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Where Does Bernie Sanders Stand on Israeli Settlements in the West Bank?

Bernie, as the main Democratic challenger to Hillary, should address Palestinian’s human rights.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at Nashua Community College, June 27, 2015. (Photo: Mark Nozell)

I’ve gotten a fair bit of correspondence complaining that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders hasn’t said anything recently in support of the human rights of Palestinians.

Of course, Sanders isn’t talking a lot about a lot of things that a lot of progressives wish he would talk more about. He’s not talking about cutting the bloated Pentagon budget, though some in the media apparently think that he is.

(My theory for this media behavior is that if Sanders mentions how much we spend on the Pentagon or how the Pentagon wastes our tax dollars, in the context of talking about our crumbling domestic infrastructure, some in the media hear that as a call to cut the Pentagon budget and use the money to rebuild the US. Like, if I said, “Those chocolate-chip cookies in the kitchen sure smell delicious,” you might think, “Naiman’s not just making an aesthetic judgment; he’s thinking about eating the cookies.”)

Clearly, Sanders has got his message: reduce extreme economic inequality, curb the political power of the billionaire class, address the challenge of climate change – and he’s determined, as much as possible, to “stay on message.”

But events happen – like the austerity/regime change policies that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank have been trying to impose on Greece – and candidates are expected to talk about events that happen. And in the case of the IMF and Greece, Sanders, unlike the others, did speak up.

Well, Bernie, something has come up, and I’d like you to respond.

On July 2, Hillary Clinton sent a letter to Haim Saban, a major Clinton donor and fundraiser, expressing her “alarm” over the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement,” (BDS) which she called “a global effort to isolate the state of Israel by ending commercial and academic exchanges.” Clinton asserted that “we need to make countering BDS a priority.” Crucially, Clinton’s letter failed to make any distinction between Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank. (Peter Beinart thinks that Clinton was signaling that she will oppose a resolution at the United Nations supporting the two-state solution.)

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has been campaigning to erase the distinction in US policy between Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, under the guise of “combatting the global BDS movement.” As part of this campaign, AIPAC recently pushed language through Congress that defines the “global BDS” which the US should oppose as including boycott, divestment and sanctions against enterprises in “Israeli-controlled territories” – that is, enterprises in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. According to the AIPAC provision, Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank are the same thing. J Street and Americans for Peace Now opposed the AIPAC provision.

The Obama administration denounced the AIPAC provision, saying, “by conflating Israel and ‘Israeli-controlled territories,’ a provision of the Trade Promotion Authority legislation runs counter to longstanding US policy towards the occupied territories, including with regard to settlement activity … The US government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and, by extension, does not pursue policies or activities that would legitimize them.”

By condemning “BDS” without distinguishing between Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Clinton is supporting – whether intentionally or not – the AIPAC campaign to erase the distinction between Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Given that major media coverage of this issue has been virtually non-existent, it seems unlikely that major media will successfully press Clinton to clarify her position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank unless the issue is raised by another candidate.

But another candidate could find that the issue resonates among Democrats. A recent study found that 45 percent of Democratic “opinion leaders” said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who criticized the Israeli occupation and mistreatment of Palestinians, while only 23 percent said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate.

Bernie, as the main Democratic challenger to Hillary, seems like a logical address for this concern. If you would like Bernie to say that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not Israel, you can tell him so here.

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