Bernie Sanders rebuts Netanyahu claims US pro-Palestine student protests are 'antisemitic'

Bernie Sanders rebuts Netanyahu claims US pro-Palestine student protests are 'antisemitic'
Bernie Sanders told the Israeli PM Netanyahu that a wave of protests taking place at universities across the US are anything but antisemitic.
3 min read
26 April, 2024
Bernie Sanders is one of America's most prominent Jewish politicians [GETTY]

Jewish-American politician Bernie Sanders has rubbished claims by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the pro-Palestine student demonstrations at US colleges are antisemitic.

Sanders, one of the US's most prominent Jewish lawmakers, was responding to Netanyahu’s comments from Wednesday when he described college protesters as "antisemitic mobs" and made unfounded claims that Jewish students were being attacked.

"No, Mr Netanyahu. It is not antisemitic or pro-Hamas to point out that in a little over six months your extremist government has killed 34,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 77,000 people – seventy percent of whom and women and children," Sanders said.

In a lengthy statement posted to Sanders' X account on Thursday, the politician went on to say that "it is not antisemitic" to condemn Israel's destruction of Gaza's 12 universities, the annihilation of Gaza's health system, or to agree with humanitarian organisations who say that humanitarian aid has been blocked.

The senator addressed the prime minister by name and said: "Mr. Netanyahu, antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to millions.

"Do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal war policies of your extremist and racist government. Do not use antisemitism to deflect attention from the criminal indictment you are facing in the Israeli courts. It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable for your policies."

Large student protests have emerged at major US colleges over the past few days, with university administrations calling in riot police to shut down demonstrations that have resulted in the arrest of hundreds of students.

The latest pro-Palestine protests kicked off after police shut down a protest encampment at Columbia University in New York last week, detaining dozens of students.

In response, students from around the country held demonstrations and similar sit-ins, calling for their colleges to divest from Israeli-linked companies and demanding an end to the Gaza war.

Demonstrations have occurred at some 16 universities, with several being forcefully shut down by police and state troopers on Wednesday and Thursday.

Hundreds of students have been detained, notably at the University of Texas at Austin, Emerson College, Indiana University, Atlanta University and University of Southern California.

On Wednesday, Israel's Prime Minister's Office released a video in which Netanyahu stated that what is happening on "America's college campuses is horrific".

"Antisemitic mobs have taken over leading universities. They call for the annihilation of Israel. They attack Jewish students. They attack Jewish faculty."

The protests, organised by progressive Jewish groups and Palestine solidarity committees, have become a major flashpoint in US politics, with university executives often having close ties to politicians with traditionally pro-Israel views. 

On Thursday, students booed Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson during his visit to Columbia University, where he described the demonstrations as "antisemitic."

He said Columbia's administration had lost control of the situation and added to growing calls for the president Minouche Shafik to step down.

But heckles from the crowd forced Johnson to pause speaking and prompted him to say: "Enjoy your free speech."

Columbia, one of the country’s most influential universities, has seen its campus roiled by protests, forcing classes online and triggering public criticism from right-wing political figures.