Senator Bernie Sanders @ J Street’s 2019 National Conference

Senator Bernie Sanders @ J Street’s 2019 National Conference

October 30, 2019 0 By Jose Scott


I think we’re ready to welcome to the
stage our final guest at J Street-a-palooza: Senator Bernie Sanders Got some fans here it appears. I hope so! Senator, you have said that to receive
military aid from the United States Israel has to treat the Palestinian
people with respect and you’ve also said that you would leverage US assistance to
end racism that you’ve seen lately in Israel. I was hoping you could be a little more
specific about when and why you’d condition US assistance to Israel. Is the
goal to stop annexation, settlement construction, something greater than that? Well thank you for the question, Tommy. And if I can begin — it’s okay I like
to — you know it’s hard to talk when you’re sitting you know it’s like
to stand. Just a couple of things then I’ll get to you your good questions. We have three hours. Is that what I understood? Number one: I am very proud to be Jewish
and look forward to being the first Jewish president in the history of this country. Number two: As a people who have suffered
for century after century — not to mention the horrors of the Holocaust in
which my father’s family was wiped out, as where many of your families. If there
is any people on earth who understands the danger of racism and white
nationalism it is certainly the Jewish people. And if there is any people on
earth who should do everything humanly possible to fight against Trump’s
effort to try to divide us up by the color of our skin, or our language, our
religion or where we were born — if there’s any group on earth that should
be trying to bring people together around a common and progressive agenda,
it is the Jewish people. And Tommy, in in light of that belief,
this is what I believe. As a kid, I spent many months on a kibbutz in Israel. I believe absolutely not only in the right
of Israel to exist but the right to exist in peace and security that’s not a
question. But what I also believe is the Palestinian people have a right to live
in peace and security as well. And it is not — let me underline this because
it will be misunderstood. It is not anti-Semitism to say that the Netanyahu government has been racist. That’s a fact. That is a fact. So what I believe, Tommy, at a time when
we spend I think it’s 3.8 billion dollars on military aid to Israel, we
have a right to say to the Israeli government that the United States of
America and our taxpayers and our people believe in human rights. We believe in
democracy. We will not accept authoritarianism or racism. And we demand
that the Israeli government sit down with the Palestinian people and
negotiate an agreement that works for all parties. So my proposal, in terms of
Israeli-Palestinian efforts — it’s not a radical proposal — all it says is that we
need an even-handed proposal for both people. What is going on in Gaza right
now, for example, is absolutely inhumane. It is unacceptable. It is unsustainable. So I would use the leverage —
$3.8 billion is a lot of money. And we cannot give it
carte blanche to the Israeli government or for that matter to any government at
all. We have a right to demand respect for human rights and democracy. I would stand but I don’t know that I
have the same degree of energy. Well you’re a little bit old, but
I don’t want to raise the age issue. Well it looks like you’re in better
shape than I am. I also want to look at it from the other perspective which is
you know in addition to everything else that we’ve seen in recent years, we’ve
seen the Trump administration essentially downgrade our relations with
the Palestinian people. You know, when they moved the embassy to Jerusalem,
essentially that eliminated the consulate that was our diplomatic
representation. We’ve seen efforts to cut funding for assistance to the
Palestinian Authority and just, you know the wholesale kind of degradation in our
relationship with the Palestinian people. How would you go about engaging the
Palestinian people? And would that potentially involve, you know, the US
contemplating some form of recognition of a Palestinian state or putting
forward what we think the outlines of a two-state solution looks like. Well first thought — it’s instinctual — What Trump has done — you know and I don’t
want to waste time talking about Trump but is disgraceful. So as president of
the United States of course we reach out and we established relations —
understanding by the way — that it is not only Netanyahu’s government that has
been a problem. Let us recognize there has been corruption in terms of Hamas
and the Palestinian Authority. Let’s recognize that as well, alright? But certainly our job is to understand that
if we’re going to bring peace and stability to that region — if we can have
people working in common on issues like environmental degradation and climate
change and water — we of course have got to recognize the
Palestinians and reach out to them in ways that that are fair. And I would undo
the damage that Trump did in terms of our relationship to the Palestinian
people. And you mentioned Gaza, where, you know, their projections, you know the UN
and others, that it’s essentially becoming unlivable. It’s a
place where people are living in such dire and destitute circumstances that
basic needs cannot be reached. How would you approach trying to get humanitarian
assistance into Gaza, trying to lift pieces of this blockade that catch stuff
that clearly has no military uses. What is the approach of a President Sanders
to the situation in Gaza? My understanding is youth unemployment
in Gaza is what? 60-70%? Water situation, Dismal people literally cannot freely
leave the area. And my solution is to say to Israel is you get 3.8 billion dollars
every single year. All right, if you want military aid, you’re gonna have to
fundamentally change your relationship to the people of Gaza. In fact, I
think it is fair to say that some of that 3.8 billion dollars should go right
now into humanitarian aid in Gaza. Look, I don’t — when you have an
unsustainable situation who is going to deny that when youth unemployment is 60%; when people have no hope; when people cannot literally leave the region;
who can think for a moment that you’re not gonna — you’re not laying the
