The US Democrat presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, has done it. He has broken a taboo by publicly criticising Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians under its occupation and siege. He is the first political figure in the history of the presidential race to do so, especially as a person of Jewish faith, and just prior to the crucial New York primary, in which the Jewish votes really matter. What has driven Sanders to take a huge risk to tackle the subject matter head on?
In a major speech in New York last week, Sanders highlighted the plight of the Palestinian people and criticised the hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for using disproportionate force in response to the provocation by the ruling Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. While declaring himself as “100 per cent pro-Israel”, he especially focused on Israel’s siege of Gaza and imposition of appalling living conditions on the tiny Strip’s 1.8 million Palestinians.
He stressed that in Gaza unemployment stood around 40 per cent and that there is a landscape of “decimated houses, decimated health care, decimated schools”. He stated that “the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people”.
In doing so, Sanders essentially reflected the shifting global opinion in support of the Palestinians’ cause and joined a chorus of American and world leaders, from former US President Jimmy Carter to South African Bishop Desmond Tutu and the late Nelson Mandela to Pope Francis and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in this respect.