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April 13, 2016 10:45 am

Alan Dershowitz: Bernie Sanders Must Clarify Where He Stands on Israel

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

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Bernie Sanders on CNN. Photo: Screenshot.

Bernie Sanders on CNN. Photo: Screenshot.

Bernie Sanders’ ignorance and bias with regards to Israel have been on full view lately. In an interview with the New York Daily News editorial board, Sanders grossly misstated the number of Palestinian civilians killed during Israel’s intervention in the Gaza strip in August and September 2014, generally referred to as Operation Protective Edge.

Here’s what he said:

Sanders: “Help me out here, because I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?”

Daily News: “I think it’s probably high, but we can look at that.”

Sanders: “I don’t have it in my number… but I think it’s over 10,000. My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.”

Even, the United Nations—whose bias against Israel is well documented—put the number of civilians killed during Operation Protective Edge at 1462, while the Israeli Defense Forces counted 761.

Mr. Sanders’ campaign has since attempted to clarify his remarks by claiming that the media distorted Mr. Sanders’ comments, and that he was in fact referring to the total number of casualties sustained by the Palestinians over the course of the conflict. Regardless of whether Mr. Sanders was referring to total casualties or to the death toll, he should apologize for propagating this blatant mistruth. His comments seemed to confirm the wild delusions of anti-Israel zealots, who often seek to delegitimize the nation state of the Jewish people by accusing its military of deliberately murdering large numbers of innocent Palestinians.

While the media has focused on Bernie Sanders’ egregious overstatement of the specific number of innocent Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge, the more revealing aspect of what he told the Daily News is his generalization that Israel indiscriminately leveled hospitals and apartment buildings. Although he did not explicitly say that the Israeli Defense Forces deliberately targeted civilians and civilian structures, his canard can certainly be understood that way by those Israel haters who are actively supporting his campaign. The word “indiscriminate,” especially applied to Israeli military actions, has acted as a code word among Israel bashers for war crimes and even genocide. The reality is that the Israeli military’s efforts to stop Hamas from indiscriminately killing Israeli citizens with rockets and through terror tunnels has been the opposite of indiscriminate, as Colonel Richard Kemp and other military experts have attested. No other country in history has gone to such lengths in trying to distinguish between military and civilian targets, even in the face of an enemy that regularly uses its own population as human shields, and that hides military equipment in schools and hospitals. Israel’s efforts to protect its citizens compare favorably to the U.S. and NATO led military bombing campaigns in Iraq, Syria, and other areas, in which civilians have also been used as human shields.

At best, Mr. Sanders’ comments on Operation Protective Edge reflect a disappointing lack of interest in the specifics of what happened during the course of the seven-week war. As has been noted by several commentators, Senator Sanders is a long-term elected official who deals with some frequency with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and who should be expected to avoid gross misstatements on the topic. Mr. Sanders has done nothing to assuage these concerns: in two recent interviews, Mr. Sanders mistakenly put the number of civilians killed at “over 2,000” and again described the Israeli response as “disproportionate.”

In one of those same interviews, it emerged that apparently, Mr. Sanders had never heard of Michael Oren, the well-known Israeli ambassador to the United States during President Obama’s first term. Mr. Sanders would be well advised to seek out the assistance of experts such as Mr. Oren, instead of the group of radical left-wing ideologues who currently advise him on Middle East policy. Among them, Mr. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute once described the motivations behind Israel’s interventions in Gaza as “putting the natives back in their place.” Professor Cornell West, who is a strong advocate of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement directed against Israel, has acted as a Sanders surrogate on the campaign trail, and Mr. Sanders’ national Jewish outreach coordinator, Simone Zimmerman, is a long-standing Israel critic. Other aspects of Mr. Sanders’ approach to Israel also seem influenced by far left organizations. I was disappointed by Mr. Sanders’ decision not to attend AIPAC this year, following pressure by far left groups like Move On. I also thought his refusal to listen in person to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to Congress in March of last year was a serious mistake.

That said, and in spite of some of the suggestions by the right wing punditry, I do not believe that Mr. Sanders himself is anti-Israel. He may yearn for the Israel of the 1960s and 1970s, dominated by Labour governments, and defined by the Kibbutz. He is also clearly opposed to new Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and to the politics of Prime Minister Netanyahu. However, I have no doubt that Mr. Sanders is sincere when he says that he is a friend of Israel. At various points during his career, he has condemned Hamas, rejected BDS, refused to endorse Palestinian attempts to prosecute Israel in front of the International Criminal Court, backed legislation calling on the United Nations to rescind the hopelessly biased Goldstone report, and stated that Israel’s security concerns are paramount to restarting negotiations between the parties.

