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April 16, 2016

Bernie Sanders is a better presidential candidate

By Habib Siddiqui

Last week, I watched the debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I am glad that I had the time to do so. To me, the most important task of the President of the USA is about foreign policy, which he conducts through his Secretary of State. The debate allowed me to understand the candidates' views on Israeli state that has benefitted enormously from the US patronage since its birth.

So complete has been the domination of the 'Amen Corner' – the Israel-firsters within the Capitol Hill – Israel will continue to benefit from the USA, no matter who occupies the White House. This was quite evident from the speeches of all those political aspirants for the highest office in the land during the AIPAC's yearly event last month. From Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton –every candidate (minus one) of the major two parties bowed down to the powerful Israeli lobby, almost prostrating down to the altar of Zionism – the very toxic racist ideology that gave us the Palestinian problem with nearly a million of uprooted indigenous people from the lands of their forefathers with its associated dehumanization of the victims who refused to leave and the regional and global instability, which it created, including, arguably, the birthing of an event like the 9/11 that has sparked off what could best be described as a perennial war engulfing the entire region and beyond – from Pakistan to Nigeria.

In his speech at the AIPAC event, Donald Trump was quick to remind his audience that his daughter Ivanka had converted to Judaism and that he is a proud grandfather of Ivanka’s Jewish children. Hillary Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, is similarly married to a pro-Israeli Jew. These presidential aspirants, including the other Republican hopefuls Cruz and Kasich, promised to maximize Israeli interest in the world, once elected to the top post. The Republican hopefulseven promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, considered illegal not only by the UN but also by the US government policy since the holy land was occupied in 1967.

The only exception among the major five candidates was Senator Bernie Sanders, the only Jewish presidential candidate, who refused to attend the AIPAC event. He refused to bow down to the special interest groups, including the AIPAC, which terrify all politicians– whether or not elected – from the House of Representatives to the Senate to the executive office of the President. None of these members of the executive and legislative branches of the US government is immune from the influence of the Jewish Lobby, esp. the AIPAC.

No politician in the USA dares to speak out against this powerful lobby that can either unseat or block his/her chance for the elected post. Thus, political aspirants in the USA have always considered it to be politically suicidal to go against the interest or wishes of the AIPAC and the rogue state of Israel, which it promotes, no matter how criminal and harmful these are.

Bernie Sanders appears to have the guts that other candidates, regrettably, lacked. He could speak as a Jew (the son of a Polish immigrant family that lived in Brooklyn, New York) who as a young man had spent time in an Israeli kibbutz after college. He could tell his Jewish audience that Netanyahu's rogue government has been violating human rights in Gaza and the Occupied Palestine.

Referring to the Israeli prime minister, amid cheers from the crowd at Thursday’s  Democratic debate in Brooklyn, the de facto capital of Jewish American politics, Senator Sanders said, “There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.” He added: “All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue.”

Senator Sanders’s response was to a question about his past statement that Israel had used disproportionate force in responding to Hamas’s rocket attacks from Gaza into Israeli towns. The question was raised by the pro-Israel, Likudnik Jewish moderator, Wolf Blitzer of CNN.

Mr. Sanders said Israel had “every right in the world to destroy terrorism.”“But,” he said, “we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.”

The loud applause and cheers that accompanied Mr. Sanders’s answers – with someone yelling “Free Plestine!  – show that many Democrats are tired of a US foreign policy that has been rewarding the Government of Israel for its inexcusable criminal activities against the Palestinian civilians living in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank.

Jewish Democrats have been struggling for years over the appropriate level of criticism when it comes to Israel’s highly abusive and criminal policies in the occupied territories of Palestine.

Senator Sanders’s remarks during the debate gave a moral boost tothose moderate and liberal Jewish Democrats who believe that a frank discussion within the party has been muzzled by an extremist, hawkish and more conservative Jewish leadership within organizations like the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) and the AIPAC that is suspicious of and hostile to the criticism of the Jewish state.

It requires moral fortitude to stand to believe in and speak for the truth in the face of much opposition when falsehood would have been easier to stand for. But Bernie Sanders is neither a coward nor a hypocrite. He is not a political opportunist that would speak with a forked tongue.He had to speak what is right no matter how some pro-Israeli hawks felt about their allegiance to the rogue government of the State of Israel.

Many Jewish Americans, especially the young ones below the age of 30, are tired of seeing the gruesome abuse of Zionism, the apartheid policy of the Jewish state, which has been corrupting the Jewish moral values and the religion of the great Prophets of the Torah. Unlike their parents and grandparents, who were victims of anti-Jewish pogroms or had witnessed the Holocaust, they know Israel primarily as a powerful Goliath rather than a weak David. Many of them are supporters of the J Street, a pro-Israel lobbying group that is critical of the Netanyahu government.They are against the domination of their political discourse by the hawkish AIPAC and ADL.It is worth noting here that some of these young Jews started a grass-roots movement seeking to stop American Jewish groups from supporting Israeli policies in the occupied territories. They are also the organizers behind the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) global movement against Israel today.

In Bernie Sanders they found their moral voice heard during the debate. Minutes after the debate, Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, a growing grass-roots organization that advocates pressuring Israel with the threat of boycotts, released a statement calling Mr. Sanders’s remarks “heartening” and added, “Today showed that the movement for Palestinian rights is shifting the discourse at the highest political levels.”

In contrast to Mr. Sanders’s response, in Mrs. Clinton’s response to the same question Thursday night, she stopped short of endorsing Israel’s response but echoed its argument that Hamas fighters were often mixed in with civilians. She noted her experience dealing with both sides as secretary of state and said, “I believe that as president I will be able to continue to make progress and get an agreement that will be fair both to the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever, ever undermining Israel’s security.”

For those of us who desire to see a change: a viable solution to the decades-old Palestinian problem, Mrs. Clinton’s view, although better than any of the Republican candidates, is quite problematic. It puts us back to square one or zero-sum diplomatic activities with no desire to tame the extremist hawks ruling the state of Israel. It means, under Mrs. Clinton, Bibi Netanyahu and other war criminals running the state of Israel can go on committing the crimes against humanity without ever being reprimanded and/or tried for such war crimes. Such equivocation or tacit approval of the criminal activities of the Israeli leaders may help her win a majority of the Jewish votes. But, it will not help the cause of either Israel or the USA.

I have been always an independent and have always voted based on the candidate as opposed to voting on party line. This time, however, I took the time to register myself and know whom I’ll vote for during the coming Pennsylvania primary.

Dr. Habib Siddiqui has authored 11 books, five of which are now available through His latest book - Devotional Stories is published by A.S. Noordeen, Malaysia. Dr. Siddiqui is an alumnus of the prestigious University of  Southern California, Los Angeles, where he earned his Ph.D.