What could a Sanders win mean for Palestine?

What could a Sanders win mean for Palestine?
Blog: Bernie Sanders is widely considered as the 'socialist' candidate in the Democratic race for presidential nominee, but where does he stand on Palestine?
4 min read
18 Feb, 2016
Bernie Sanders is seen by many as the anti-establishment candidate [AFP]
As support for Senator Bernie Sanders continues to surge in the opinion polls, many are beginning to contemplate what a victory for the 77-year-old would mean for US involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The government of our great country belongs to all of the people, and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors and their 'super PACs'", the veteran politician declared after his victory over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.

If by this, Sanders also meant that US policy would no longer be so heavily swayed by the Israel lobby, there are some who have already expressed their doubt about the Democratic senator's prospects of shifting Washington's foreign policy.

Last year, journalist and activist Chris Hedges attacked Sanders' socialist credentials, calling him "an AIPAC windup doll like the rest of them".

Yet, Sanders' stance on US-Israel relations has not been that clear-cut, with many analysts drawing attention to the senator's prevailing silence on matters concerning Palestine and repeated Israeli overtures in Gaza and the West Bank.

Bernie Sanders Is Smart to Keep His Mouth Shut About Israel, read the title of an article published by Israel's Haaretz daily last week.

When pressed about such matters, Sanders has opted for the politically safe option of expressing support for Israeli security whilst affirming Palestine's right to statehood. On occasion, however, he has criticised Israel for acts against Palestinians.

"The sight of Israeli soldiers breaking the arms and legs of Arabs is reprehensible. The idea of Israel closing down towns and sealing them off is unacceptable," he told reporters while addressing a conference in his former role as Mayor of Burlington.

The veteran politician once even went as far as to suggest that the US could force Israel to change its behaviour through military aid, saying that they could begin to, "cut off arms", for non-compliance.

All that taken into consideration, a flurry of attention has focused on a YouTube video from August 2014, in which the Senator angrily tells an audience member to, "shut up", after interrupting Sanders' speech on Hamas by asking whether Palestinians, "have a right to resist". Sanders then ignored the question and focused the discussion on the Islamic State group.

As is stands, it seems that Sanders has done little to allay fears on all sides, with even Hillary Clinton's campaign now reluctant to use his stance on Israel as a point of attack, despite their crushing primary defeat last week.

"The notion that we're planning to start attacking Sanders' record on Israel is simply false," Laura Rosenberger, foreign policy adviser, told the Forward.

Comparisons with Corbyn

When the veteran left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn launched his successful campaign last year to become leader of the UK's Labour Party, there was already talk about similarities between the two men and their politics. When asked by a journalist in August 2015 about Jeremy Corbyn's breakaway campaign, Sanders responded that, "whether it's the UK or here in the US, people are sick of establishment politics".

In a recent interview for the BBC's Radio 4, Sanders' UK-based brother, Larry Sanders, also drew the comparison, saying "there are similarities", and that his sibling's win in New Hampshire was akin to Corbyn's rise.

Certainly, Corbyn was and perhaps still is perceived as the anti-establishment politician by many. However, the two men's records on foreign policy, particularly towards the Middle East, are markedly different.

Corbyn, who as a backbencher defied his party whip more than 500 times, including in votes on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stands in marked contrast to Sanders, who has supported his party more than 95 percent of the time.

Included in Sanders' record is support for the Obama administration's wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, as well as support for bills and resolutions that, in the words of Chris Hedges, "empowers and sanctions Israel to carry out its slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people".

Perhaps parallels between the two men may be drawn when it comes to their anti-establishment message and grass-roots appeal, however, when it comes to foreign policy, it seems that the similarities are fewer.

The Labour Party leader, who has drawn himself out to be a staunch supporter of Palestinian causes in the past, stands in marked contrast to the the Senator from Vermont, who has yet to mark out a clear and consistent stance on issues relating to Palestine and Israel.

For now, the implications for Palestine of a Sanders nomination are unclear. With neither the pro-Israel lobby nor the supporters of the Palestinian cause sounding too eager about the veteran Senator, it remains to be seen whether Sanders is serious about confronting the PAC-led politics of the establishment, or if he would simply offer more of the same in terms of US foreign policy.