U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks outside of the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2023.

(Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Sanders Blasts AIPAC After Group Thanks Him for Not Demanding Cease-Fire in Gaza

The senator—under progressive pressure to change his position on Israel's war—noted that AIPAC "has supported dozens of GOP extremists who are undermining our democracy" and is "now working hard to defeat progressive members of Congress."

After the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday publicly thanked U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for declining to join global calls for a cease-fire in Israel's war on the Gaza Strip, the Vermont Independent rebuffed the lobbying group.

"AIPAC has supported dozens of GOP extremists who are undermining our democracy," Sanders said on social media. "They're now working hard to defeat progressive members of Congress. We won't let that happen. Let us stand together in the fight for a world of peace, economic and social justice, and climate sanity."

Sanders' comments were similar to those of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) earlier this week. Responding to the group attacking her on social media, the congresswoman, who supports a cease-fire, said: "AIPAC endorsed scores of January 6th insurrectionists. They are no friend to American democracy. They are one of the more racist and bigoted PACs in Congress as well, who disproportionately target members of color. They are an extremist organization that destabilizes U.S. democracy."

On Sunday, the pro-Israel organization—which has given tons of money to federal lawmakers in both major parties—shared on social media a clip from Sanders' nearly 10-minute appearance on CNN's "State of the Union" with Dana Bash.

During the interview, Sanders pointed out that Israel gets $3.8 billion in annual military aid from the United States and stressed the need for the nation to stop its indiscriminate bombing campaign in Gaza, echoing his Senate floor speech from Wednesday.

Like his address earlier this week, Sanders also decried the current conditions in the besieged enclave, blasted the right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for undermining regional peace, and stuck with his call for a "humanitarian pause," or a temporary halt to hostilities, rather than a cease-fire, or a long-term suspension of fighting.

Asked by Bash about his position, Sanders responded, "I don't know how you can have a cease-fire, a permanent cease-fire, with an organization like Hamas, which is dedicated to turmoil and chaos and destroying the state of Israel."

"The immediate task right now is to end the bombing, to end the horrific humanitarian disaster, to build, go forward with the entire world, for a two-tier, two-state solution to the crisis, to give the Palestinian people hope," he continued.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two Senate Democrat, on Thursday became the first senator to call for a cease-fire and fewer than two dozen House Democrats support the "Cease-Fire Now Resolution" introduced last month by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.). Later Thursday, Durbin also joined a dozen other Senate Democrats in advocating for a "cessation of hostilities" in Gaza.

Sanders, who did not sign that letter, has faced mounting pressure from progressives across the country—including hundreds of people who worked on his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns, when he ran as a Democrat—to change his position on a cease-fire.

In response to AIPAC's tweet about Sanders, Yonah Lieberman—co-founder of the American Jewish group IfNotNow, which opposes Israeli apartheid—said that "it has been a very long time since I've been this disappointed in a politician."

As David Klion wrote Friday at The Nation:

To understand where Sanders is coming from, it helps to know a little about his personal history. Though he is well to the left of his Senate colleagues and has consistently voiced support for the basic human rights of Palestinians and criticized the Israel lobby, Sanders is in many ways a product of the liberal Zionist tradition. During his 2020 campaign, Sanders advisers urged the instinctively private candidate to talk more about his Jewish background, including the fact that his father, an immigrant from Poland, lost most of his family in the Holocaust. The slaughter of Europe's Jews is deeply personal for Sanders, and it likely factors into his response to the October 7 attacks, which were the single deadliest day for Jews anywhere in the world since 1945. The members of the Squad, who come from a wide diversity of backgrounds and are on average many decades younger than Sanders, lack this direct connection to the personal trauma that many American Jews of Sanders' generation feel.

They also lack his direct connection to Israel itself, including his time living on a socialist kibbutz near Haifa in 1963. As Sanders wrote in Jewish Currents in 2019: "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." Sanders went on to acknowledge that Palestinians experienced the founding of Israel very differently, "as the cause of their painful displacement," and to call for a two-state solution.

"To put my own cards on the table, I wish Sanders would call for a cease-fire, and as a longtime supporter and admirer, I'm disappointed that he hasn't," Klion noted. "I understand the reasons why, but I don't think they excuse the call he's made."

While Bash on Sunday acknowledged Sanders' history, the 82-year-old senator insisted that "this is not—it's nothing to do with me, Dana," and went on to detail why he believes that "as a nation, we are living now, in my view, through a more difficult moment than we have lived in my lifetime."

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