The Sanders/Clinton Split on Israel

Because U.S. politicians reflexively bow to whatever Israel wants, any deviation is surprising, such as Bernie Sanders’s call to respect Palestinian rights, especially in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s Israel pandering, notes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

An amazing thing happened at the prime-time Democratic debate in Brooklyn last Thursday. A few days ahead of Tuesday’s delegate-rich New York primary, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dared to criticize Israel. Rival Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, stood firm as an uncritical apologist for Israel.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Sanders to explain his assertion that Israel’s actions during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, after Hamas launched rocket attacks on Israel, was “disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of life.” Sanders stated that Israel has the right to defend itself and “to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack,” adding, “That is not a debate.”

Soldiers from the Israeli Defense Force prepare for the invasion of Gaza, as the second phase of Operation Protective Edge. (IDF Photo)

Soldiers from the Israeli Defense Force prepare for the invasion of Gaza, as the second phase of Operation Protective Edge. (IDF Photo)

But Sanders went on to say that 10,000 Palestinian civilians had been wounded and 1,500 were killed. Sanders actually understated the fatalities. According to an independent international commission of inquiry convened by the United Nations Human Rights Council, more than 2,100 Palestinians lost their lives in that conflict. Seventy-one Israelis were killed.

Sanders added, “Now, if you’re asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack? The answer is that I believe it was.”

The U.N. commission documented 2,251 Palestinian deaths, including 1,462 civilians (299 women and 551 children), and the wounding of 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children. By contrast, six Israeli civilians and 67 Israeli soldiers were killed, and up to 1,600 were injured.

Quoting “official Israeli sources,” the commission reported that Israeli “rockets and mortars hit civilian buildings and infrastructure, including schools and houses, causing direct damage to civilian property amounting to almost $25 million.” The commission found that 18,000 Palestinian housing units were totally or partially destroyed; much of the electrical, water and sanitation infrastructure was incapacitated; and 73 medical facilities and several ambulances were damaged. Moreover, 28 percent of the Palestinian population was displaced.

In international law, the principle of proportionality requires an attack be proportionate to the military advantage sought. Israel did not provide information to the commission to support the conclusion that “the civilian casualties and damage to the targeted and surrounding buildings were not excessive.” The commission therefore found that the Israeli attacks could be disproportionate, and may amount to war crimes.

When Blitzer asked Clinton whether she agreed with Sanders that Israel “overreacts to Palestinians attacks” and that in order to achieve peace, Israel must end its “disproportionate” responses, she demurred, citing the requirement that Israel take “precautions.”

The principle of precautions in international law means Israel had a legal duty to take precautions to avoid or limit civilian casualties. The commission concluded, “In many incidents, however, the weapons used, the timing of the attacks, and the fact that the targets were located in densely populated areas indicate that the Israel Defense Forces [IDF] may not have done everything feasible to avoid or limit civilian casualties.”

Graffiti on the Palestinian side of Israel's "separation wall" recalls the words of John F. Kennedy in decrying the Berlin Wall with the words in German, "I am a Berliner." (Photo credit: Marc Venezia)

Graffiti on the Palestinian side of Israel’s “separation wall” recalls the words of John F. Kennedy in decrying the Berlin Wall with the words in German, “I am a Berliner.” (Photo credit: Marc Venezia)

The commission said that the IDF’s use of roof-knock warnings before the strikes did not constitute effective warning. The commission found that either the people affected didn’t understand that their homes were being subjected to “roof-knocking” or the IDF gave insufficient time for them to evacuate after the warnings.

The commission also criticized Israel for “inferring that anyone remaining in an area that has been the object of a warning is an enemy or a person engaging in ‘terrorist activity.’ Those civilians choosing not to heed a warning do not lose the protection granted by their status. The only way in which civilians lose their protection from attack is by directly participating in the hostilities.”

As the commission pointed out, the targeting of civilians may amount to a war crime as well as a violation of the right to life enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Sanders made another declaration one would not expect from an American politician on national television. He said, “If we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.”

But Clinton could not bring herself to agree with Sanders. In fact, Sanders pointed out that during Clinton’s speech to AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in March, “I heard virtually no discussion at all about the needs of the Palestinian people. Almost none in that speech.”

Clinton did tell AIPAC that “Palestinians should be able to govern themselves in their own state, in peace and dignity,” and she made a veiled reference to “avoiding damaging action, including with respect to settlements.” Israel continues to build illegal settlements on Palestinian land.

But Clinton spoke only of the threat to Israel from the Palestinians and Iran. She called out anti-Semitism, and opposed BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), an international nonviolent movement initiated by Palestinian civil society to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands.

In the Brooklyn debate, Sanders said that in order to achieve peace in the region, the United States must play “an even-handed role,” adding, “We cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.”

