enough. But as the campaign progressed, I became more upset.”
“Sanders has been tone deaf on Gaza. And the interview with the Daily News was appalling,” she continued.
Sanders, who is Jewish, put his foot in it last week when he made a wildly inaccurate guess at how many innocent Gazans had died as a result of Operation Protective Edge, a military campaign launched by Israel in response to near-constant Hamas shelling of Israeli communities in the summer of 2014.
“Anybody help me out here, because I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?” Sanders asked during the Daily News interview.
It did not sound right to most people, as the actual number of Palestinians killed during the war was reported by the United Nations Human Rights Council to be 2,251, 44 percent of whom were armed combatants, making the total number of civilians killed 1,462.
The goal of the Sunday brunch was to coordinate campaign efforts among Sanders’ Jewish supporters with the hope of growing the Jewish vote for the senator in time for the New York primary. But some of the supporters wanted to discuss something else: how they could encourage other Jews to vote for the candidate considering his recent comments on “indiscriminate” Israeli killing of Gazans.
One attendee got into an argument with the campaign’s national Jewish outreach coordinator, Simone Zimmerman, demanding accountability for the weakness and failure of Sanders’ Jewish strategy.
Indeed, Sanders’ failures when it comes to standing up for his religion or his people are legion.
Most recently, when faced with a blatantly anti-Semitic question at a campaign event in Manhattan, Sanders ignored the extremely offensive and bigoted tone of the question and used it instead as an opportunity to reiterate his support of the Palestinian people.
“As you know,” the questioner said, starting out with a conspiracy theory likely to have come straight from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, “the Zionist Jews – and I don’t mean to offend anybody – they run the Federal Reserve, they run Wall Street, they run every campaign.” The question met with boos from the crowd at that point. “What is your affiliation to your Jewish community? That’s all I’m asking,” the questioner asked.
“No, no, no, that’s not what you’re asking,” Sanders replied, but instead of calling the questioner out on his obvious problem with the Jews, he pulled out his rote answer on Israel. “I am proud to be Jewish,” he said, to cheers. “I am a strong defender of Israel, but I also believe that we have got to pay attention to the needs of the Palestinian people,” he proclaimed. The hall erupted into wild applause and chants of “Bernie!”
Despite his claims of being a friend to Israel, Sanders had also accused the Jewish state of “indiscriminate” bombing of apartment houses and hospitals during his Daily News interview, saying, “I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.”
Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton quickly took the opposite position, slamming Sanders’ comments and speaking up in defense of Israel’s actions against Hamas. She stepped into the fracas on Sunday, telling CNN, “Israel has had to defend itself, has a right to defend itself.
“Hamas provokes Israel. They often pretend to have people in civilian garb acting as though they are civilians who are Hamas fighters,” she said, describing the sad reality of a battle with terrorists who do not follow any recognizable code of war.
“When your soldiers are under attack, you have to respond,” Clinton added.
While polls have shown that, unlike many American Jews, Israelis prefer Clinton over Sanders, some are not convinced that Clinton would represent a true shift away from the Obama administration’s attitude towards the Israeli-Arab conflict, which has led to significantly cooled relations between the White House and Jerusalem over the past seven years.
As for Sanders, he has clearly stated that he would take “a balanced position” on Israel rather than throwing his support behind the Jewish state outright.
“Of course we’re going to support Israel, but you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people,” Sanders told CNN’s “State of the Union”, adding, “We will not succeed to ever bring peace in that region unless we also treat the Palestinians with dignity and respect.”