groundwork for continued violence? So I think, for Israel’s benefit — not to
mention the Palestinians — we need a radical intercession in Gaza to
immediately allow for economic development, to allow for a better
environment, to allow for better education to give people hope there. And
that is something that we must do as soon as humanly possible. Senator, yesterday President Trump
announced that the US military had taken out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of
ISIS — and yeah cheer for that — and I think we all can agree that that’s
unequivocally a good thing for the world. But I think also Ben and I can say with
some humility that we were in the White House when Bin Laden was killed and we
heard countless meetings about senior Al Qaeda terrorists being taken off the
battlefield and yet ISIS is now in more places, there are more Sunni extremists now
than before 9/11, so you know security against terrorist groups like Al Qaeda,
support for Israel’s security, for the US security. How would you approach the war
against ISIS and other extremist groups that target both countries differently
than President Trump or even President Obama? That is — I don’t know that anybody
has a magical answer to your question. Difficult question if we think
about it. But let me just say this. I am proud and apologize to nobody for
when I first came to the Congress — the House of Representatives — in 1991, one of
my very first votes was to vote against the first Gulf War. Okay? And I did that
not because I was sympathetic to Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, but I
thought, when you had the entire international community united, you could
get them out of Kuwait without introducing American troops in the area.
Second of all, I helped lead the opposition to the disastrous war in Iraq.
Okay? And I — and if you go back to what I said on on the floor of the House, what I
talked about is the destabilization that would take place. You don’t have to be a
genius or an expert in foreign policy to understand you were laying the
groundwork for massive destabilization and what ended up bringing about it’s
literally the creation of ISIS and so many horrors, my God, in that part of the
world. So I think, first of all, what we have got to do — and again I do not
profess to have any magical solutions. A lot of good people have worked on these
issues for decades. But I think for a start, number one, the United States of
America cannot do it alone. It requires international cooperation. And second of all, at a time when we are
seeing right now in Lebanon and in Iraq massive uprising. Hundreds of thousands
of people standing up against corruption. I think what we as a nation as Americans
have got to do is to do everything we can to try to deal with the root causes of what
drives people without hope into terrorism. And thirdly, of course I am not
unmindful of the military need. I’m not sitting here and saying you know — give me
provide healthcare and education everything is great. That is not the case.
We need to be vigorous in taking on and wiping out those terrorists who want to
harm us and our allies. But I think you need a multi-faceted approach, which
requires international cooperation, which requires working on issues of corruption —
which is one of the breeding grounds for terrorism. So there’s a lot to be done,
but it should not simply be a military solution. It has to be multifaceted. One of the things that we can
anticipate is — whoever the Democratic nominee is is gonna face some really
ugly attacks on issues related to Israel. You, even though you’re the first
I think Democratic or first candidate for president who’s Jewish to win a primary
have already faced attacks because people say people who have endorsed you are
associated with BDS or the government of Israel — at the request of the president of the
United States — tried to prevent two members of Congress who’ve endorsed you from
even traveling there — or did prevent them from traveling there. How do you try to
change the conversation? And you talked a lot about building a movement to change
structurally our politics. How do you change this conversation about Israel in
American politics that does feel so cynical and toxic — where there’s a
conflation of criticism of certain Israeli policies with anti-Semitism where
people try to hang guilt by association on everybody. How do you go about
building the kind of campaign and movement that can hopefully lead us into
the direction of a healthier way of dealing with this? Well I think being
Jewish may be helpful in that regard. I mean it’s gonna be very hard for
for anybody to call me — whose father’s family was wiped out by Hitler, who spent
time in Israel — an anti-semite. But I think, Ben, the answer to your question
goes beyond dealing with Israel or the Middle East. So you’re asking us how we
bring people together in general. And I am very proud to
say — as some may disagree with me — you know, I know that people think my agenda
what I’m fighting for is radical that it’s outside of the mainstream. The truth
is it is not. So if you want to know how you bring people together, you go, as I
have and will go, into Republican districts and say working people there
— maybe white working-class people — think we should raise the minimum wage to 15
bucks an hour. They’ll say yeah we should. Do you think we should have equal pay
for equal work for women? And people will say yeah. Do you think we should make
public colleges and universities tuition-free and cancel old student debt
so your kids have an opportunity to get an education? They will say yes. Are you happy paying
ten times more for insulin in the United States than they do in Canada
because the pharmaceutical industry is corrupt and engaging in price fixing? No
they’re not happy. So my point is what I believe —
not just on foreign policy — we can bring people together — working-class people,
middle-class people — around an agenda that works for all of us. You go to any
district, go to the reddest district in this country, and you ask those folks, do you
think Amazon — owned by the wealthiest person in America — made 11 billion in
profit last year and did not pay a nickel in federal income taxes? Nobody thinks that
that is appropriate. So I think we develop an agenda which includes a
democratic foreign policy, which says we do everything humanly possible to avoid war.
