Bernie Sanders issues scathing statement directed at Netanyahu over campus protests

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is pushing back after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused US college students protesting against the war in Gaza of being antisemitic.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu’s office released a video of the US-born Israeli leader attacking the student-led protests that have taken over campus spaces at numerous universities. In the video, Netanyahu referred to the protesters as “antisemitic mobs” and accused them of physically attacking Jewish students and faculty.

The Israeli leader added: “This is reminiscent of what happened in German universities in the 1930s. It’s unconscionable. It has to be stopped.”

Senator Sanders — one of America’s highest-profile Jewish lawmakers — responded in a statement on Thursday in which he directly refuted Netanyahu’s accusations and addressed him by name.

“No, Mr Netanyahu. It is not antisemitic or pro-Hamas to point out that in a little over six months your extremist government has killed 34,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 77,000 – seventy percent of whom are women and children. It is not antisemitic to point out that your bombing has completely destroyed more than 221,000 housing units in Gaza, leaving more than one million people homeless – almost half the population,” Mr Sanders said.

The Vermont Senator — an independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats — continued that it was “not antisemitic” to say that the Israeli government “has obliterated Gaza’s civilian infrastructure – electricity, water, and sewage” or “to realize that your government has annihilated Gaza’s health care system, knocking 26 hospitals out of service and killing more than 400 health care workers”.

“It is not antisemitic to agree with virtually every humanitarian organization in saying that your government, in violation of American law, has unreasonably blocked humanitarian aid coming into Gaza, creating the conditions in which hundreds of thousands of children face malnutrition and famine,” he continued.

Sanders closed the statement by again addressing the Israeli leader directly and calling antisemitism “a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to many millions of people”.

“But, please, do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal war policies of your extremist and racist government. Do not use antisemitism to deflect attention from the criminal indictment you are facing in the Israeli courts. It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable for your actions,” he said.

Protests have taken place at multiple prominent US universities including Yale, Columbia University, New York University, University of Southern California, and the University of Texas, Austin.

Riot police were called to multiple campuses on Wednesday, and scores of students have been arrested in the last two weeks.

US House Speaker Mike Johnson echoed Netanyahu’s criticisms during a visit to Columbia on Wednesday, where he was greeted with a chorus of boos from gathered demonstrators.

Republicans have sought to use the campus protests as a cudgel with which to accuse Democrats generally of supporting antisemitism. They have also sought to contrast President Joe Biden — who has called on Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza — with their party’s leader, former president Donald Trump, who during his term in office did not criticize Israel, even when the country was accused of human rights abuses.

Trump has been accused of failing to criticize Israel out of fealty to his evangelical Christian base of support. He did, however, recently say that he believed the war in Gaza must end, as it was causing Netanyahu to lose support on the world stage.

By Andrew Feinberg,