But for Clinton there is only one side and that is Israel’s. When she mentioned the Palestinians during the debate, she described them as threats to Israel, focusing only on Hamas. Absent from her remarks was any mention of the humanity of the Palestinian people.

During her address to AIPAC, Clinton advocated “bolstering Israeli missile defenses with new systems.” But she said nothing about providing the Palestinians with missile defenses against 155-millimeter Israeli artillery.

Although Sanders had declined an invitation to personally address AIPAC, he made a statement he would have delivered to the group. It included: “But peace also means security for every Palestinian. It means achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on March 3, 2015. (Screen shot from CNN broadcast)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on March 3, 2015. (Screen shot from CNN broadcast)

Sanders also argued for “ending what amounts to the [Israeli] occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed-upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank,” as well as “ending the economic blockade of Gaza.”

Clinton promised AIPAC that one of the first things she would do as president would be to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House. She would probably also push to increase the $3.1 billion in military assistance the United States provides to Israel annually—more than to any other country.

There is a vast difference between Sanders and Clinton on Israel. Make no mistake. A President Hillary Clinton would strengthen Israel’s noose around the necks of the Palestinian people. She would not be an honest broker in any process to bring peace to that region.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Follow her on Twitter @marjoriecohn. [This article first appeared on Truthdig.]

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12 comments for “The Sanders/Clinton Split on Israel

  1. Joe B
    April 19, 2016 at 9:17 am

    Well there’s some honesty about Hillary.
    But Sanders would not do anything for the Palestinians except whine softly about rights.
    For justice you’ll have to find someone who isn’t Jewish and isn’t taking bribes.
    In the land of government of, by, and for the gangsters, good luck finding anyone like that with the money to run for President.

    • Bill
      April 19, 2016 at 3:23 pm

      Hey Joe B. Google Jewish Voices for Peace. Also Boycott, Divest, Sanction and who supports it…

  2. Kim Dixon
    April 19, 2016 at 9:34 am

    There is another voice in this election. A voice of conscience, and one that is being suppressed.

    “United States policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to make international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality, the central priorities. While the U.S. government sometimes voices support for this principle in name, in practice U.S policy towards Palestine and Israel has violated this principle more often than not.

    In particular, the United States has encouraged the worst tendencies of the Israeli government as it pursues policies of occupation, apartheid, assassination, illegal settlements, blockades, building of nuclear bombs, indefinite detention, collective punishment, and defiance of international law. Instead of allying with the courageous proponents of peace within Israel and Palestine, our government has rewarded consistent abusers of human rights. There is no peace or justice or democracy at the end of such a path. We must reset U.S. policy regarding Israel and Palestine, as part of a broader revision of U.S. policy towards the Middle East.”

    -Jill Stein

    Gee, wonder why there is a complete media blackout on this candidate, and on her actual leftist policies.

    • Bob Van Noy
      April 19, 2016 at 9:50 am

      You’re quite right Kim Dixon, if she had simply been on the stage at both parties debates; she would have forced the conversation in this direction, and we would have a better idea of the candidates true leanings. In a better system, all candidates should be present.

    • Abbybwood
      April 19, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      The reason there is a complete media black out of Jill Stein is because if they gave her air time her poll numbers could eventually reach the necessary 15% threshold to get into the presidential debates in the fall.

      Then The Green Party would be on the map of US electoral politics.

      And we can’t have that….

  3. Brad Owen
    April 19, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    There’s liable to be a “Yuge” Reset in the offing. Between the Panama Papers (exposing our gangster banking system), and a fast-breaking “Global Research.ca” story about China’s new gold-backed Yuan (won’t take Dollars-for-Yuans; could crush U.S. economy overnight as nobody will trade with us), this Imperial “House of Cards” can vanish suddenly; faster than we can say “Warsaw Pact”. Talk about job-creation, we might be FORCED to build/make/grow everything for ourselves, and re-introduce Lincoln GreenBack dollars (backed by creative and productive LABOR; a Public CREDIT system), nationalize the Fed, start a Crash Program “New Deal”. NOW I think I understand the Brexit, and their cozying up to China, the existential threat to U.S.A. AND Russian Federation, HOW they might lose Siberia to China, HOW PanEuropa will be formed, HOW the World Land Bridge will be blocked, HOW the so-called “Super Power” will be neutralized so that all these things can proceed.

