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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), a longtime critic of Israel, called on Democrats to dial back their rhetoric against the country as anti-Semitic attacks flare up across the United States.
“I think we should tone down the rhetoric,” said Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats, on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “The job of the United States is to bring people together. And that is what we have got to try to do.”
The Vermont senator, however, has for years singled out the Jewish state for criticism. In a New York Times op-ed earlier this month, Sanders accused Israel of “entrenching its unequal and undemocratic control” over Palestinians and said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promoting an “increasingly intolerant and authoritarian type of racist nationalism.”
In 2019, a Sanders presidential campaign video compared the conditions for Palestinians in the region to South African apartheid. The video included comments from Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King, who has defended anti-Semitic public figures such as Louis Farrakhan and Linda Sarsour. Sanders also touted an endorsement from the anti-Israel group IfNotNow on the campaign trail. In May, IfNotNow published and later deleted a tweet supporting violent Palestinian rioters who called for the bombing of Tel Aviv.
Sanders’s senior foreign policy adviser, Matt Duss, also accused Israel of “terrorism” last year following reports that Israeli operatives assassinated Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. Republicans in Congress have accused Duss of anti-Semitism.
Sanders’s comments come amid a wave of anti-Semitic attacks across the United States. Pro-Palestinian activists have attacked Jews on the streets of New York City and Los Angeles, and anti-Semitic content on social media has surged since the start of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict.
Sanders’s call for softened rhetoric also comes as his supporters fan the flames. Amer Zahr, a national surrogate for Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, said activists should “stop condemning anti-Semitism” in a video Saturday.
“They’re trying to distract you all,” Zahr said of those urging political activists to condemn the national wave of anti-Semitic violence. “Say ‘free Palestine’ and nothing else.”
Left-wing Democrats moved to cut military aid to the Jewish state last week as it fended off thousands of rocket attacks from Hamas. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.), and Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.)—all of whom endorsed Sanders in his 2020 presidential bid—have accused Israel of “apartheid” and “war crimes” and called on the United States to hold the Jewish state “fully accountable.”