Six weeks into Israel’s murderous military assault on Gaza, responsible for the deaths of over 13,000 Palestinians — the large majority of whom are women and children — the U.S.’s most well recognized “democratic socialist” has refused to even call for a ceasefire. The unwillingness of Bernie Sanders to demand a permanent halt to Israel’s genocidal campaign is increasingly putting him in conflict with the millions of young people who supported him in his presidential bids and considered him to be an anti-war alternative.
Speaking with CNN’s “State of the Union,” in early November Sanders declared “I don’t know how you can have a ceasefire, [a] permanent ceasefire, with an organization like Hamas, which is dedicated to turmoil and chaos and destroying the state of Israel.” The sentiment is remarkably similar to remarks made not only by Biden and the Democratic leadership, but also by the American far Right and the Netanyahu government itself. The implication, of course, is that Israel can be a trustworthy negotiation partner, but Hamas is incapable of respecting any agreement. Almost immediately afterwards the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC congratulated Sanders on his remarks, tweeting “Thank you @SenSanders for your clear and principled opposition to calls for a ceasefire with Hamas.”
Sanders’s opposition to a ceasefire is now at odds with the views of two-thirds of the American public, including not only the large majority of Democratic voters but even 50 percent of Republican voters. His stance also contradicts Amnesty International, Oxfam, B’Tselem, and countless other human rights organizations who have called for an immediate and lasting cessation of Israel’s bombing campaign. That’s not to mention the hundreds of thousands, a great many of whom are Jews, who have taken to the streets around the U.S. under the banners of ceasefire, lifting the siege of Gaza, and ending Israel’s occupation and apartheid regime. Though Sanders has decried the “humanitarian catastrophe” and “nightmarish conditions” unfolding in Gaza, he has limited his demands to a “humanitarian pause” in the conflict, echoing the phrase of Biden and the State Department. In the current war on Gaza, the difference between a ceasefire and a humanitarian pause is not semantic. The suggestion that there can be anything “humanitarian” about a pause between bombings is nothing more than cynicism and a whitewashing of Israel’s criminal campaign. After all, Israel has already agreed to four-hour “pauses” in its bombardment of Gaza, but this has done nothing to end the misery and terror felt by Palestinians daily. A so-called “humanitarian pause” is as likely to bring relief to the people of Gaza as is the Biden administration’s suggestion that Israel should use “smaller bombs.”
Recognizing that his stance is now tremendously unpopular, Sanders was recently obliged to issue a more forceful denunciation of the Netanyahu government and the siege on Gaza. He even declared that funding to Israel should be conditioned on Israel’s respect for international law, while of course first hitting the necessary Zionist talking points that Hamas “began this war” and that “Israel absolutely has the right to defend itself.” “Not one penny,” said Sanders “will be coming to Israel from the U.S. unless there is a fundamental change in their military and political positions.” Yet given the Vermont senator’s long record of backing U.S. aid to its most trusted ally, we hope we can be forgiven for our skepticism. On numerous occasions throughout his time in the House and Senate, Sanders has signed off on additional military aid to Israel in spite of its countless human rights violations and its consistent disregard for Palestinian lives. As Doug Green wrote in Left Voice, “Sanders’ support for protecting Israel was not just in terms of words, but by votes to provide billions in military hardware and aid to the Apartheid state in 1997, 1999, 2004. When Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, Sanders voted in favor of imposing sanctions in order to remove them from power. He has also voted for resolutions in favor of Israeli military actions against Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2014.”
Sanders’s recent record does not suggest much shift. Four weeks into the current war, when Israel had already murdered 8,000 Gazans, the “democratic socialist” senator allowed for the unanimous passage of a Senate resolution condemning student activists against the war and slandering them as “pro Hamas.” It was only natural that the most notorious pro-Zionists in the Senate like Josh Hawley, Rick Scott, and Ted Cruz sign such a letter, but the support of Sanders is a slap in the face to young people who placed their hopes in his campaigns as an alternative to the longstanding bipartisan policies of militarism and war.
