David E. Weisberg
David E. Weisberg

Bernie Sanders weighs in

Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) has written an op-ed for the NY Times about the fighting in and around Israel.  He begins with the standard, boilerplate, one-size-fits-all assertion that it is “absolutely unacceptable” for Hamas to fire rockets into Israeli communities, but even that obligatory condemnation comes with a caveat.  What the senator writes is this: “[W]hile Hamas firing rockets into Israeli communities is absolutely unacceptable, today’s conflict did not begin with those rockets.”

See where we’re going here?  We’re going to learn, courtesy of the junior senator from Vermont, how the conflict began, or, to put it another way, who’s to blame for the conflict.  Now, one might think that the guy who gave the order for the rockets to be fired, and the guys who carried out that order, are to blame.  But the junior senator knows better.  There are two bad guys: one is named Israel and the other is named Netanyahu.

Here’s his evidence.  First of all, long-running legal proceedings that could result in the eviction of several Palestinian families from properties in East Jerusalem seemed to be concluding, and eviction seemed imminent.  If an eviction order is likely (which order, incidentally, still has not been issued, and perhaps never will be), the natural response is to fire some two thousand rockets into densely populated Israeli communities, correct?  Or, at least in the mind of the junior senator, that’s not an unnatural response.

But it isn’t only the (possible) eviction that troubles Sen. Sanders. His next specific complaint is this: “In Gaza, which has about two million inhabitants, 70 percent of young people are unemployed and have little hope for the future.”

Dear reader, consider that last sentence very, very carefully.

Skyrocketing unemployment and despair among Gaza’s young people are, apparently, Israel’s fault. It’s not Hamas—the de facto ruler of Gaza since 2007, shoveling untold millions of dollars of international aid to the building of military tunnels and thousands of rockets, instead of using those funds to build up Gaza’s economy—which is directly responsible for misery in Gaza. (There will inevitably be even more misery when the current conflict ceases and Hamas declares yet another “victory.”) And, of course, teaching children from the cradle to adulthood that their highest, best destiny is to die as martyrs fighting Zionists is a formula for producing happy, well-adjusted young people.

The junior senator isn’t finished.  He next writes:

Further, we have seen Benjamin Netanyahu’s government work to marginalize and demonize Palestinian citizens of Israel, pursue settlement policies designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution and pass laws that entrench systemic inequality between Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Two of these unsubstantiated complaints relate to Israel’s treatment of its own Arab citizens.  (Notice Sanders’ assumption that every single Arab Israeli identifies as Palestinian—how does he know that’s true?)  How Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens relates to rocket attacks from Gaza—which, incidentally, have also killed Arab Israelis—is a mystery understood only by the junior senator.

Whether or not Israel or Netanyahu is pursuing “settlement policies designed to foreclose…a two-state solution” is an open question.  But, if Sen. Sanders ever took the time to read the Hamas covenant, he’d learn that Hamas is (literally) violently opposed to any two-state solution.  (“There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad.  Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”)  Hamas doesn’t want, and would never accept, a two-state solution.  So how can Israel’s alleged settlement policies be in any way related to Hamas’ rocket attacks?

There’s more.  The senator writes:

None of this excuses the attacks by Hamas, which were an attempt to exploit the unrest in Jerusalem, or the failures of the corrupt and ineffective Palestinian Authority, which recently postponed long-overdue elections. But the fact of the matter is that Israel remains the one sovereign authority in the land of Israel and Palestine, and rather than preparing for peace and justice, it has been entrenching its unequal and undemocratic control.

The “But…” that begins the second sentence is key.  Nothing excuses what the Palestinians have done, but, when all is said and done, it’s really Israel that is at fault.

First of all, it’s simply false that Israel is “the one sovereign authority” in the entire area.  Although Hamas has no legitimate de jure authority, it nevertheless is the de facto ruler of Gaza.  If Hamas wanted to use all its international aid funds to build up Gaza’s economy, rather than building rockets and attack tunnels, it could do so.  Secondly, how would Israel go about “preparing for peace and justice” when the only relevant counter-party, Hamas, is determined to destroy Israel?  If the junior senator knows how to do that, he certainly isn’t telling anyone.

And, once again, Sanders ignores the Hamas covenant. (“Our struggle against the Jews is very great and serious…[Hamas] strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine[.]”) Israel could negotiate a “peace agreement” with Mahmoud Abbas, who is now in the seventeenth (17th) year of his four-year term as “president” of the P.A. But that agreement might as well be a blank sheet of paper.  Abbas and his P.A. cronies have no control whatsoever over the Islamist terrorists in Gaza, and those terrorists are the ones firing rockets into Israel.

Here’s my take. When Bernie Sanders was growing up in Brooklyn, he learned at the kitchen table that the world is divided into two camps: the oppressed and the oppressors. The oppressed are those who are poor and weak; the oppressors are the rich and the strong. The oppressed are good and their cause is just; the oppressors are bad and their cause is unjust. In the seventy-odd years he’s lived since then, Sanders has never found a single reason to question that teaching. Palestinians certainly are poorer and weaker than Israelis. So, if there’s conflict between Israel and groups of Palestinians, then, even if those Palestinians have sworn to the Most High to erase Israel from the map, Israel is ultimately the party at fault.

To the junior senator from Vermont, that makes perfect sense.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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