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Seth Eisenberg
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US Senator Bernie Sanders Offers Recycled, Misguided Strategies for US and Israel

Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, U.S.A., CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

In a New York Times essay, US Senator Bernie Sanders acknowledges the horrific events of 10/7, claims to seek a middle road, and then recommends recycling Obama-Biden era strategies that would harm Israel, undermine the US-Israel relationship, and set back hopes for Israeli-Arab normalization.

Dear Senator Sanders,

Thank you for expressing empathy for Israel after the barbaric massacres of 10/7 in your recent New York Times essay: Justice for the Palestinians and Security for Israel.

Your words and example are appreciated. As you wrote:

“On Oct. 7, Hamas, a terrorist organization, unleashed a barbaric attack against Israel, killing about 1,200 innocent men, women and children and taking more than 200 hostage. On a per-capita basis, if Israel had the same population as the United States, that attack would have been the equivalent of nearly 40,000 deaths, more than 10 times the fatalities that we suffered on 9/11.”

You would think everyone would be able to similarly acknowledge that horrific event and express empathy for the people of Israel. Unfortunately, that’s not the case (including by the same Palestinian Authority that you recommend become responsible for governance and leadership of Gaza).

While your expressions are admirable, the claims you make and policies you go on to recommend make it more likely such atrocities will happen again and again.

Although you claim to seek middle ground, you suggest strategies that have proven to be impossible to achieve in the foreseeable future and others that would severely undermine the potential for a better future for Israel, Palestinians, and Israel’s relationships with the Arab world.

In fact, they already have.

“There have been five wars in the last 15 years between Israel and Hamas,” you write. “How do we end the current one and prevent a sixth from happening, sooner or later? How do we balance our desire to stop the fighting with the need to address the roots of the conflict?”

While you write, “To make progress … we must grapple with the complexity of this situation that too many people on both sides want to wave away,” you recommend actions that would do the exact opposite.

The relatively straightforward answer to this complex problem:  Use every tool of American foreign policy to unequivocally demand that the Arab and Muslim world finally, publicly, and unanimously recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State within secure, defensible borders.

Not a single sentence in your essay addresses this root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict: continued Arab rejection of Israel’s right to exist within any secure boundaries.

You neither call on Hamas to release hostages nor to lay down their arms and surrender the Gaza Strip to free the Palestinians, as even moderate Palestinians have reportedly urged. You don’t insist that the Muslim world accept Israel’s right to exist as a defensible, secure, Jewish State nor call on Saudi Arabia to move forward with its planned normalization with Israel that Hamas’s Iranian-sponsored barbarism sought to derail.

Your prescription for justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel is simply for Congress and the Administration to pressure Israel into more unilateral concessions that will weaken Israel’s security, undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship, and set back any real hope for Arab-Israeli normalization. You suggest doing this while encouraging unilateral Israeli and American concessions to the same Palestinian Authority that lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas, has proven itself to be corrupt to the core, has no meaningful support from the Palestinian people (which explains why they haven’t had elections in more than a decade), actively promotes hatred for Jews and Israelis, provides financial incentives for the murder of Israelis, incites rejection of Israel in school curriculum, and is led by a person who both proudly denies the Holocaust and has refused to condemn Hamas’s massacre of more than 1,200 Israeli men, women and children.

And so on and so on.

Nevertheless, your prescription was actually the basis of the Obama-Biden Administration’s nearly eight-year pressure campaign on Israel, appeasement of Iran with an Iran nuclear deal that only strengthened the Iranian axis of evil, including proxies Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen, and a strategy for “peace” that was an utter failure. To follow your advice would be nothing less than the definition of insanity.

To address some of your key points:

“Israel, in response [to the 10/7 attacks], under the leadership of its right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under indictment for corruption and whose cabinet includes outright racists, unleashed what amounts to total war against the Palestinian people,” you write.

That is no more accurate than it would be to claim America’s war to dismantle Al Queda in Afghanistan or ISIS in Iraq and Syria was a” total war” against the Afghan, Iraqi, and Syrian people, claims I don’t recall you making despite hundreds of thousands of tragic casualties and millions forced from their homes during those conflicts.

Separately, Mr. Netanyahu, who you seem all too eager to convict, has been charged with trying to get better media coverage, receiving gifts from billionaire friends, and considering requests from constituents and donors. It would be surprising if you and the entire U.S. Senate wouldn’t already be guilty of everything about which the Israeli prime minister has been charged. It’s concerning that you bring it up at all in this context.

Israel has targeted Hamas infrastructure, leadership, and combatants deliberately hiding behind human shields while making significant efforts to urge civilians to relocate. Every civilian casualty is of course a tragedy, but the cause is not Israel’s war against Hamas terrorists. The cause is Hamas’s barbaric attacks against Israel and its strategy of hiding behind and within civilian communities, schools, mosques and hospitals that is to blame. Since you haven’t called on Hamas to surrender, it’s reasonable to assume you believe Israel should accept the reality that Hamas will continue to hijack Gaza for its ongoing war against Israel.