    • Abbybwood
      April 19, 2016 at 3:01 pm

      James Howard Kunstler discusses this in his weekly missive yesterday. Read the comments and join in!!! (Although your name looks familiar…you might already be there?):

      http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/the-elephant-cometh/

      • Brad Owen
        April 20, 2016 at 6:55 am

        I checked out the web you listed. Never heard of it before, but it’s spot on…”Discontinuity” describes it exactly, and we’re in for one, as dramatic as the disappearance of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact. We may be shattered and re-absorbed as Provinces into the British CommonWealth (code for Western Roman Empire as per RoundTable designs of Cecil Rhodes and Co.; and Brazil’s being crushed by a Bankster Coup…more provinces for the W.R.E.). Same thing’s designed to happen to Russian Federation as it’s absorbed into the Synarchists’ “PanEuropa-to-the-Urals” (code for Eastern Roman Empire). Then Britain will get back out of bed with China, after its’ successful seduction of Her, to take back the helm of the Western Roman Empire, and the third Great Asian Empire will be born…just as George Orwell described it in 1984. That’s THEIR game plan anyway…hard to tell how Earth’s “Natural Government” will dispose of these matters, perhaps a “Discontinuity” of Their own will be unleashed? (this is the Syncretistic Panentheist in me talking). Something as subtle as “a Change of Hearts & Minds”?…sudden shifting of “ZeitGeists” into play? I think Mr. Korten talked of “The Turn”.

        • Brad Owen
          April 20, 2016 at 5:42 pm

          That’s David Korten in “The Great Turning”.

  4. David Smith
    April 19, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Sanders “disproportionate response” argument rests on an unsound premise: that the zionist entity was responding to attack. A result is the discussion degrades into lawyerly quibbling about “proportionality”, ” precautions”, “effective warning”, ” right to life” and “international law”, which veils the three real issues. First, the zionist entity constantly attacks Gaza with naval vessels, helicopter gunships, sniper in towers at the border, and other unreported weapons and Gazan rocket attacks are in response, by right of self defense. Second, the inhabitants of Gaza were driven out of their homes and property in the sub-mandate of Palestine, by zionists, and fled into Egyptian Gaza to avoid being murdered, and they retain all titles and rights(note that 94% of real property in zionist entity held in government title, that is expropriated in Nakba, and so can easily be returned). Third, Greater Syria was illegally, and against the will of it’s citizens, divided into two mandates, then into four submandates: Lebanon, TransJordan, Palestine, and Syria. Gazans are citizens of Greater Syria, and have the right to return to their homeland, and they have not forgotten. The zionists should consider how little they have accomplished since 1918, and almost all of that in the first twenty years, if they had stopped in 1948 it might have worked….

  5. Drew Hunkins
    April 19, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Killary just won NY state by a pretty good margin, almost makes one despondent to hear these results.

    When during Killary’s presidency — which now seems extremely likely — she ardently backs every single bloody and violent transgression by the warmongering Zionist murder machine, the Muslim and Arab blood will be on the hands of the Dem voters in Illinois, Ohio and NY who helped usher this sycophantic psychopath into office. These three states were crucial to her becoming president.

  6. Elmerfudzie
    April 19, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    Clinton is totally inconsequential in relation to the real historical issues at hand. As Henry K. once said during an interview; the candidate who win’s does not matter, since both (U.S.) political parties have agreed, in advance, to foment a “new world order” as envisioned by the CFR clique- paraphrasing all my own…. Once upon a time, there appeared on the scene, two Jewish men running for the highest office in the world. The first born, had a political following and Rolodex at least half the size of LBJ’s. Many an important businessman and politician “owed him” favors, however the second born, was, in many ways, less fortunate and savvy then his older brother…he had voted against Homeland Security, voted against giving too much power to the President, as in the Iraq war…voted (in a timely manner) for an independent investigation of 9/11, thus he, his family, and his private plane went down, incinerating itself into a fiery confetti- most likely a result of oxidizing chemicals, thermate? (painted onto the skin of his Beechcraft King air 100, AND by the by, the King air is one of the finest small, high tech, ten seat-ers money can buy. Just day’s prior to Senator Wellstone’s demise, Dick Cheney had threatened the good Senator about his voting positions and political leanings. Now, fast forward, comes to the forefront, the last remaining Son, the Military Industrial complexes very own, F-35 man, the Saudi money campaign man, and thru the Saudi’s pipeline, a direct connection to the Mossad (couldn’t resist the word play) Ah! behold!, again, the Son of Abraham (more honestly-descendant of Cain), we love you! we want you (Pentagon Boy’s rant)…Switching now to this creature Clinton, who thru her husbands political conniving s and compromises, has, rather suddenly, amassed a swollen personal portfolio assumed to be over one hundred and fifty million bucks?… must be pay back for the Mena AR dope shipments??..God only knows….what crappy choices are these!?, dear citizens? a fascist (Trump), a CFR lackey (Clinton) or a Pentagon poster boy and so called Socialist, Bernie, well- aside from all my sarcasm, I sent Bernie a few bucks… but quickly retreated into a sad and gluttonous feast afterwards….farewell freedom and democracy, it was all fine dining for a while..

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