But in an obvious effort to avoid alienating those among his supporters who are rabidly anti-Israel, he has remained studiously ambiguous during the campaign about these and other contentious issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The time has come for Bernie Sanders to be unambiguous on where he stands, so that voters can accurately assess his Middle East policies.

Alan Dershowitz is the author of Abraham: The World’s First (but Certainly Not Last) Jewish Lawyer.

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  • Yale

    The pink elephant in the room that no-one wants to mention is that the Far-Left in the US is detached from reality. They have various notions that they believe and the fact that those notions have no connection with reality doesn’t bother them, though it should bother every American who is concerned about the future of this country.

    Sanders’ ideas reveal him to be in some sort of time warp, where it is permanently 1968, the US and the West are always wrong, and the socialist states of Eastern Europe, led by the Soviet Union, will prevail over Western capitalism and imperialism.

    We need to have the integrity and courage to point out that they are simply wrong, and have been proven wrong by history. People with any intelligence and integrity must reject the Left nad its “notions”.

  • Audrey Clement


    Much as I admire your polemics in defense of Israel, you are wrong about Sanders. There is nothing sincere about a man who professes to be a friend of Israel and inflates the civilian death toll in its last war against a terrorist state by a factor of 10.

    Sanders is an opportunist. First he transformed himself overnight from a socialist to a Democrat to advance his political career, when any sincere socialist would have long ago rejected the Democratic Party as a vehicle for achieving his agenda. Second, he’s clearly pandering to the left wing of the Democratic Party to get votes and for no other reason.

    Algemeiner is concerned that Donald Trump is catering to the KKK to get votes, as well it should be. What’s the difference between that and catering to the BDS movement?

  • It is so obvious that Mr. Sanders, born a Jew, left Judaism at an early age.
    Look at who he listens to. Jew haters only. Where is one consultant who actually defends Israel in his campaign. His mission is a REVOLUTION in this country and elsewhere. Revolt for what?
    If he ever had real power there would be Chaos and bloodshed in the streets. It is his followers that disrupt Donald Trump’s rallies.
    Both Sanders are Trump are the outsiders, but Sanders has been a politician his whole life. He has lived off the government his whole life. He has no clue how to get anything done.
    And why should Israel have to defend itself?
    Let the Gazan Hamas Arabs defend their murderous behavior. Let them defend their Apartheid, their vicious educational system, their horrible human rights history.
    After the election, Sanders should just go away and let civil people run the country – not his ACTIVISTS.

  • Robert Davis

    Apart fromthe fact this conflict is not Israeli/”palestinian” but an arab/Israeli conflict, sanders it’s evident sanders knows full well he LIED siunce he always lies when stating anything about Israel and the reason he lies always in a unfavourable way is that he wants to put political pressure on Israel, his entire mid east Policy relies on such pressures on Israel. So this is not an error nor a misunderstanding but very telling of his “ideas” which in fact are communist dogms and his intent to do his very best to dictate his will and weaken Israel. Why? the reason can only be so as to allow arabs to take revenge on Israel and prevail on next war. As to promises to send out troops we all know it’s impossible, Americans don’t want boots over there and they don’t even want to keep the few soldiers with the un in sinai!!! Such promises would not be held and Israel would have to fight alone and in very difficult conditions if arabs keep squatting the Jewish provinces. sanders is a LIAR, a bad faith hypocrit, an impotent, stupid, a good for nothing in all lines including economics if not Alzheimer case at 74. Only stupid Young students with a mental age of 8 can believe him because they are of the same mental age.

  • Paul

    Anyone who does NOT pay attention to the details will be led astray by the extremely biased media reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Sanders does NOT seem to be really anti-israel. Perhaps anti-zionist. He just seems to be an old f_rt who should not comment on things he is really not familiar with, if he wants to go into politics.

  • fred

    Misstatements = Manna for Israels enemies.
    Bernie Sanders makes public statements in pure ignorance ,yet ,he couches this with : Somebody help me, not waiting for help but, reiterating the same “misstatement “. Bernie is a hypocrite of great value to Hamas ,they think he is their Jew.

  • avi leiman

    Sanders statement that 10,000 were killed in Gaza was not a mistake. This was not a error on his part. This is how he slanders Israel and then “corrects” himself. This is the means he gains support from anti- Israel antagonists.Sanders does not demonstrate a balanced view.He deliberately distorts information on Israel for his own gain.

