Sanders calls for cutting U.S. ‘billions’ to Israel over ‘racist’ moves

Originally published: Mondoweiss on February 20, 2023 (more by Mondoweiss)  |

The good news from the weekend is that the Israeli government’s extremist moves to hamstring the judiciary and to steal more Palestinian land for Jewish settlements are causing further breakup in the pro-Israel consensus in the United States.

Several Israel supporters are now calling for the U.S. government to take action against Israeli defiance of U.S. policy. Senator Bernie Sanders yesterday called for cutting aid. He spoke on CBS‘s “Face the Nation”, in solidarity with Palestinians:

“I am very worried about what Netanyahu is doing and some of his allies in government and what may happen to the Palestinian people. And let me tell you something, I mean, I haven’t said this publicly. But I think the United States gives billions of dollars in aid to Israel. And I think we’ve got to put some strings attached to that and say you cannot run a racist government. You cannot turn your back on a two-state solution. You cannot demean the Palestinian people there. You just can’t do it and then come to America and ask for money.”

Host Margaret Brennan asked Sanders whether he has talked to the Biden administration about this — No — and whether he will introduce legislation to restrict aid. Maybe. “Whether it’s Saudi Arabia or other authoritarian societies, if a government is acting in a racist way, and they want billions of dollars from the taxpayers of the United States, I think you say, ‘Sorry, but it’s not acceptable. You want our money? Fine. This is what you got to do to get it,’” Sanders said.

A longtime supporter of Israel in the J Street lane, Sanders is clearly getting backing here from liberal Zionists. Over the weekend Yair Lapid, the former Prime Minister and centrist opposition leader in Israel, appeared to call on the U.S. government to pressure Israel financially.

“Lapid told Kan that Israel is ‘losing the United States,’ stating that Americans ‘talk to me all the time, and they are terrified of what is happening,’” Haaretz reported. “’We ask the United States to intervene every day,’ he added, referencing financial and military aid. ‘The partnership is based on shared democratic values and if you do not adhere to them, the partnership will end.’”

Last week, the Netanyahu government humiliated the Biden administration by moving forward with further Jewish colonization plans for the West Bank after Biden had pleaded with it not to do so, and two prominent American Israel lobbyists said the Biden administration needs to take action against the Israelis– Hadar Susskind of Americans for Peace Now nor Michael Koplow of Israel Policy Forum. Though neither spelled out just how.

Susskind wrote that the Biden administration must act to “stop” Israeli settlement activity:

Prime Minister Netanyahu and members of his cabinet listened [to Secretary of State Antony Blinken]– and did the opposite. Words do not impress this government of extremists and provocateurs. The United States’ government has numerous tools to demonstrate its discontent in actions rather than words. Time has come for action.

Those tools obviously include funding and defending Israel in international forums.

Koplow wrote a column titled, “It’s time for the U.S. to put up or shut up,” describing Israel’s contemptuous conduct.

[T]he U.S. is now in the position of looking completely feckless, having been disregarded in a particularly humiliating manner by its closest regional ally right on the heels of Blinken’s visit—an outcome that was sadly predictable. If the Biden administration genuinely cares about the policy preferences it has voiced over the past few days, this cannot be the end of the story.

Koplow’s recommendations aren’t all that inspiring: He said that the Biden administration should freeze favors to Israel, including getting it into the visa waiver program and inviting Netanyahu to Washington, and support a U.N. resolution that narrowly targets the latest Israel settlements.

One good development here is that Israel’s humiliation of Joe Biden is beginning to become a mainstream story. In her interview with Bernie Sanders, Margaret Brennan said the Biden administration has been “very careful in criticism of the Netanyahu government” and then suggested just what I have repeatedly argued, that it was because of the rightwing Israel lobby’s strategic use of millions and millions of dollars in Democratic primaries.

“The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC used to be bipartisan,” Brennan said. “But these days, it’s got a super PAC that has spent very heavily in Democratic primaries. You said they’re doing everything they can to destroy the Progressive movement in this country. Do you think the politics around this issue are constraining the White House going into 2024?”

Sanders ducked the question, saying he was upset that Republican money was being used to knock off “great candidates, young people, often people of color.”

But Brennan kept at it: “Do you think that this is what’s constraining the Biden White House right now, the concerns about the politics around this domestically?”

Sanders said yes, but it’s a general problem of billionaires corrupting the system and constraining presidents.

One last point. This is also a Jewish conversation; Jews are super-voters in the U.S. when it comes to Israel. I don’t like that, but it’s the truth. Bernie Sanders bolsters my point. When Brennan said that Biden was being careful in his criticism, Sanders said:

“Well, I am not careful about it. I’m embarrassed that- that in Israel, you have a government of that nature right now.”

Sanders’s embarrassment is that this is the Jewish state– Sanders, who worked on a kibbutz as a young man.

Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii sent the same message to Jewish Insider last week. This is American Jewish business, and Jews are not happy. “Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, explained to JI on Wednesday that he ‘of course’ has concerns [about the Israeli government]. ‘They’ve taken a turn in a very dangerous direction and I think lots of American Jews are deeply, deeply, concerned,’ Schatz told JI. ‘The U.S.-Israel relationship is strong, and will continue to be strong,’ the Hawaii senator continued. ‘But it has to be based on shared values… I think that the prime minister needs to understand that the American Jewish community is increasingly uncomfortable with the actions he’s taken, and that can get in the way of a friendship.’”

The percentage of Jews in Hawaii’s population is under 1 percent. This is not about Schatz’s constituents, but the political clout of the Jewish attachment to Israel. It’s a reactionary special interest dictating policy– and what many younger Jews want to end.

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