Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday called Hamas a “terrorist group” but also said the Israeli government is “right-wing” and contains “overt racists” as he urged the Biden administration to dial back its support of Israel under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sanders, I-Vt., made the comments in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” in the aftermath of a cease-fire last week that ended 11 days of fighting between Hamas and Israel. The fighting resulted in more than 200 deaths as Hamas fired rockets indiscriminately into Israeli territory and Israel responded with punishing airstrikes against the terror group in Gaza.
Pressed on how the U.S. can take an “evenhanded” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when the Hamas terrorist group does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, Sanders slammed the Netanyahu government, saying it is not innocent in the hostilities.
“What you have got to do is also understand that over the years the Netanyahu government has become extremely right-wing. And that there are people in the Israeli government now who are overt racists,” Sanders told the CBS program. “You have in West Jerusalem people being evicted from their homes. Tremendous pressure on people within Israel, the Arab community, as well as Gaza.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., arrives before President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol April 28, 2021 in Washington, DC. Sanders said that there are “overt racists” in the Israeli government in an interview on CBS on Sunday. (Photo by Melina Mara-Pool/Getty Images)
Sanders added: “So you have a very difficult situation. You have Hamas, a terrorist group. You have a right-wing Israeli government and the situation is getting worse. And all that I’m saying is that the United States of America has got to be leading the world in bringing people together, not simply supplying weapons to kill children in Gaza.”
Sanders cited the 56% poverty rate in Gaza to bolster his argument that Israeli strikes on the area are wrong. He also said the latest round of fighting results in “wastewater plants destroyed, clinics destroyed, hospitals destroyed.”
The senator last week introduced a resolution to force a vote on whether to block the recent sale of $735 million in weapons from the U.S. to the Israel Ministry of Defense, including Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) and Small Diameter Bombs. He was joined by left-wing “Squad” members in the House of Representatives, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.
Asked whether the U.S. should put conditions on aid to Gaza to prevent it from being used by Hamas – as Sanders and other liberals have advocated conditions on aid to Israel – Sanders said he approves of that idea.
“Hamas is a terrorist, corrupt, authoritarian group of people and we have got to stand up to them,” Sanders said on “Face the Nation.” “But once again, our job is not simply to put more and more military support for Israel. It is to bring people together.”
Israel and those who defend the nation, however, say it is wrong to draw a moral equivalency between the strongest democracy in the Middle East and terrorists that aim to destroy it.
Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said on “Fox News Sunday” there is no moral “parity” between Hamas and Israel.
“They were firing thousands of rockets on our civilian population. They were trying to murder our people in their homes. We were defending ourselves,” Regev said. “They were firing out of schools. They were firing out of built-up areas. They were firing out of homes, out of mosques, even out of playgrounds.”
“We tried… to hit the terrorists and not to see innocent people caught up in the crossfire. And while our goal was to avoid civilian casualties, Hamas had actually the exact opposite goal,” he added. “They were brutally abusing Gaza civilians as a human shield for their war machine.”
Sanders also in the CBS interview slammed rising anti-Semitism, saying Americans have to “combat” that bigotry. But Sanders quickly moved to a more general condemnation of an “increase in hate crimes in this country against Asians, against African Americans, against Latinos.”
It’s not clear how long the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas could hold, with both sides claiming victory and saying they will only “hold fire” as long as the other side does.
Israeli offensive and defensive capacity are still in solid shape. And Hamas is reportedly still boasting thousands of rockets in its now-battered Gaza arsenals.
But Regev said Sunday the “heavy blow” against Hamas could deter the group from further hostilities. “It is possible,” that the cease-fire could lead to longer term peace, he said.
“We dismantled a large part of their terrorist-military machine. We took out part of their leadership. We hit their command and control. Hopefully they will think twice, even three times, before they strike at Israel again,” Regev said.
Fox News’ Greg Palkot and Marisa Schultz contributed to this report.