On Israel, Sanders and Warren depart from the script

Nov 16 2019

The Democratic presidential candidates haven’t said much about foreign policy, and what they’ve said has often been frustratingly vague. This week brought a rare opportunity to compare their positions on a specific international development.  

It started in Gaza, when Israel assassinated an Islamic Jihad military commander who was thought responsible for past missile attacks on Israel, including a strike in September that disrupted a Bibi Netanyahu campaign event. In response to the assassination (which also killed the commander’s wife), Islamic Jihad fired a barrage of missiles into Israel. Israel replied with more military strikes, which killed at least 30 additional Palestinians, including a number of civilians.

Most of the Democratic presidential candidates who weighed in—including Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris—reacted the way American politicians have often reacted to such things. They condemned the Palestinian rocket attacks, expressed solidarity with Israel, made no reference to Palestinian casualties and no mention of either the immediate precipitant of the missile barrage (the killing of the commander and his wife) or conditions that might have contributed to earlier missile attacks on Israel (most notably Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza, which has helped sustain extreme poverty).

The two exceptions were Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Sanders: “Israelis should not have to live in fear of rocket fire. Palestinians should not have to live under occupation and blockade. The U.S. must lead the effort to end the crisis in Gaza and the persistent violence that threatens everyone.”

Warren: “I welcome the Gaza ceasefire. Dozens were killed in Gaza, and hundreds of rockets fired at Israel. We must work to end rocket attacks on Israel, eliminate the Gaza blockade, and solve the humanitarian crisis so that all Israelis and Palestinians live in security and freedom.”

These may not sound like radical positions, but their contrast with the other candidates’ utterances was clear enough to win them plaudits from Palestinian activist Omar Baddar. 

Question: Should Baddar have given Cory Booker an honorable mention? Depends on whether you read Booker’s opaque second paragraph as an implicit reference to Palestinian deaths, a kind of dog whistle to lefties that wouldn’t ruffle feathers in right-leaning pro-Israel circles—where Booker has long been warmly received, though his (grudging) support for the Iran nuclear deal complicated that connection. [Note: Some of these reactions came before reports that an Israeli strike had killed a family of eight, including five children (apparently because of an intelligence snafu). And Biden’s reaction—the earliest of them—may have come before reports of the first of the post-assassination Israeli strikes.]

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