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April 18, 2016 1:49 pm

Alan Dershowitz: Bernie Sanders Is Not Pro-Israel

avatar by Alan Dershowitz

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Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Photo: Wikipedia.

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Photo: Wikipedia.

Bernie Sanders may not be as anti-Israel as some of his radical supporters but he can no longer be called pro-Israel. The accusations he has repeatedly leveled against Israel in the past few days — that its military response to Hamas rockets and terror tunnels has been “disproportionate” — reflects both abysmal ignorance about the conduct of the Israeli Defense Force and a pervasive bias against the nation state of the Jewish people.

Sanders is right, of course, that he is not alone in accusing Israel of using disproportionate force, but he is very bad company when he cites the “countries all over the world” that have directed this chorus of criticism against Israel. Those who most consistently attack the conduct of the Israeli Defense Forces are among the worst human rights violators in the world, including countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria.

The reality is that Israel has done what other Western democracies — faced with far less direct threats to their civilians — have done, but they have done so far more carefully, with greater concern for civilians, and to better success. Yet Israel is singled out for unique condemnation as part of a widespread effort to delegitimize, and demonize the nation state of the Jewish people. Sanders has now made statements that lend support to these biased efforts

Reasonable people can disagree with Israel’s occupation and settlement policies — although even critics must acknowledge that Israel offered to end the West Bank occupation and settlements in 2000, 2001, and 2008 as part of a plan to create a two-state solution. The Palestinian leadership rejected the 2000 and 2001 offers and failed to respond to the 2008 proposal. Israel did unilaterally end its Gaza occupation and settlements, only to see that area turned into a launching pad for Hamas rockets and tunnels designed to kill Israeli civilians.

Nonetheless, pro-Israel critics, both within and outside of Israel, criticize the current government for not doing more to move toward a two state solution. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this criticism, one can level it without being deemed anti-Israel. But anyone who seeks the mantle of “pro-Israel” has no right to sit in judgment over Israel’s military tactics in responding to rocket and tunnel attacks from Gaza. This is especially so if they are as uninformed as Sanders is about the situation on the ground in Israeli cities and town that are close to Gaza. As Barack Obama said when he was running for president and visited Israeli areas that were most directly impacted by rocket attacks: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Israel has now located and neutralized yet another terror tunnel leading from Gaza into Israel that had been built recently, and already extended “tens of meters” underneath the border fence and into Israel proper. Its purpose is to kill, kidnap and hold hostage Israeli civilians, including children from those towns located near the tunnel exits. The entrances to these deadly military targets have been deliberately placed by Hamas in densely populated areas, rather than in the many sparely populated parts of the Gaza Strip.  (Yet there are many such sparsely populated areas, despite the media’s demonstrably false claim that the Gaza Strip is among the most densely populated areas of the world.)

Hamas knows that if they were to deploy their rockets and place the entrances to their terror tunnels in unpopulated areas – as the laws of war require – the Israeli military could attack these military targets without endangering civilians. But Hamas wants Israel to injure and kill its civilians.  They deliberately employ what has come to be known by the cruel but accurate term, “the dead baby strategy.” Under this double war crime strategy, the Israeli military is put to the terrible Hobson’s choice of either allowing its own civilians to be subjected to rocket and tunnel attacks or to destroy those rockets and tunnels by attacking targets that are surrounded by Palestinian civilians, who Hamas effectively uses as human shields.

What would Sanders do if the United State were faced with a comparable dilemma? Would he allow rockets to rain down on American civilians? Would he allow for terror tunnels to ferret armed terrorists to kill and kidnap American children? Or would he do what President Obama urged Israel to do: whatever it takes to stop the rockets and tunnels.

American voters are entitled to know what Sanders would do and what he thinks Israel should do.  Would he apply a double standard to the nation state of the Jewish People? Or would he deny the American military the authority to do whatever it takes to protect our citizens? Does he condemn the United States military for using comparable tactics in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria? In other words, does Bernie Sanders only believe that Israel has acted disproportionately, or does he also believe that the United States military acts disproportionately? We are entitled to know the answers to these questions, and Bernie Sanders is not entitled to pretend that he is pro-Israel.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Emeritus Professor at Harvard Law School and the author of Taking the Stand, My Life in the Law.

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  • Betty Silberman

    Bernie Sanders isn’t an anti-Semite. He’s never denied his Jewish roots, and is pro-Israel. But like myself, he doesn’t drink all the cool-aid we’re supposed to drink. In my opinion, it’s not anti-Israeli, to openly discuss settlements issues. If your village was being attacked, young boys grabbed in the middle of the night for no apparent reason (other than to establish who’s boss), and see your land taken over by fanatical zealots – wouldn’t you be angry, frustrated and humililated? I, too, would feel helpless & hopeless. It’s no wonder we keep seeing more Intifadahs. I absolutely Do Not condone violence, but I do believe that it’s imp’t to see both sides of the equation, before bestowing the crown on our heads.