  • nat cheiman

    It doesn’t matter because Bernie is not going to win.

  • Senator Sanders already stated where stands on Israel. The larger threat to US-Israeli relations is a possible second Clinton Administration in 2017.

  • stevenl

    BS sides with J-street. Ask Miss. Zimmerman!
    His actions (words) speak loud and clear.

  • Linda

    Bernie may have been born Jewish, but his attitudes on Israel are ignorant. Not voting for you Bernie.

  • Dani

    Israel haters including self hating Jews are right in one thing about Gaza. People there are lockt up and kept hostage by Hamas millitia squads and have no way out to escape from there. Next war should be different so to help those who want to cross the border to Egypt.

  • Harold Moskowitz

    Has any Democrat or Democrat leaning Jew ever admitted that the anti-Israel statements, acts and policies held by Obama, Sanders and Hillary are, in fact, anti-Israel. You can’t hire a person like Simone Zimmerman and not be anti-Israel. You can’t call the PM of Israel a chickens**t and a coward — or be silent when said — and not be anti-Israel. You can’t call Israel an oppressor, hand around memos from Max Blumenthal and fail to ever call out PA Prez Abbas for failing to advance any peace process while criticizing Bibi for the same and not be anti-Israel. Just once admit the truth. And admit that people like you ignored all the warnings about Obama and Israel and allowed him to do it.

  • Betty Schneck

    Bernie Sanders reminds me of those who wanted to become “American” more than anything else. His own education was faulty and rudimentary with no intellectual understanding of the middle east and Israel’s relation to the area.
    I do think there is more to his disengagement from Jews and Israel has something to do with his present home life.
    Now that he’s tasted ham and pork, being Jewish is alien to him.
    He’s the little boy who wants to overwhelm the public in a most dangerous way economically and spiritually.

  • Larry

    There is nothing to clarify. He has no concern about Israel’s survival. Like Obama, he is only concerned about the future of the Palestinians. Bernie Sander’s is no friend of Israel.
    He is a well seasoned professional politician. He will promise anything and everything and once elected will deliver nothing.

  • David

    I saw the interview, I have listened to some of his stump speeches. He is an ignoramus ideologue. Having advisers such as Zogby and West reflects his being a self-hating rabid anti-Israel person regardless of what he may have done in the past. He is a great danger to Israel, not that that bothers Jewish liberals and left-wingers.

  • Arturo Espejo

    Dear Dr. Dershowitz:

    I really had hoped that, since we met at Mendy’s shul on Miami Beach several years ago and discussed the obvious anti-Semitism/anti-Israelism of barack obama, you had had an epiphany about the Jew-hatred of the left in the USA. Is it really possible that you have fallen “off the wagon” and are now firmly ensconced as a committed leftist again? I should hope not. The left in the USA is not friendly to Israel; and, the fact that bernie sanders may be culturally/genetically a Hebrew does not change the fact that he is a committed anti-Israeli socialist.

    Expecting him to “clarify” his anti-Jew hatred, when he is being advised by anti-Jewish/anti-Israeli “J-Streeters” is like expecting a zebra to become a horse.

    I must say, though I wish I did not have to . . . Grow up, Professor.


    Arturo Espejo

  • Isaac Waterman

    You’re so right Mr. Dershowitz. Mr.Sanders did probably not know that the people, who are advising him are anti-Israel and probably also Anti-Semitic. He invited the “Wolves” into his home. Not a good sign for a man, who wants to become president. He is ready for an Old Age Community as President. I wish him still a long life, but not as President of the USA. Sorry Mr. Sanders.

    Isaac Waterman ( also almost ready for an Old Age Home, maybe I’ll meet him there!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sorry Alan, you have no credibility as a defender of Israel. You supported Obama twice notwithstanding his close associations with many many antisemites. You chose the Obama bed, so lie in it forever. Love Obama, love the Iran agreement, love all Obama’s antisemitic friends. That’s you, Alan.

  • Mark_NYC

    Professor Dershowitz, you’re much to kind in your comments about Mr. Sanders. He is the kind of left-wing self-hating Jew who brings nothing but tsourus down upon our people.

  • Arnold Robbins MD

    Bernie Sanders has proven himself an ideologue and as such lives by his worn out totemic socialist ideas with no sense whatever of contemplation or thoughtfulness for the truth of the individual situation that must be dealt with. He lives intellectually by mottoes and slogans and is not fit at all to be president of much of anything, never mind our great nation.
    Arnold Robbins MD