Bernie Sanders is the only presidential hopeful to not attend the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference. While the Vermont senator explained that his absence was due to his campaign schedule and offered to deliver his comments via video — the candidate was denied this opportunity. Whether the scheduling conflict is true or not, Sanders’ absence has inadvertently made a powerful political statement and undoubtedly given him a boost with his progressive fan base.
Sanders’ supporters are radically progressive and overwhelmingly young, and in this era, that tends to translate to a rather critical viewpoint of Israel policies. Recent polls indicate that young Americans are shying away from the pro-Israel narrative that the Baby Boomers once naively consumed and instead focusing their energies on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions actions and other pro-Palestinian initiatives. This Israel criticism garners further momentum when Prime Minister Netanyahu, a hard-lined conservative, is factored into the equation. Israel’s politics are rapidly shifting right and young voters are quickly becoming turned off to the propaganda. Sanders is clearly attune to this dissent and subtly following suit.
The candidate’s comments regarding Israel, however, have been somewhat mixed. He wavers from being pro-Palestinian (the near equivalent of being anti-Israel in Washington) to defending Israel’s military excursions. Throughout his political career, Sanders has consistently condemned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and emphasized Palestinians’ suffering.
"The policy that Israelis shoot people is unacceptable. It is wrong that the United States provides arms to Israel,” Sanders said in 1988.
His voting record has spoken louder than his words as he has voted to withhold aid to Israel unless they stop building settlements in 1991 and was one of 21 senators to not co-sponsor a measure to support Israel during the Gaza War in 2014.
He was also the first senator to announce he would not attend Netanyahu’s speech to Congress in 2015.
Yet this pro-Palestinian assertion is clouded by the democratic socialist’s relative silence on Israel-Palestine during the election and his passionate defense of Israeli military campaigns in Gaza when confronted by a protester in August 2014.
Sanders seems to be stuck between maintaining a conciliatory approach with the Democratic elite and Jewish voters in order to not fully damage his chances at a presidential nomination by slamming Israel completely, yet still remaining unequivocally unique to his radical fans.
Despite the wish-washy political attitude and hesitation, Sanders’ latest AIPAC move has proven once again how much of a revolutionary game-changer the populist underdog is for American politics. While he is still having trouble taking a definitive stand against Israel, he remains steadfast in demonstrating his consistent refusal to take from the billionaire class and opposing the status quo. As Hillary Clinton and other presidential contenders will likely say what AIPAC wants in hopes of receiving a significant sum from wealthy Jewish donors, Sanders falls to his principles in determining that a politics based on money and power is not a real democracy.
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