Bernie Sanders on arming Israel

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Editor’s note: Since 1976, the Vermont Cynic has followed Bernie Sanders’ ascent to national politics, from his second campaign for governor to mainstream presidential candidate. After spending months reviewing our archives, as well as the archives at UVM, the Enterprise team at the Cynic is proud to present a series looking back at the coverage we have done on Sanders’ political career, bringing to light subjects and comments which have found new relevance given his current fight for the White House.


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This Cynic article from September of 1988 covers a debate between then-mayor of Burlington and congressional candidate Bernie Sanders and democratic congressional candidate Paul Porier. Click on the image to see a high-quality .pdf of the article.


LAST YEAR, SEN. BERNIE SANDERS yelled “Shut up!” to a group of pro-Palestine protesters at a town hall meeting in Cabot, Vermont.  Roughly 27 years earlier, he was quoted in a Cynic article: “It is wrong that the United States provides arms to Israel,” he said.

Sanders was in the heat of his 1988 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. At a Sept. 28 meeting of UVM’s Student Responsibility and Political Awareness Coalition, Democratic candidate Paul Poirier called for unequivocal support of the Palestinian people, to make sure the Palestinians could go “face to face with the Israeli government,” according to a Sept. 1988 Cynic article.

Sanders agreed, railing against Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians.

“The policy that Israelis shoot people is unacceptable. It is wrong that the United States provides arms to Israel,” Sanders was quoted as saying in the article. “We are not going to be the arms merchant for Middle Eastern nations. We must guarantee the right of the State of Israel to exist, as well as the rights of the Palestinians to have their own homeland.”

The Sanders campaign denies that he has ever held these beliefs.

“The quote does not support [the assertion that] Sanders wanted to end all military aid to Israel, and doing so is a misinterpretation of old quotes,” Sanders campaign spokesman Michael Briggs said in a Sept. 3 email to the Cynic.

“He didn’t call military aid to Israel wrong,” Briggs said.

“Bernie does not and has not ever supported cutting off arms to Israel and that has never been his position,” he said.

Except he has. At a roundtable discussion in March 1988, Sanders spoke about the United States using economic power to have clout in Middle Eastern foreign policy.



“You have the ability, when you have the United States of America, which is supporting the armies of the Middle East, to demand these people work out a reasonable settlement, protecting the rights of the Palestinians, protecting the rights of Israel,” he said in the video. “That has not yet been done.”

Multiple people in attendance asked: “Or else?”

“Or else what? Or else you begin to cut off arms,” Sanders said. “If I am supplying someone with a significant amount of money, I can then begin to call the tune.”

“What Bernie believes is that there has to be an even-handed policy in the Middle East, that Israel must have the right to exist and the Palestinian people must have their own independent state,” Briggs said.

On Sept. 23, 1988, the Associated Press reported that kidnappers holding three U.S. educators and an Indian colleague said they may hurt their hostages unless the United States backed the Palestinian uprising in Israeli-held territory.

The day before Sanders said it was wrong for the U.S. to provide arms to Israel, the United States criticized Israel’s use of plastic bullets against Palestinians, according to a Sept. 29, 1988 Newsday article. Israel had openly admitted that this policy was designed to increase the number of wounded when protests broke out in the occupied territories, Newsday reported.

“We can see no justification for a policy admittedly designed to cause an increase in casualties,” State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley told reporters in Washington, according to the article.

Sanders’ official statement aligns more with his recent policy stance on Israel. Although he identifies with the far left on most issues, the self-described “democratic socialist” has been hesitant to criticize the state.

He has not taken an openly pro-Israel stance, nor has he expressed support for the opposition. Most recently, he didn’t co-sponsor a July 2014 resolution expressing support for Israel in the conflict with Hamas.



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