Clinton & Sanders Battle Over Israel

Clinton And Sanders Have Big Differences On Israel

WASHINGTON – There are plenty of things that Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic 2016 presidential nominee and her chief rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I – Vermont) disagree on. But one issue that seems to be grabbing headlines is how both see the United States role with Israel.

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, have dedicated front page stories on how Clinton and Sanders, views on how the U.S. should handle their foreign policy with the best ally America has in the Middle East.

As the platform for the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia begins to take shape we are seeing team Clinton and team Sanders clashing over their competing visions. Looking at things from Clinton’s perspective, she and her Israel supporters are shaking their heads over the Sanders supporters as if they are “clueless.”

Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, named five of the Democratic Convention platform committee members. Meanwhile, Clinton, the former secretary of state and party’s presumptive nominee named six. The remaining four were named by the DNC’s chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Debbie Wasserman SchultzD-Fla., among the most prominent Jewish leaders in the party.

Three of the Sanders backers on the committee — Cornel West, a philosopher and social activist; James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to Congress — are known in part for their criticisms of Israel.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks Nevada Assembly woman Irene Bustamante-Adams at a sandwich shop in Las Vegas

Among the six Clinton backers is Wendy Sherman, the former deputy secretary of state who was a lead negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks. Sherman, who has spoken lovingly of her involvement in Jewish life in suburban Maryland, was wounded by the tough criticisms of the deal from Israel’s government and centrist pro-Israel organizations.

Another Clinton appointee is Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress who last year hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event, stirring controversy among progressives who objected to his strident opposition to the Obama administration’s Middle East policies.

“Hillary Clinton’s views on Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship are well documented and she’s confident that her delegates will work to ensure that the party platform reflects them,” said Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser to the candidate.

Sanders’s supporters on the platform committee feel Clinton is far more hawkish positions are driven by her attachment to Israel. There have been multiple reports that Clinton was “swayed by” Israel Prime Minister, Netanyahu to oppose the Iran deal (She supported President Barack Obama), and that if it had been up to her there would be no deal. Also, another issue that Sanders keeps hitting Clinton on was her support for the Iraq war, that came out of concern for Israel.

Middle East Peace talks in Sharm El-Sheikh

Sander’s supporters on the platform committee are quick to point out that Clinton’s super PAC underlines the view that she’s too close to Israel on her foreign policy: her biggest supporter is Haim Saban, the toymaker who has said, “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”

Team Sanders is also not pleased that Clinton made the point in March at the AIPAC meeting in Washington, that she would Invite Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in her first month as president. Clinton also pledged to Saban to fight the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions), which the former Secretary of State, has said is anti-Semitic.

Sanders supporters have wasted no time advocating their position during the platform drafting process, where they’re calling to exclude references to Jerusalem while advancing the notion that Israeli settlements in the West Bank represent “an occupation” –– language adamantly opposed by many Clinton backers, who say it would undermine the peace process.

Sanders, spent months of his youth living on an Israeli kibbutz, but his views on the Jewish state reflect a socialist strain of Zionism no longer as prominent in Israel. He has spoken of seeking a more “evenhanded” treatment of Palestinians.

Bernie Sanders

Sanders used his clout in nominating members to the party’s platform drafting committee to select the president of an Arab rights organization and a campaign surrogate who accused Israel during the Gaza fighting of “a crime against humanity.”

According to The Hill, team Sanders hit back hard against team Clinton on the issue. “For too long the Democratic Party’s been beholden to AIPAC [and] didn’t take seriously the humanity of Palestinian brothers and sisters,” Cornel West, an educator and activist appointed by Sanders to the drafting committee, said last week, referring to the pro-Israel lobbying group.

Clinton has been a staunch defender of Israel throughout her career. Now the Democratic Party have craft something that reflects her position, in line with the Jewish vote that firmly backs the former Secretary of State, while not alienating the Sanders supporters who tend to be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and distrust the former secretary of State on issues of foreign policy.

While both Clinton and Sanders are strong advocates of a two-state solution, their divergent positions when it comes to Israel’s actions and strategy have been on stark display throughout the primary.

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Clinton has defended Israel’s use of force against Hamas and dismissed criticisms about “disproportionate force” harming civilians as an unfortunate part of that defense. She has accused Palestinian leaders of allowing Hamas to turn Gaza into “a terrorist haven.” And, speaking at an annual AIPAC convention she said “America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival. “Some things aren’t negotiable,” she said, “and anyone who doesn’t understand that has no business being our president.”  

Sanders, by contrast, has called for a more “even-handed approach” that lends more consideration to Palestinian casualties. He’s criticized Israel’s military actions in Gaza as “disproportionate” at the expense of civilians. And he skipped the AIPAC convention, instead laying out his Middle East agenda in Salt Lake City, where he decried Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank as an impediment to peace. Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza — once considered an unthinkable move on Israel’s part,” he said in March.

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Just four years ago Israel was center stage at the Charlotte, N.C., Democratic National convention in 2012. The party caused a big mess when they rewrote the platform, mid-event, to declare Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital. The contentious voice vote drew a chorus of boos from critics who both opposed the policy and questioned the veracity of the unverifiable tally.

This year, similar lines are being drawn between the Clinton and Sanders camps. Last week, during the first meeting of the 15-member Platform Drafting Committee, Sanders’s surrogates promoted the Vermont senator’s calls to include the “occupation” language as part of the official campaign message.

Team Clinton wanted no part of the language and to say the two sides have a long way to go to be on the same page on the issue of Israel would be an understatement. But the key point here is that Clinton is the party’s nominee and Sanders has a voice in the matter, but in the end it’s not his voice that counts.


Jim Williams is the Washington Bureau Chief, Digital Director as well as the Director of Special Projects for Genesis Communications. He is starting his third year as part of the team. This is Williams 40th year in the media business, and in that time he has served in a number of capacities. He is a seven time Emmy Award winning television producer, director, writer and executive. He has developed four regional sports networks, directed over 2,000 live sporting events including basketball, football, baseball hockey, soccer and even polo to name a few sports. Major events include three Olympic Games, two World Cups, two World Series, six NBA Playoffs, four Stanley Cup Playoffs, four NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournaments (March Madness), two Super Bowl and over a dozen college bowl games. On the entertainment side Williams was involved s and directed over 500 concerts for Showtime, Pay Per View and MTV Networks.