Bernie Sanders may not be as anti-Israel as some of his radical supporters but he can no longer be called pro-Israel. The accusations he has repeatedly leveled against Israel in the past few days—that its military response to Hamas rockets and terror tunnels has been “disproportionate”—reflects both abysmal ignorance about the conduct of the Israeli Defense Force and a pervasive bias against the nation state of the Jewish people.
Sanders is right, of course, that he is not alone in accusing Israel of using disproportionate force, but he is very bad company when he cites the “countries all over the world” that have directed this chorus of criticism against Israel. Those who most consistently attack the conduct of the Israeli Defense Forces are among the worst human rights violators in the world, including countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria.
The reality is that Israel has done what other Western democracies—faced with far less direct threats to their civilians—have done, but they have done so far more carefully, with greater concern for civilians, and to better success. Yet Israel is singled out for unique condemnation as part of a widespread effort to delegitimize, and demonize the nation state of the Jewish people. Sanders has now made statements that lend support to these biased efforts
Reasonable people can disagree with Israel’s occupation and settlement policies—although even critics must acknowledge that Israel offered to end the West Bank occupation and settlements in 2000, 2001, and 2008 as part of a plan to create a two-state solution. The Palestinian leadership rejected the 2000 and 2001 offers and failed to respond to the 2008 proposal. Israel did unilaterally end its Gaza occupation and settlements, only to see that area turned into a launching pad for Hamas rockets and tunnels designed to kill Israeli civilians.
Nonetheless, pro-Israel critics, both within and outside of Israel, criticize the current government for not doing more to move toward a two state solution. Whether one agrees or disagrees with this criticism, one can level it without being deemed anti-Israel. But anyone who seeks the mantle of “pro-Israel” has no right to sit in judgment over Israel’s military tactics in responding to rocket and tunnel attacks from Gaza. This is especially so if they are as uninformed as Sanders is about the situation on the ground in Israeli cities and town that are close to Gaza. As Barack Obama said when he was running for president and visited Israeli areas that were most directly impacted by rocket attacks: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”
Israel has now located and neutralized yet another terror tunnel leading from Gaza into Israel that had been built recently, and already extended “tens of meters” underneath the border fence and into Israel proper. Its purpose is to kill, kidnap and hold hostage Israeli civilians, including children from those towns located near the tunnel exits. The entrances to these deadly military targets have been deliberately placed by Hamas in densely populated areas, rather than in the many sparely populated parts of the Gaza Strip. (Yet there are many such sparsely populated areas, despite the media’s demonstrably false claim that the Gaza Strip is among the most densely populated areas of the world.)
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Hamas knows that if they were to deploy their rockets and place the entrances to their terror tunnels in unpopulated areas – as the laws of war require – the Israeli military could attack these military targets without endangering civilians. But Hamas wants Israel to injure and kill its civilians. They deliberately employ what has come to be known by the cruel but accurate term, “the dead baby strategy.” Under this double war crime strategy, the Israeli military is put to the terrible Hobson’s choice of either allowing its own civilians to be subjected to rocket and tunnel attacks or to destroy those rockets and tunnels by attacking targets that are surrounded by Palestinian civilians, who Hamas effectively uses as human shields.
What would Sanders do if the United State were faced with a comparable dilemma? Would he allow rockets to rain down on American civilians? Would he allow for terror tunnels to ferret armed terrorists to kill and kidnap American children? Or would he do what President Obama urged Israel to do: whatever it takes to stop the rockets and tunnels.
American voters are entitled to know what Sanders would do and what he thinks Israel should do. Would he apply a double standard to the nation state of the Jewish People? Or would he deny the American military the authority to do whatever it takes to protect our citizens? Does he condemn the United States military for using comparable tactics in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria? In other words, does Bernie Sanders only believe that Israel has acted disproportionately, or does he also believe that the United States military acts disproportionately? We are entitled to know the answers to these questions, and Bernie Sanders is not entitled to pretend that he is pro-Israel.
Alan Dershowitz is emeritus professor at Harvard and author of “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.”