We invest in the State Department. We invest in negotiators and diplomacy. Not
just continue to spend more on the military than the next ten nations
combined. And by the way, I am proud to tell you I am the only Democratic
candidate to have voted against all of Trump’s military budgets. We have time for one or two more.
So, I mean, President Trump has said essentially that it’s
disloyal to Israel to vote for Democrats. Apparently he’s finally grasped the
disloyalty trope that has been called anti-Semitic rightly in so many places.
Bibi Netanyahu has fully embraced the Republican Party. You know, he has posters
of himself and Trump up in Israel. Do you worry that Netanyahu has made support
for Israel partisan? And do you worry that these attacks on Democrats will
hurt members of Congress or, you know candidates like yourself running for President? Well obviously that’s exactly what Trump has done exactly what Netanyahu has done.
But in both instances, I must say you’re looking at leaders — one who’s going to be
impeached, the other one who may end up in jail — so I don’t know how much how
much credibility they have actually in terms of integrity. Look, I don’t like to
comment on Trump, because every other minute there’s gonna be another absurd
tweet coming down the line. But to suggest that if you vote Democratic you
are somehow anti-Israel is just one more of an absurd position by the president.
But I believe that in terms of foreign policy, the American people would like to
see us investing in education and health care, not in endless wars. I believe the
American people would like us not to be one-sided in our foreign policy in terms
of Israel and the Palestinians or I might say Saudi Arabia and Iran. All
right? We are the most powerful, wealthiest nation on earth. We can use
our leverage to bring people to the negotiating table. I’m not here — you guys
know this better than I — this is tough stuff stuff. Don’t hear me say “you know I got
the magic answer.” I don’t. But you are not gonna make progress unless you bring
people to the table. And I am impressed — In fact I talked to Obama about
this some years ago when he said, correct me if I’m wrong, that in Iran for example
the young people are more pro-American than many other countries around the world.
Why do we lose that opportunity? Why do we say that a brutal dictatorship like
Saudi Arabia is our loving ally rather than bringing all sides to the table and
trying to negotiate peace? One more one more question, you know,
it’s really interesting to think about the potential — you know, here you
talk about the need for, again, a movement to change things. One of the things that
we’ve noticed around the world is the coordination frankly among right-wing
leaders with authoritarian tendencies. Bibi Netanyahu has quite a close
relationship with Viktor Orban in Hungary. Donald Trump and Netanyahu obviously have a close relationship. Putin and Trump —
who knows what’s going on there, right? But would you see part of your effort as
president to build, not just a progressive movement in this country, but
to try to — not by intervening in other countries, you know, picking
candidates — but would you see a role in saying there needs to be a global
progressive movement to counter this nationalist trend? And does that
include — you know, in Israel — trying to reach out to young people as you do in
this country and say you know here’s what we need to do together? Absolutely. Ben raises a very very important issue. I am not into
conspiracy theory. I really am not. But if anybody thinks that there is not a
coordinated effort among incredibly wealthy and powerful authoritarian
leaders around the world then you don’t know what’s going on. You got Putin, who
is trying to destabilize American democracy and European democracy. You got
MBS in Saudi Arabia, sitting on God knows how much money — and by the way, oil has a
lot to do with this access as well. And you got Trump here. And I think, when
democracy and human rights are on the defensive all over the world, that of
course we need a president to bring people from around the globe
together fighting against oligarchy and a handful of incredibly wealthy people
controlling a lot of our world’s economy. And standing up for human rights whether
it’s in Hong Kong in China in Russia in Saudi Arabia in Hungary. The idea that
the leader of Israel would be in collusion with an anti-Semitic leader in Hungary
is beyond belief. But that speaks to your point. So we have an enormous amount of
work in front of us. And again, none of this stuff is easy and I’m not making
any promises to you that on day one we solve it all. But if there is anything
that our country proudly has stood for, it has been a beacon of hope for my
father, who came to this country at the age of 17 to flee anti-semitism and
extreme poverty. But it has been a beacon of hope for people all over the world,
who looked at America because of our democracy, because of our belief in human
rights, because of our belief in opportunity for all. That is the America
we once were. And as president, I want once again people from all over the
world to say this is the United States of America. That is the country we want
to emulate and become. senator Bernie Senator Bernie Sanders