Why Bernie Sanders Is Wrong on Israel

It would be most regrettable if the platform of the Democratic Party is influenced by these individuals to the detriment of the security of the State of Israel.

Philadelphia has long had a special relationship with the State of Israel. Tel Aviv has been our sister city for 50 years, and the Jewish community here has been among the most active anywhere in North America in its support for Israel. So for those of us who care about maintaining the historically strong U.S.-Israel relationship, I am particularly concerned about positions Sen. Bernie Sanders has recently taken on this issue during his campaign for the presidency. He believes that Israel is largely responsible for the plight of the Palestinian people and criticizes Israel for being an occupying force and overreacting to Palestinian attacks. History tells us that Sanders is simply wrong and his strategy for addressing these issues in the Middle East is flawed.
Sanders should know that the United Nations decision in 1947 to end the British Mandate established after World War I that divided the region into two sections was absolutely correct. One portion was intended to be an area for the Arab people under the control of Jordan, and the other a homeland for the Jewish people.
When the State of Israel was proclaimed in May 1948, the leadership of the Arab world immediately announced it would not accept this decision and declared war to defeat the nascent nation. The leaders of the Arab world assured their populations that they would be victorious in a short period of time. They were obviously wrong.
Following the defeat of the Arab nations in the War of Independence, Israel welcomed millions of displaced Jews from around the world, including from Arab countries, while at the same time building a strong Jewish state. It has been a successful venture in many ways.
During the years between 1948 and 1967, the area now referred to as the West Bank was under the control of Jordan. There was no effort made by Jordan or other Arab countries to help those living in that area to improve their lives. While Israel was absorbing millions of people and building a viable society, those living in that area stagnated, with no assistance from the Arab countries. Israel had nothing to do with what occurred in those areas during the years from 1948 to 1967, when they were occupied by Jordan.
Continuing threats from Arab countries led to the 1967 Six Day War. At the conclusion of the war, the territories formally controlled by Jordan came under the control of Israel. Since 1967, the leadership of the Arab world has done nothing to help the plight of those living in these areas while Israeli leadership made every attempt to return all of these territories to Arab control on condition they would recognize Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state for the Jewish people.
These offers have been consistently rejected, which has led to a series of conflicts and needless deaths. As the world has observed the unfortunate circumstances of the Palestinians living in these territories, the blame is frequently placed on Israel. In fact, all of the blame should be placed on the failure of Arab leadership. Many attempts to arrive at a peaceful resolution have been unsuccessful. A review of the history indicates that Palestinian leadership, in particular Yasser Arafat, and his successors, walked away from meaningful offers to resolve the dispute. Efforts made by President Bill Clinton, Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, and others will attest to this.
The reality is Palestinian leadership has never been willing to accept generous proposals for peace. The major obstacle has been their unwillingness to recognize Israel as the sovereign state of the Jewish people. In the interim, conditions in the Middle East have deteriorated. The fighting among various segments of the Arab world and the existence of organizations such as the so-called Islamic State and other terrorist organizations has increased the need for Israel to protect its security.
Bernie Sanders has been upfront about his belief that the Israeli government is largely responsible for the plight of the Palestinian people who live in the territories. He is unsympathetic to Israel’s needs to protect its security and believes Israel is an illegitimate occupying force. The worldwide attempt to boycott Israeli products and urge divestment in companies doing business in Israel is symptomatic of that myth. Recently, the leadership of the Democratic Party agreed to allocate five seats to Bernie Sanders on the party’s platform at their national convention here. It is no surprise, but quite shocking, that three of the five people appointed by him are well known for consistently supporting the Palestinian people and continually criticizing Israel. The list includes Cornel West and James Zogby.
It would be most regrettable if the platform of the Democratic Party is influenced by these individuals to the detriment of the security of the State of Israel.
Bennett Aaron is a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and a former chair of United Israel Appeal, and played a lead role with the Jewish Agency for Israel.


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