As we enter the Democratic Primary process, I think it’s important for Milken students to be informed about the leading democratic candidates views on Israel, as it is a core topic of our community. Milken students are highly invested in American-Israeli relationship as they volunteer through AIPAC and other clubs strengthening this bond. and this group of candidates brings a wide diversity of opinion and demonstrates the division between opinions on the left. As criticism from American politicians grows for Israel and specifically Benjamin Netanyahu, it is interesting to see how Democrats respond and whether they embrace or contest the criticisms. While looking at statements by each candidate, the trend was never the extreme denial for Israel’s existence, but rather the criticism of Netanyahu’s right wing government. Below I have listed the leading candidates in national polls, and outlined their view on Israel.
Throughout his long political career, Joe Biden has been a supportive figure to Israel. Biden was even present at the Yom Kippur War when he was visiting Prime Minister Mair as Senator. In a 2013 J Street speech, Biden said, “There is no contradiction between being progressive and being a supporter of Israel.” He is a believer in the need for an Israeli-American alliance. He is, however, critical of Netanyahu for his occupation of the West Bank. At J Street conference in 2016, Biden said , “We have an overwhelming obligation — not withstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government — we have an obligation to push them as hard as we can toward what they know in their gut is the only solution: a two-state solution.” Biden has also been very critical of Hamas; following a bombing from the Gaza strip he said, “Let me say in no uncertain terms: The United States of America condemns these acts and condemns the failure to condemn these acts.” Overall Biden leans more in favor of Israel than what new progressives are pushing, but he also is critical of certain aspects of Israel.
Bernie Sanders has been pushing the Democratic party farther to the left throughout his career, and his stance on Israel is no exception. Sanders is arguably the most critical of all Israel of all of the candidates, which is ironic as he is the only Jewish candidate, but in the Jewish community an animosity towards Israel is growing. He has condemned Netanyahu on many occasions and has referred to him as a “racist” for his actions toward Palestinians. Bernie has also been vocal about his support for a two-state solution and the neutral approach the US should take to Middle-East issues. He has also said that he would be willing to cut off aid to Israel if they continue with their right-wing policies. Bernie has emphasized that he is “100% pro Israel,” but he is not in favor of the conservative government. Bernie Sanders is the most critical of Israel from the presidential field and is pushing unprecedented reforms.
Senator Warren has condemned Hamas in the past for sending missiles into Israel, however she has said it is in the best interest of America that Israel survives. On the other hand, she has criticized the violence used by the IDF on the border with Gaza. Like the rest of the candidates, she is in favor of a two-state solution and recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to a state. Warren has also taken a stand against the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) but also refuses to vote on legislation that would criminalize the movement, as she believes it is their free speech right. Senator Warren has expressed her support for Israel, but has also been critical of the current conservative government.
Senator Harris is a believer that Israel has the right to defend itself on the border with Gaza. Recently she had a meeting with AIPAC leaders (a pro-Israel lobbying group) and posted pictures on Twitter. In the past, she has voted against laws that would make the BDS movement illegal. Senator Harris has been very outspoken on her beliefs that a strong relationship between Israel and America is needed, and this has put her as one of the most centrist candidates on Israel.
Mayor Pete has been very vocal, both supportive and critical of Israel. He has claimed in the past that he is supportive of the State of Israel but not in favor of Netanyahu and doesn’t think he is looking for peace. Mayor Pete has also spoken about the nuances of the issues in Israel as he believes that there is so much complexity to it, and you can’t really understand if you have not been to Israel. He also believes that the media have failed in their coverage, and has not provided the proper education on Israel. He has stated that he believes Hamas is not a group looking for peace and was confronted at a rally by Palestinian protestors with shirts saying “open heart to Gaza.” Mayor Pete has presented himself as someone who understands the nuances of the Palestinian Israeli conflict.