At a CNN town hall event in Las Vegas, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was asked: “How do U.S.-Israel relations look under your administration?”
“To be for the Israeli people and to be for peace in the Middle East does not mean that we have to support right-wing, racist governments that currently exist in Israel….”
In April 2019, at another CNN town hall event, [Sanders] described Netanyahu’s approach toward the Palestinians as “oppressive” and said Israel is “now run by a right-wing—dare I say—racist government.”
At the fifth Democratic debate…, held in December, Sanders said, “We must understand that right now in Israel we have leadership under Netanyahu… who, in my view, is a racist.”
Strong words; to my knowledge Bernie hasn’t called any other U.S. democratic ally’s government or leader “racist.” Although he says that he’s “very proud to be Jewish and I look forward to becoming the first Jewish president in the history of this country,” he seems to single Israel out. But are his words true?
Since 2009 the purportedly “racist” Netanyahu has led three purportedly “racist” governments. Let’s look at the record.
In December 2015 the Israeli government (the third of the three, the same as the current one) launched an unprecedented five-year development plan for the Israeli Arab community. It called for allocating “up to NIS 15 billion (around $4.2b) for the development of Arab towns and cities in various fields, such as education, transportation, welfare services, health, employment, housing, infrastructure, culture and public security.”
Compared to the decade of the 2000s, during which Netanyahu was not prime minister and Israel had mostly left-leaning governments, the plan upped the budget for the Arab sector by close to NIS 7 billion (around $2b).
Over the decade of the Netanyahu governments—as Israel’s left-wing daily Haaretz reported a year ago—
The number of Arab Ph.D. candidates in Israel has more than doubled….
The number of candidates rose from 355 in 2008 to 759 in 2018….
In the same period, the number of Israeli-Arab students in master’s degree programs rose by 90%.
Currently, 6.7% of Ph.D. candidates in Israel are Arab citizens of Israel, up from 3.5% in 2008. Though this rate is still significantly lower than their part in the general population—which stands at 20%—the Council of Higher Education’s Planning and Budgeting Committee defined these statistics as a “revolution.”
There has also been a significant rise in the number of Arab students studying for a bachelor’s degree. Between 2010 and 2017, [it] rose from 26 thousand to 47 thousand.
Just the other day the Washington Post—not exactly a shill for the Netanyahu government—reported on “a recent effort by Israel to improve living conditions in East Jerusalem and better integrate the Arab population.”
The Israeli government, says the Post, has
…designat[ed] nearly $50 million to upgrade waste and sewage systems as well as enhancing transportation and adding classrooms. There has also been a push for more Arab schools to adopt the Israeli curriculum, including Hebrew instruction…. [T]here has also been an easing of the process for approving building permits….
Meanwhile, there has been an increase in East Jerusalem residents obtaining Israeli citizenship…. Last year, about 1,200 Palestinians were granted citizenship, the most ever…. Most Palestinians living in Jerusalem hold residency cards allowing them to work in Israel and receive state benefits.
If this is racism, it’s a strange form of it.
And what about what Bernie calls Netanyahu’s “oppressive” approach to the Palestinians—presumably meaning those living in the West Bank and Gaza?
That’s a multifaceted matter spanning a decade, plus two quite different political entities—Hamas-run Gaza and the Palestinian Authority-run part of the West Bank.
Suffice it to say that regarding Gaza, the Netanyahu governments’ policy has been like that of the previous governments since Israel left Gaza in 2005. With thousands of rockets being launched at Israel, as well as—more recently—swarms of incendiary kites and balloons, along with weekly attempts to storm the border and attack adjacent Israeli communities, Israel has had to fight—while at the same time daily allowing hundreds of truckloads of goods into Gaza.
If thousands of rockets were being fired at Vermont, would Bernie respond by singing “Kumbaya”? (Perhaps best left unanswered.)
As for the West Bank, it’s been relatively quiet over the past decade—not least because tens of thousands of West Bank Palestinians work jobs within Israel and in Israeli West Bank communities that pay three to five times better than Palestinian Authority jobs, and also offer benefits that PA jobs lack entirely.
When President Trump recently announced his “deal of the century” plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Netanyahu pronounced himself fully prepared to start negotiations with the Palestinians. He took the same stance regarding the Obama-Kerry plan even though it was far less favorable to Israel. Problem is, in both cases the Palestinians—whose official view of “oppression” is, as always, Israel’s existence—gave a blunt thumbs-down to any possibility of negotiations.
It’s a dark day when a U.S. presidential candidate trashes Israel in such virulent terms. May he not be the face of the Democratic future.