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Bernie Sanders: 50 years of occupation must end

Allison Kaplan Sommer, Haaretz, June 05, 2017

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks on Saturday, May 20, 2017, at the Adams Center on the University of Montana campus, in Missoula, Montana (Tommy Martino/AP)

Senator Bernie Sanders’ bid for the U.S. presidency may be history, but the progressive politician is still making his voice heard when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, declaring that “the occupation must end” in a video message to Israel’s left-wing Meretz party.  

“We are now in the 50th year of Israel’s occupation, an occupation which denies basic Palestinian rights while failing to deliver Israel real security,” said Sanders.

“I know so many of you agree with me when I say: this occupation must end. Peace – real peace – means security not only for every Israeli, but for every Palestinian. It means supporting self-determination, civil rights and economic well-being for both peoples.”

The video message by Sanders was released by Meretz ahead of its screening at a conference Sunday marking 50 years of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, following the Six-Day War in 1967.

In the video, Sanders also praised Meretz as “Israel’s most prominent political organization” that stands for “equality, security, democracy and justice,” ideals that the Vermont senator said he shares. These are “the same values that progressives are fighting for in the United States and around the world,” he added.

Sanders also warned against the rise in the U.S., Europe and in Israel of “demagogues who are scapegoating minorities,” like Donald Trump. “We observe with alarm the rise of racist intolerant authoritarian political movements. We have seen similar type movements in the past with all the agony and horror they have brought to the world. And together we stand united to do anything we can to defeat these movements now and in the future,” Sanders said.

Such movements, he said, take advantage of those on the lowest rungs of society who are “living in despair” have lost faith in their governments to solve their problems and are “desperate” for any alternative. Such desperation, he said, makes them easy prey for “demagogues who are scapegoating minorities,” noting that President Donald Trump targeted minority groups before, during, and after his race for the White House.

“The antidote” he said, “is a politics of solidarity and a common humanity” by progressive parties from around the world working together. Since the “forces of oligarchy work at an international level” he said, so must resistance against such forces “work together in the same global way.”

He declared that “brave people uniting around a common set of values with clear goals, can change a country, they can change the world, they can even change the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Uri Zaki, chairman of the Meretz central committee, praised Sanders for taking a clear stand “without winking to the center of the political map or softening his edges.”

Like Sanders, he said, “Meretz also tells the truth, and the truth is that the occupation represents the greatest existential and material threat to the state of Israel. That is why we will be the only political party to hold a conference marking 50 years of the occupation and calling for an end to the settlement enterprise.” He said that the U.S. senator’s “deep opposition to the occupation” was because it “represents inequality and racism.”

Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, lost his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination after making a surprisingly strong showing against Hillary Clinton. He is the undisputed leader of the progressive side of the Democratic Party.

Sanders, who is Jewish and spent time on a kibbutz in his youth, describes himself as a “strong defender of Israel” and has spoken strongly against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but he has also been a consistent critic of the Israeli government’s policies under Benjamin Netanyahu. At the Democratic National Convention, Sanders named high-profile critics of Israel to the committee drafting the party platform.

Since the presidential election, Sanders has remained engaged with the issue – speaking at the J Street conference in February – where he also called for an end to the occupation – and meeting with Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Joint Arab List faction.