On Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 Senator Bernie Sanders addressed the annual J-Street conference. His talk centered on many themes, but the focus was the tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The thesis of Sander’s speech focused on the cause of the current conflict. His approach can be summed up in his own words, “The hard truth is that the continued occupation and the growth of Israeli settlements that the occupation sustains, undermines the possibility of peace. It contributes to suffering and violence.” The words terror or terrorism wasn’t mentioned once in his entire speech. It seems in Senator Sanders’s view of the conflict Palestinian terror doesn’t play a significant role.
For those of us living here in Israel, terror is an almost overwhelming part of our lives. Our towns are gated and with entrance requiring an inspection by an armed guard and constant patrols to ensure terrorists don’t invade. Malls, shopping centers, supermarkets, schools and parks are all guarded. Daily headlines proclaim stopped attacks. Proposed figures show between four and twenty attempted terror attacks a day against Jews by Palestinian terrorists. While Senator Sanders isn’t alone in thinking that Jewish settlements undermine peace efforts, it is hard to understand how he doesn’t consider Palestinian terror a major detraction to peace.
I think Senator Sanders suffers from a disconnect between the uncomfortable reality of Palestinian society and the utopian society Senator Sanders’s progressive political philosophy attempts to achieve. Senator Sanders discussed the tragedy of the conflict to Palestinian society, “Nobody gains when children are trained to be suicide bombers. Nobody gains when year after year, decade after decade, the talk is about war and hatred rather than peace and development. Think of the incredible potential that is being lost when Israelis and Palestinians are not coming together effectively to address the environmental and economic challenges of the region.” In these sentences Senator Sanders clearly recognizes the incentive to act violently taught in Palestinian communities. Even children are taught to act violently and carry out terror attacks.
Yet later in his talk Senator Sanders defined humanity, and here is when he disconnects the reality he had just recognized with his progressive utopia. “It’s often said that the U.S.-Israel relationship is based on shared values. I think this is correct, but then we also have to ask: What do we mean by this? What values are we talking about? These are values that are shared by progressives in this country and across the globe. These values are based upon the very simple notion that we share a common humanity. Whether we are Israelis or Palestinians or Americans, whether we are Jews, Christians, Muslims, or of another religion, we all want our children to grow up healthy, to have a good education, have decent jobs, drink clean water and breathe clean air, and to live in peace. That’s what being human is about.”
How can Senator Sanders define humanity as wanting our children to grow up healthy while in the same talk recognize that Palestinian culture is training their children to be suicide bombers? Using Senator Sanders’s definition of humanity, it is clear that current Palestinian values lack humanity, and Palestinians don’t share this important progressive value with Israel or America.
If building a peaceful coexistence in the Middle East is dependent on a shared value of humanity, then Senator Sanders would have to agree that the Palestinian value of terror that it teaches its children undermines peace much more than Jewish settlements. In fact, I don’t think anyone requires a demonstration of Senator Sanders’s disconnect and inconsistency to prove this point. I think any rational thinker understands that peace is undermined by terror more than building houses.
I’m hoping this essay reaches Senator Sanders. My students and I will be in Washington at the end of March, and I’d love for him to address the disconnect that is evident in his worldview. I’m actually not that concerned with Senator Sanders. I am concerned with the millions that adhere to his progressive view. I hope his followers in the progressive movement don’t follow his lead and recognize that Palestinian terror more than anything else is hindering peace in the Middle East.