The Sanders campaigns of 2016 and 2020 expressed the aspirations of millions who wanted a way out of the misery wrought by capitalism and imperialism. Under the banners of Medicare For All, forgiveness of student loans, a stop to fossil fuel extraction, and an end to U.S. militarism, Sanders mobilized young people across the country who increasingly saw capitalism at the root of their problems and socialism as the way out.
But Sanders’s unwavering commitment to the Democratic Party quickly ran this movement aground. After both primary campaigns, Sanders delivered his full support to the establishment candidate, first Hillary Clinton, then Joe Biden. During the Biden presidency, Sanders earned a key position in the Senate, becoming chair of the Budget Committee, and becoming a trusted ally of the president. This alliance has increasingly put him in opposition to the demands of the progressives who backed him in 2016 and 2020. Nowhere is this more evident than on the question of Israel-Palestine. Sanders has made concession after concession to the state of Israel, despite paying lip service to the suffering of Palestinians. In 2021, Sanders voted to deliver $1 billion to fund Israel’s Iron Dome — that on top of the $3.8 billion it already receives annually — in “exchange” for increased humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Sanders’s supporters, have already called attention to this gross hypocrisy by the Vermont Senator. In early November, dozens of activists staged a sit-in outside of the Senate offices of Sanders, Warren, Van Hollen, and others demanding a ceasefire as many chanted “Bernie Sanders you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.” Police arrested 50 of the activists at the request of the Senators’ offices. More than 300 former Sanders delegates to the DNC and 375 former staff members and campaign organizers called on him to support a ceasefire resolution, reject U.S. funding of Israel’s crimes, and demand an end to the blockade of Gaza.
The situation in Gaza is not simply a “humanitarian catastrophe,” as Sanders claims. A humanitarian catastrophe might be an appropriate term for a flood or an earthquake. But it is certainly not appropriate for Israel’s deliberate campaign of terror, one which has resulted in murder of 11,000 Palestinians, among them 3,000 women and 4,000 children. To contextualize these figures more Palestinian children have been killed in the past six weeks than in all conflicts around the world in the previous year. No, the war on Gaza is part of the 75-year Israeli policy of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, meant to drive as many Palestinians as possible from their homes and to resettle the territory. This is the aim of a siege that has cut off virtually all food, water, fuel and medicine from Gaza, and a relentless bombardment has left at least one-third of all Gaza’s homes destroyed or uninhabitable and created at least 1 million refugees.
The Democratic Party, like the Republicans, have demonstrated for three-quarters of a century their unwillingness to challenge the Israeli state, its many brutal military campaigns or its daily dispossession, oppression, and humiliation of the Palestinian people. This is not out of any devotion to the Jewish people but rather because Israel serves as an effective and reliable guarantor of U.S. imperialist interests in the Middle East, a region that accounts for close to 40 percent of the world’s oil production and serves as part of an important trade route between Europe and Asia. It is for this reason that Israel has been, by far, the largest recipient of U.S. military aid since the second half of the 20th Century. And it is why Israel has had a virtual carte blanche to violently suppress any challenge to the U.S. imperialist order, particularly from Arab nationalism. So while several Democratic members of the House, like Rashida Tlaib have raised severe criticisms of Israel’s current war on Gaza and called for a ceasefire, they have been effectively marginalized by the party leadership.
The Democratic Party, therefore, is fully in concord with the Republicans and the far Right in its defense of the Israeli apartheid state. That is why we saw Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries share a stage with Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson at the “March for Israel,” while declaring “We are here united, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate to say ‘We stand with Israel!’” The Democrats can offer no solution to the Palestinians in their fight for liberation. That includes even Bernie Sanders, who presents himself as an independent, but caucuses with the Democrats, ran for president twice on the Democratic Party ticket, and votes with Biden more than 91 percent of the time. Workers, young people, people of color, women, LGBTQ+ people and all those concerned with fighting oppression and colonialism must break from the Democratic party and come together to discuss the creation of a workers’ party that fights for socialism. Only a party independent of the capitalists is capable of effectively fighting war and apartheid and bringing about a free Palestine.