You write: “In Gaza, over 1.6 million Palestinians were forced out of their homes. Food, water, medical supplies and fuel were cut off. The United Nations estimates that 45 percent of the housing units in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed. According to the Gaza health ministry, more than 12,000 Palestinians, about half of whom are children, have been killed and many more wounded. And the situation becomes more dire every day.”

You conveniently ignore the fact that Israel and Egypt both border Gaza. You write not a single word about Egypt’s responsibility (nor have I seen you do so previously) to provide even a temporary safe haven for Gazans fleeing Hamas or Egypt’s responsibility for providing food, water, medical supplies, and fuel to Gazans without having those resources stolen by Hamas.

You claim, “Israel has done nothing in recent years to give hope for a peaceful settlement — maintaining the blockade of Gaza, deepening the daily humiliations of occupation in the West Bank, and largely ignoring the horrendous living conditions facing Palestinians.”

You ignore many significant realities, most important being that Israel completely withdrew from Gaza, and substantially from the West Bank, more than 15 years ago, had allowed tens of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza to obtain work permits for jobs in Israel before 10/7 (some of whom used those freedoms to provide intelligence for Hamas’s Black Saturday atrocities), and assisted Qatar and others in providing no less than hundreds of millions in aid to Gaza. Instead of Gazans developing a peaceful society living side-by-side with Israel, they brought Hamas to power, violently expelled the Palestinian Authority, and allowed billions of dollars to go into building terror tunnels rather than an economy that could alleviate the territory’s massive poverty.

Your recommendations:

“To start, we must demand an immediate end to Israel’s indiscriminate bombing, which is causing an enormous number of civilian casualties and is in violation of international law. Israel is at war with Hamas, not innocent Palestinian men, women and children. Israel cannot bomb an entire neighborhood to take out one Hamas target. We don’t know if this campaign has been effective in degrading Hamas’s military capabilities. But we do know that a reported 70 percent of the casualties are women and children, and that 104 U.N. aid workers and 53 journalists have been killed. That’s not acceptable,”

War is not acceptable. It’s a last resort when the only other options are worse. This war was undeniably forced upon and required of Israel. Israel is not indiscriminately bombing Gaza. There has been no legal finding that Israel is violating international law. And yes, of course Israel is at war with Hamas.

Israel has also received the best advice American military experts can provide, including lessons learned from America’s long and devastatingly deadly war in Iraq. I haven’t heard a single credible military expert make the claims you are making or offer a better strategy for forcing Hamas to surrender and free Gaza. Have you?

“If long-suffering Palestinians are ever going to have a chance at self-determination and a decent standard of living, there must be no long-term Israeli re-occupation and blockade of Gaza. If Hamas is going to be removed from power, as it must be, and Palestinians given the opportunity for a better life, an Israeli occupation of Gaza would be absolutely counterproductive and would benefit Hamas. For the sake of regional peace and a brighter future for the Palestinian people, Gaza must have a chance to be free of Hamas. There can be no long-term Israeli occupation,” you write.

Those are words with which many will agree, yet at the same time you make damning allegations against Israel and hold the Jewish State responsible for the suffering of Palestinians who have been far greater victims of Hamas, the corrupt and inept Palestinian Authority, and even the actions of Egypt.

What do you propose instead, Senator Sanders?

Israel completely withdrew from Gaza in 2007 and the territory instantly became an Iranian-sponsored terror state. Do you expect Egypt or Jordan to play a role in governing Gaza? If so, say it. You make bold statements but offer no better solutions. Israel’s leaders don’t have that luxury. If Israel’s military doesn’t control security in Gaza, Hamas will undoubtedly remain or return to power, tens of thousands of missiles will be brought into Gaza to target Israel (as Hezbollah has done in Lebanon), and 10/7 will be repeated over and again (as Hamas has promised).

Senator Sanders, your leadership is important. You are respected as one of the leading thinkers and policy-makers for progressive Americans. Those constituents, and in fact all Americans, deserve better than suggesting recycled policies that have already failed, U.S. pressure for unilateral Israeli concessions that actually set back the hopes for peace, while ignoring opportunities to point directly at what it will take to resolve the greater Arab-Israeli conflict: The Muslim and Arab world’s unequivocal public recognition of the Jewish State’s sovereignty and rights to defensible, secure borders.

About the Author
Seth Eisenberg is President of the PAIRS Foundation, a former At-Large chair of the National Writers Union, elected labor leader, and pro-Israel activist. He is an author of Instructions for Intimacy, The Laundry List of Relationship Mishaps, Knots and Double Binds, PAIRS Essentials, Warrior to Soul Mate, PAIRS for PEERS, and the SHALOM Workshop. He can be reached via LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/setheisenberg/.
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