Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on July 26 became the first presidential candidate to explicitly endorse using US military aid to Israel as leverage to demand better treatment of the Palestinians. He made the commitment during an interview with Pod Save America’s Jon Favreau after first floating the idea during a 2017 interview with The Intercept. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg came close to directly broaching the topic in June when he vowed that US taxpayers would not foot the bill if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved forward with annexing parts of the West Bank.
During the interview, Sanders also vowed to “sit down in a room” to negotiate with Israeli, Palestinian, Iranian and Saudi leadership and criticized Riyadh’s women’s rights record. Sanders’ approach to Israel offers a sharp contrast with the vision Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., outlined at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs on July 24. Gillibrand, who has co-sponsored an Israeli military aid, vowed to “continue our country’s unbreakable bond with our closest ally in the Middle East.”
The Democratic party’s internal agonizing over Israel was on full display on Capitol Hill last week as the House easily passed a nonbinding resolution condemning the pro-Palestinian BDS movement. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, voted for the resolution. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, the only other sitting House member to qualify for this month’s debates, missed the vote but did co-sponsor a bill to deepen economic cooperation between Israel, Palestine and the United States.
Gillibrand and Gabbard also expanded on their views regarding the Iran nuclear deal. In an interview with Fox News, Gabbard said the “de-militarization and de-escalation of tensions” between Iran and Saudi Arabia should be a “provision” to reenter the nuclear deal. And Gillibrand also reiterated her support for reentering the accord while condemning Tehran for its “recent escalations and its breach of the nuclear deal.” She also vowed to extend and build upon the accord “for a longer period of time” while addressing Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its “support for terrorism.” She praised the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations’ alleged use of the Stuxnet computer virus to damage Iran’s nuclear program, upholding it as a model “to fight future threats.”
In the same speech, Gillibrand argued that fighting terrorism “does not require holding territory” while calling for a repeal of existing military authorizations and laying out her criteria for new legal authorizations.
Meanwhile, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., voted to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a robust Foreign Relations Committee debate on July 25. And Marianne Williamson accused the Saudis of waging a “genocidal war” in Yemen in a Face the Nation interview on July 28.