It has been striking to see how little the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been an issue of concern in the many television debates in which the primary candidates of both parties have participated
But on Thursday night (April 14, 2016), in a CNN televised Democratic debate between Sec. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the issue suddenly exploded to the forefront.
The fuse was lit on April 1 when the Daily News Editorial Board met with Sen. Sanders. At that meeting, the Vermont Senator told the Daily News that while he was wholly committed to Israel’s right to exist in peace, he expressed his criticism of Israel’s “disproportionate” military response in Israel’s 2014 War in Gaza. In an astounding exaggeration of Palestinian casualty figures, Mr. Sanders stated that he thought Israel had killed 10,000 “innocent civilians.”
The 10,000-killed figure was so ludicrous (not even Hamas had reported more than 2,500 dead – and Israel contends that some 75% of those were actual combatants and not civilians) Bernie Sanders had to revise his description of Israeli disproportionate force – now saying there were 10,000 Palestinians “injured.”
On Thursday night’s CNN debate, Wolf Blitzer asked Sen. Sanders directly if the Senator believes Israel is guilty of using disproportionate force. Sen. Sanders was unflinching in answering in the affirmative, an affirmation that evoked huge applause from the Democrats who had filled the Brooklyn Navy Yard to lend their vocal support to the candidate of their choice.
Bernie Sanders also reiterated that he is a 100% supporter of Israel. But the bottom line for the Senator was unequivocal: Israel is guilty of using disproportionate force in its war with the Palestinians. Moreover, in a refrain that echoes the position taken by Donald Trump (which created a huge backlash in the Jewish community), Mr. Sanders insisted that the United States must take an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it the U.S. is to have chance at negotiating a Middle East Peace.
For American Jews who are passionate in their support of Israel, and who want the next American President to adopt a diplomatic foreign policy that will not need to create “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, Sen. Sander’s lack of understanding of the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are most troubling. The Senator also leaves open the possibility that his Administration would refuse to use America’s Security Council veto were the U.N. to seek to impose a Palestinian State upon Israel.
So all eyes turned to Sec. Clinton at the Brooklyn debate.
Jewish supporters of Hillary Clinton supporters who are profoundly caring about the future well-being of the State of Israel over the next four years have been telling each other that Mrs. Clinton will be far more diplomatically hospitable to the State of Israel and to the Israeli Prime Minister than President Obama has been. After all, her husband was a dear friend and admirer of Yitzhak Rabin and had tried valiantly to negotiate a two-state solution with Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat in 2000.
When Wolf Blitzer asked Hillary Clinton if she thinks Israel has used “disproportionate” force in its response to Hamas rocket attacks, these Jewish Democrats hoped she would answer, “Of course not!”
But in a tortuous response, Sec. Clinton chose to speak about her role in negotiating a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. She never responded directly to Wolf Blitzer’s question on “disproportionate force.”
Sen. Sanders did not miss Sec. Clinton’s obfuscation and challenged her. So Mrs. Clinton tried again – this time talking about the impossible position Hamas terrorists impose upon Israel. Once again, however, she avoided answering the question.
Bottom line: when Hillary Clinton was asked if she thought Israel has used disproportionate force in its battle with Palestinians, she was simply unable to answer, “No.”
There is something naïvely simplistic in a person’s being a “one issue” voter. For many Jews, a candidate’s stand on Israel will not be the sole determining factor when they go to the polls to elect the next President.
But Jewish Democrats who are devoted to Israel and place the U.S.-Israeli relationship among their top concerns now find themselves in a political bind.
On the one hand, Bernie Sanders has a seriously flawed view of Israel that is legitimately troubling. On the other hand, the fact that Hillary Clinton is unable to unequivocally endorse Israel’s defensive military actions is a vivid display of a painful reality that now dominates the Democratic party’s move to the far left when it comes to the State of Israel.
Pro-Israel Jewish Democrats may be prepared to write Bernie Sanders off; but they have hoped that Hillary Clinton would espouse an honest and courageous stand in support of the State of Israel.
Thursday’s CNN debate may have dashed much of that Jewish Democratic hope.