Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses a rally at the Bronx Community College in New York on April 9, 2016
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses a rally at the Bronx Community College in New York on April 9, 2016 © Kena Betancur - AFP/File
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses a rally at the Bronx Community College in New York on April 9, 2016
AFP
Last updated: April 11, 2016

Bernie Sanders calls for balanced US policy in the Middle East

Banner Icon Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders called Sunday for a more balanced US Mideast policy, describing Israel's actions in the 2014 Gaza war as "disproportionate."

Sanders, who if elected would be the first Jewish US president, was asked on CNN to explain his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- which is far more nuanced than is typical in US politics where support for the Jewish State is historically strong.

"Of course we are going to support Israel," the Vermont senator said. "But you cannot ignore the needs of the Palestinian people in Gaza right now."

"Whether you're Jewish or not Jewish, I would hope that every person in this country wants to see the misery of never-ending war and conflict ended in the Middle East," he said.

Earlier this month, Sanders criticized Israel's role during the 2014 Gaza war in a widely read interview with the New York Daily News, saying he believed more than 10,000 innocent people died in the conflict.

Though he admitted to not being sure about the number during the interview and accepted a correction that the figure was actually just over 2,100 people, his statement came under fire from Jewish groups.

Asked about the reaction by CNN, he stood by his criticism of Israel.

"Was Israel's response disproportion disproportionate? I think it was."

"Israel has 100 percent -- and no one will fight for that principle more strongly than I will -- has the right to live in freedom, independently, and in security, without having to be subjected to terrorist attacks," said Sanders, a secular Jew who spent time on an Israeli kibbutz.

"But I think that we will not succeed to ever bring peace into that region unless we also treat the Palestinians with dignity and respect."

Israel launched the seven-week conflict in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in response to the group's firing of rockets into southern Israel.

More than 70 percent of the 2,130 Palestinians killed in the conflict -- which destroyed infrastructure and residential buildings -- were civilians, the United Nations estimates. Israel puts the number at around 50 percent.

"Their community has been decimated," Sanders said. "You can't ignore that fact."

"And you can't just be only concerned about Israel's needs." he added. "You have to be concerned about the needs of all other people in the region."

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