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December 20, 2019 11:19 am

In Final 2019 Democratic Debate, Candidates Challenge Trump’s Mideast Agenda

avatar by Jackson Richman / JNS.org

The sixth Democratic presidential primary debate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on Dec. 19, 2019. Photo: Screenshot.

JNS.org – In the sixth Democratic presidential primary debate, the last one of 2019, a few of the seven candidates on stage at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles slammed US President Donald Trump’s policies on the US-Israel relationship.

In response to a question about the US State Department’s announcement last month that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not inconsistent with international law, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said “Israel has the right not only to exist, but to exist in peace and security. But what US foreign policy must be about is not just being pro-Israel. We must be pro-Palestinian as well.”

Sanders mentioned the indictment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges, of whose government he has called “racist.”

“What we need is a level playing field in terms of the Middle East which addresses the terrible crisis in Gaza, where 60 or 70 percent of the young people are unemployed,” said Sanders. “So what my foreign policy will be about is human rights, is democracy, is bringing people together in a peaceful way. Try to negotiate agreements, not endless wars with trillions of dollars of expenses.”

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At the J Street conference in October, the senator lamented the situation in the Gaza Strip, which Hamas has controlled since 2007, and said that a portion of the US assistance to Israel should go towards humanitarian relief in that area.

During the debate, Sanders did not mention Hamas.

Answering the debate question about West Bank settlements, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said “what we are seeing in the Middle East and around the world are the consequences of this president’s failure. This president’s refusal to lead. It’s particularly disturbing in the case of Israel because he has infused domestic politics, making US foreign-policy choices in order to effectively interfere in Israeli domestic politics. Acting as though that somehow makes him pro-Israel and pro-Jewish, while welcoming white nationalists in the White House.”

Buttigieg’s response echoed his remarks in August on Trump’s recognition in March of Israel’s control over the Golan Heights, about which the mayor called it “an intervention in Israeli domestic politics.”

While answering a question about whether the United States should close the Guantánamo Bay facility, where terrorists and other enemy combatants are detained by the United States, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) decried Trump’s abrupt decision in October to withdraw US forces from Syria, which has since been backtracked, that critics said betrayed US allies.

“We can’t be an America that stands up and asks people to fight alongside us, as we did with the Kurds in fighting ISIS, and then turn around in the blink of a tweet and say that we’re turning our back on the people who stood beside us,” she said. “After that, who wants to be an ally of the United States?”

Answering the question given to Warren, former US Vice President Joe Biden blamed Congress for not accomplishing the Obama administration goal to shutter the detention camp, adding that Trump is “no longer being an honest broker in Israel.”

“There’s no solution for Israel other than a two-state solution. It does not exist. It’s not possible to have a Jewish state in the Middle East without there being a two-state solution,” he continued. “He has played to all the same fears and all the prejudices that exist in this country and in Israel.”

Biden added that Netanyahu “knows that I think what he’s doing is outrageous.”

However, he said he wouldn’t condition US assistance on the Jewish state’s actions.

“What we have to do is put pressure constantly on the Israelis to move to a two-state solution,” he said. “Not withdraw physical aid from them in terms of their security.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition immediately challenged Biden regarding his remarks.

“For someone who likes to tout how long he’s been around, it’s amazing @JoeBiden doesn’t get that there are currently three states. Israel, the PA in Judea and Samaria, and Hamas in Gaza. He wants to draw a moral equivalence between Hamas and the Israelis, and that is absurd,” tweeted RJC.

A few moments later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) reiterated that the United States should re-enter the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from in May 2018, reimposing sanctions along with enacting new financial penalties against Tehran.

Jewish Democratic Council of America Executive Chairman Halie Soifer told JNS, “We were glad to hear Israel raised in tonight’s debate, which provided the opportunity for a few of the candidates to demonstrate what we know to be true—all the Democratic presidential candidates support Israel and its right to self-defense, oppose the global BDS movement and support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which are views shared by an overwhelming majority of Jewish voters.”

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