US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders appears to have struck a nerve with Israeli officials after proposing to put the annual $4 billion handout the Zionist state gets from the US to better use.
The veteran politician who spent several months during his early 20s living on an Israeli kibbutz, appeared to suggest that giving Tel Aviv aid unconditionally made the US complicit in Israel's occupation of Palestine.
Referring to the ten-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the US and Israel negotiated by former President Barack Obama, he said: "My solution is to say to Israel: you get $3.8 billion every year; if you want military aid you're going to have to fundamentally change your relationship to the people of Gaza, in fact, I think it is fair to say that some of that should go right now into humanitarian aid."
The remarks stirred strong feelings in Israel. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein attacked Sanders, saying that the Vermont senator should "stop talking nonsense". Israel views the aid it receives from the US, totalling hundreds of billions over the decades, as untouchable. Attempts by US presidents, such as former President George H W Bush, to make aid conditional on change in Israeli behaviour by discontinuing its sprawling settlement construction, has been fatal to his re-election.
In ugly rhetoric that appears to mirror the ongoing assault on British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who, like his ideological counterpart in the sates is a strong critic of Israel, Sanders is being gunned down by Israeli officials at every opportunity.
Speaking at a gala event held by the Zionist Organisation of America in New York City yesterday evening, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon mocked Sanders. "Mr. Sanders, a few months on a kibbutz in 1963 can only teach you so much," taunted Danon.
Repeating the common Israeli propaganda line that the Palestinians have turned Gaza into a haven for terrorism following Israel's withdrawal in 2005, Danon said: "Perhaps Mr. Sanders didn't hear about Israel leaving Gaza in 2005," the ambassador said. "Maybe he hasn't had the chance to visit the Kerem Shalom crossing, where hundreds of trucks pass daily to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza. Maybe he doesn't know about the terror tunnels."
Although Sanders did not say that US aid should go to Hamas, Danon went on to distort the senator's comments. "He [Sanders] is suggesting to give less military assistance to the United States' most important ally in the Middle East in order to give it to Hamas, a terrorist organisation that celebrated the tragedy of 9/11. Let me assure you my friends, we will never let that happen," Danon told the audience. "We will fight against these radical voices."
It's been suggested that the Democrats are becoming split on the issue of Israel with a number of candidates seeking to take a harder line. Sanders' running mate Elizabeth Warren has also said that she would halt aid to Israel if it did not stop building settlements. A number of commentators have suggested that this reflects a growing trend amongst America's new generation, including young Jewish voters, who see a yawning chasm between their progressive liberal values and policies of a country that has denied 12 million people their universally recognised right to self-determination by illegally entrenching its occupation.