  • Betty Silberman

    I don’t entirely agree with Dershewitz, or all the commentators, and don’t see Bernie Sanders as anti-Semitic at all! He’s a progressive Jew who’s never denied his roots. He maintains a balanced view on Israeli/Palestinian issues, and is calling Netanyahu on some of Likud’s hypocritical policies, particularly vis a vis settlements. There’s always a reason when a people are frustrated and humiliated over decades. Listen to “Breaking the Silence”. It tells a story which isn’t comfortable, but true nevertheless.

  • Katz

    Would someone here please explain to me why, unless he is Judas, would betray his own country and people?

  • I detest Sanders on Israel but love him on all the other issues. I support him as a US Presidential Candidate, but not as Prime Minister of Israel.

  • Isaac Bensussen

    As always, an intelligent article well thought out and explained, although It is sad that we ended with 4 candidates that are unqualified to run for President of the USA. Trump is an ignorant bully that is followed by 37% of the Republican voters. That is not a majority of Republican voters; 51% is. Sanders is a pitiful socialist with unworkable ideas and certainly NOT Pro-Israel. Hillary with all her experience is NOT Pro-Israel and very,very unpopular. Cruz, hated by many in Congress but very Pro-Israel. Nevertheless, with all the rest of the crazy rules of the Republican Party. Who to vote for?

  • Ben

    >>What would Sanders do if the United State were faced with a comparable dilemma? Would he allow rockets to rain down on American civilians? Would he allow for terror tunnels to ferret armed terrorists to kill and kidnap American children?

    According to some reports, Hamas-related groups have dug tunnels into the US under the US-Mexico border to enable them to bring weapons into the US. What would President Sanders do about that?

  • Isn’t Sanders, and all those who cry “Disproportionality,” really saying that Israel must not be permitted to defeat her enemies?

    When Sanders claims there are two sides to the Mideast story, he is, as I hear him, saying that Hamas, demanding that an Islamic State of Palestine replace the State of Israel, really does have a point.

  • David Polovin

    Oh Yes, Prof D! Nailed BS right on the head!
    BS …? Hmm … never thought of that before.

  • I wonder whether Professor Dershowitz had ever reached out to Senator Sanders to discuss/educate him about the truth of the Israeli situation. As a leading voice on the left and an expert on “the Case For Israel” he could have a key impact on the Senator’s views.

    • Jamie

      A person running for president should be the one reaching out to become informed.

  • Reform School

    OCCUPY that tunnel, Bernie! Show us how brave you are!

  • Anita Kelman

    Thank you for this commentary. I’m really perplexed as to why Sanders even bothers to try to portray himself as pro-Israel in any matter. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, we can pretty much assume what it is.

    Seems to me Sanders is trying to be true to his base, which tend to be pro-BDS, “justice for Palestinians” sorts, while not totally handing over all the votes of those who care about Israel to Clinton or another candidate on the Republican side. It should be clear to anyone who pays attention to what he says and does that he is not a friend of Israel’s.

  • Jonas

    The Fool is just a ordinary Jew-hater or inter-Semite


    I realized late that Bernie Sanders is a lefty ideologue and he is only “Pulling one wagon”……….I cannot imagine him as a President with a multiplicity of issues and problems. He only talks of Wall Street and Banks…..He is a joke, not to be taken seriously, a nice elderly man, but his thinking ability to find solutions to the many serious problems today is hampered by his mind in ‘lock-step’ to his Ideology. Ideologues have no common sense, intuition or humour. Whatever made him think he is presidential material….as likely as Trump…….

  • Frosty7530

    I applaud Alan Dershowitz for his remarks on Sanders. Recently, in New York, Sanders met up with a real nasty anti-Semite and got a taste of where his current position on Israel will lead him, if god forbid, he should be elected President. It seemed, from his response to the Jew Hater, that he might give some thought to repositioning his policy on Israel. When I read that he takes his cues and advice on Middle East from J Street (a deceptive anti-Israel group), that told me plenty about his sentiments re Israel. I hope that Mr. Dershowitz will continue to educate the public about who Bernie Sanders is, his candor is badly needed.

  • Peter Joffe

    Bernie, leave Israel to defend themselves as best they can as you are NOT QUALIFIED to tell Israel how to react to unprovoked attacks. When the tunnels under New Your are avenues to kill Americans then you can ask the Israelis how to stop the rot. An Ostrich is a very intelligent creature as it is tall and can see far and wide — BUT when trouble comes it sticks its head in the sand and allows the bit that is left sticking up in the air to make the decisions. Bernie you are a prime example of a human ostrich. Mind your own business and get the USA out of the mess that the Democrats in general and Sheik Obama in particular have caused.

