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Sanders Sharply Rebukes Netanyahu’s Claim That Campus Protests Are Antisemitic

“It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable for your actions,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said in a scathing statement.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to reporters outside the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill on April 23, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

Jewish U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders issued a scathing statement Thursday pushing back against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s characterization of burgeoning protests on American university campuses as “antisemitic,” declaring, “It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable for your actions.”

“No, Mr. Netanyahu. It is not antisemitic or pro-Hamas to point out that in a little over six months, your extremist government has killed 34,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 77,000 — 70% of whom are women and children,” said Sanders (I-Vt.). “It is not antisemitic to point out that your bombing has completely destroyed more than 221,000 housing units in Gaza, leaving more than one million people homeless — almost half the population.”

“Antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to many millions of people,” continued Sanders, who lost family members to the Nazi Holocaust. “But, please, do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal war policies of your extremist and racist government. Do not use antisemitism to deflect attention from the criminal indictment you are facing in the Israeli courts.”

Sanders’ statement came a day after Netanyahu falsely described student protesters speaking out against Israel’s catastrophic war on Gaza as “antisemitic mobs” and likened the demonstrations to “what happened in German universities in the 1930s.”

“It has to be stopped,” Netanyahu said of the campus protests, which have faced violent police crackdowns.

Students at Columbia, Princeton, the City College of New York, the University of Texas at Austin, Northwestern, and other schools nationwide are demanding that the institutions divest from any companies that are participating in or benefiting from Israel’s war on Gaza and publicly support an immediate cease-fire.

On Wednesday, hundreds of UT Austin students walked out of their classrooms and marched to the main lawn of the campus before police officers with horses and riot gear arrived on the scene, arrested dozens, and assaulted some protesters.

“One woman said she saw a large police officer place his entire body weight to detain a young woman protesting,” The Texas Tribune reported. “Law enforcement was also seen kneeling on individuals’ backs and necks, pulling their hair, and in one case punching a protester in the nose.”

Jeremi Suri, a professor of history at UT Austin, told Al Jazeera that contrary to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s claim, there was “nothing antisemitic” about Wednesday’s protests.

“These students were shouting ‘free Palestine,’ that’s all,” said Suri. “They were saying nothing that was threatening. And as they were standing and shouting, I witnessed the police — the state police, the campus police, the city police — an army of police almost the size [of] the student group… many were carrying guns, many were carrying rifles, and then, within a few minutes, this group of police stormed into the student crowd and started arresting students.”

In his statement Thursday, Sanders emphasized that criticism of Israel’s massively destructive assault on Gaza cannot be conflated with antisemitism.

“It is not antisemitic to note that your government has obliterated Gaza’s civilian infrastructure — electricity, water, and sewage,” said Sanders, who earlier this week voted against a foreign aid package that included $17 billion in additional U.S. military assistance for Israel.

“It is not antisemitic to realize that your government has annihilated Gaza’s healthcare system, knocking 26 hospitals out of service and killing more than 400 healthcare workers,” he continued. “It is not antisemitic to condemn your government’s destruction of all of Gaza’s 12 universities and 56 of its schools, with hundreds more damaged, leaving 625,000 students with no education.”

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