Bernie Sanders: Israel First

Despite Growing Anger, Sanders Stands Firmly Against Gaza Cease-Fire

The Vermont senator instead called for conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel, an end to “indiscriminate bombing,” and a humanitarian pause.

By Jake Johnson

Facing backlash from former staffers and other progressives, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday declined once again to join the growing number of congressional lawmakers demanding an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, saying in a statement that he is “not quite sure how you negotiate a cease-fire with a terrorist organization that is dedicated to perpetual war.”

Sanders (I-Vt.) was referencing a Hamas spokesman’s recent remark to The New York Times that he hopes “the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders”—an indication, according to the Vermont senator, that Hamas “wants perpetual warfare and the destruction of Israel.”

Sanders supported a cease-fire during Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza in 2021, when he delivered a floor speech decrying the “terrible loss of life” in the enclave and demanding an immediate end to the bloodshed.

But an unnamed former adviser to the senator toldThe Washington Post that he believes the October 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel forever changed Sanders’ view on the possibility of a sustained cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Instead of a negotiated cease-fire, Sanders has called for an end to Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” and a “significant pause” to allow desperately needed humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, as well as a guarantee that displaced Gazans are able to return to their homes—many of which have been significantly damaged or destroyed by Israeli airstrikes.

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In his statement Thursday, the senator also called on lawmakers to “attach conditions to any supplemental spending bill for Israel that comes before Congress,” something the Biden administration has opposed.

“If we are going to have a chance at saving innocent lives, Congress must take action, the Biden administration must take action, the world must take action,” said Sanders. “We must find a way to break this cycle of violence.”

The senator’s statement came as congressional calls for a cease-fire continued to grow amid survey data and mass protests showing overwhelming support from the U.S. public.

On Thursday, Rep. Becca Balint (D-Vt.) became the first Jewish member of Congress to endorse a cease-fire, writing in the VTDigger that “it will be the first step in the difficult and critical work needed ahead—building Israel’s post-war government, determining who will govern the Gaza Strip, and negotiating long-term peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

According to a tally by The Intercept‘s Prem Thakker, 33 members of Congress—including just one senator, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)—have expressed support for a cease-fire, which is also backed by the head of the United Nations, Amnesty International, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, and many others worldwide.

A number of House Democrats have signed onto a cease-fire resolution introduced last month by Sanders allies in the House, including Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

But Sanders argued Thursday that “non-binding resolutions that Congress won’t pass” aren’t the solution to the current conflict, an apparent reference to the House cease-fire measure.

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Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy, wrote in response that “nobody thinks that a single resolution would solve the entire crisis.”

“It’s an organizing tool that has mobilized countless thousands of people,” he wrote. “Curious what organizing tool Bernie’s office would prefer?”

Sperling added that “there are many flaws with his argument for why you cannot achieve a ceasefire with Hamas.”

“But perhaps most troublingly,” he wrote, “Sen. Sanders appears to be endorsing the Netanyahu regime change goal of removing Hamas from Gaza, meaning Bernie actually wants war to resume after any pauses.”

The senator released his latest statement on Gaza days after more than 300 people who served as Sanders delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 2016 and 2020 signed an open letter urging him to introduce a companion to the House cease-fire resolution in the Senate, echoing a call recently issued by hundreds of former Sanders campaign staffers.

“We ask you to stand again for the principles that drew millions in our districts to your campaigns—opposition to endless wars and horrific violence, and zealous struggle for peace and justice,” the former delegates wrote. “As in 2016 and 2020, you are not alone: from coast to coast, we have your back.”

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