  • Dr. Rafi Mevorach

    I have been reading, with much dismay, as Bernie Sanders continues to lambast Israel for simply defending itself.

    Would Bernie, I’m wondering, be a Jewish antisemite?

  • Naomi

    Thank God for Alan Dershowitz!

  • Shaul Lavi

    There is nothing worse than a Jew that turns his “Brain” off, when it comes to Israel,Will bend over backwards to
    appease the Goyim,alas that is Mr. Bernie Sanders, Not good for us as President.

  • Isaac Semaya


  • Jay

    With Jews like Bernie Sanders we don’t need enemies.

  • Zucker

    Don Rickles for President !
    Hag Sameash !

  • Zucker

    Bernie is out of touch. Long on talk, short on constructive actions in the Senate.
    Should with Trump confined to the Nutty Farm.
    Still looking for a statesman or woman with a vision. This campaign is not about “The making
    of a President” but rather about “It’s Saturday Night Life ! “.

  • stevenl

    Israel and Socialism are oxymoron!
    Lying is fashionable. So Bernie lies like most politicians.

  • Betty Cotton

    Thank you for your astute and reality based opinion article about Bernie and Israel. I have witnessed first hand his young followers flying the Palestinian flag at an organizing event for HRC @ SUNY Purchase and his followers chanting Free Palestine @ the debate the other eve in Bklyn. I’m all for a 2,State solution but his base is not about that. I believe it is beyond and he promotes this in his rhetoric and more.

  • Lia

    It must be truly terrible to be Mr Sanders: to be so indebted to people who hate your own that you’d rather send your own to death than honourably stand up for them. Does he not grasp that a traitor is trusted by neither those he betrays nor those that he betrays for?

  • dante

    “sanders can no longer be considered pro-Israel”? huh? what?

    since when was sanders pro-Israel? you mean 60 yrs ago when he visited a kibbutz? is that what you had in mind? that’s it?

    yeah, that’s about it. it was dubious then, but give the old stalinist the benefit of the doubt. but, that’s where it stops.

    sanders would empower Israel’s mortal enemies, would deprive Israel of the means to defend herself (in the name of “even-handedness”), would demand that Israel make crippling concessions to its enemies, would insist that Israel not preempt or effectively respond to terrorist attacks. sanders is a friend something like brezhnev was a friend of Israel.

  • fred

    Why wring ones hands what a Judas Goat like Sanders would or would not do. He makes it quite clear where he stands in the debate, and that is not with Israel. He is dismally uninformed by what is well known in public and anti Israel press How clear would he want to know that the enemies of Israel want to destroy Israel. He reminds me of Hitlers 1930 where Europe & the US stood by whilst the Jewish people were demonised & then murdered, are we walking up the same path again?

  • Wm. J. Levy

    In my life and in having fought in 2 wars I have never heard the use of the term “Disproportionate” related to casualties.

    When the Lebanese army leveled its artillery and fired directly into housing projects where Hezbollah fighters were hiding among the civilian population no one ever said a word.

    When the Syrian army mutilated and murdered captured Israeli IDF soldiers during the Yom Kippur War no one said a word.

    The fact that Hamas didn’t build shelters for its civilians as did the Israeli government and that prevented tens of thousands of Israeli casualties and Hamas was hiding among the civilians, using hospitals and schools as its bases and no one said a word except for that idiot Bernie Sanders.

    How much longer do Jews have to tolerate this incessant intolerance until they take a 2×4 to the heads of their haters?

    Jerusalem buses were bombed today. Wouldn’t it be fair if 300 Arab buses were blown apart too?

  • Sorry, Alan. You voted for Obama twice. Therefore you have no credibility vis-a-vis Israel. You are tied to Obama’s in crowd: Frank Marshall Davis, Rashid Khalidi, Bill Ayers and all the antisemitic Obama sycophants.You had two chances, Alan. You blew them both. Go sit in Obama’s antisemitic house. That is where you are comfortable. There are people who can defend Israel..but not people who voted for Obama twice.


    • Bryna Weiss

      Your post is ridiculous and ugly. Obama has been a wonderful friend to Israel if you bother to find out the truth. And Alan
      Dereshowitz article is right on the money.

      • Bock

        Yes, Dersh is right. No Obama has not been a wonderful friend to Israel. And, of course, no one who criticizes Obama knows the truth…or anything else.

  • Harry

    Thank you Professor for clarifying Mr. Sanders clear anti-Israel stance. In fact Mr Sanders has never supported Israel. This is further corroborated by his recent hiring of devout Israel hater- Simone Zimmerman, as his National Jewish outreach Director. Keep up the good work!!

  • Debra S. Michels

    Thank you, Alan Dershowitz!

  • Ephraim

    Here here!