Bernie Sanders Accuses Israel Of Ethnic Cleansing In Gaza's 'Humanitarian Disaster'

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Sunday accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians in Gaza ― upping his rhetoric against the U.S.-funded military offensive in the enclave that has been underway for nearly seven months.

CNN’s “State of the Union” show was Sanders’ first time using the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, where soldiers have killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, wounded more than 75,000, displaced most of the population, destroyed cultural, medical and educational infrastructure, and created a famine by blocking most aid from entering the territory.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that what Netanyahu is doing now ― displacing 80% of the population in Gaza ― is ethnic cleansing,” Sanders told CNN host Dana Bash. “That’s what it is, pushing out huge numbers of people.”

He added: “I think I, and a majority of the American people, do not want to be complicit in the humanitarian disaster that Netanyahu is causing in Gaza right now.”

The decision to use the term to describe the crisis in Gaza is an escalation of Sanders’ criticism of the U.S. government’s role in supporting the deadly military campaign, which began Oct. 7 after Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people and resulted in about 250 people being taken hostage. Half of the hostages were released during a temporary halt in fighting, and about 30 of those remaining are presumed dead.

Both Israel and Hamas appear to be nowhere close to a deal that would allow a permanent cease-fire, the return of hostages and the flow of humanitarian aid.

The Biden administration has continued to send billions in military aid to Israel, despite growing opposition from various Democratic lawmakers and from many everyday Americans ― including college students across the country who are protesting Israel’s military campaign, Israeli soldiers’ use of U.S. weapons to kill Palestinians, and universities’ financial ties to Israel.

“Let’s take a deep look beyond the protests: How do the American people feel about U.S. military aid to the Netanyahu government?” Sanders asked, after having to repeatedly redirect Bash’s questions about student demonstrations and refocus the conversation on the humanitarian crisis itself.

“What Netanyahu is trying to do very clearly is to say, ‘Anybody who criticizes what Israel is doing, you are antisemitic.’ Well, are there some antisemites? Well, you just saw one, yeah,” the senator continued, referring to a clip Bash played of what she said was a protester calling for the death of Zionists.

“But what I’m saying is, if you look at the polling, the vast majority of the American people are disgusted with Netanyahu’s war machine in Gaza,” Sanders said. “And they do not want further U.S. military aid to his government.”

Tensions between Sanders and Netanyahu have soared as the senator continues to call out the prime minister for his military campaign. In response to what he called “horrific” campus protests, Netanyahu described student protesters of all races, ethnicities and religions as “antisemitic mobs.”

Viral clips have emerged of individuals making antisemitic comments, but protest organizers have condemned such remarks and, in some cases, attributed them to counterprotesters or outside agitators. Most photos and videos of the protests show students peacefully demonstrating before law enforcement arrives.

“Mr. Netanyahu, antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to many millions of people,” Sanders, who is Jewish and whose father’s family was killed in the Holocaust, said last week in a video addressed to the prime minister. “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.”

Despite a growing number of U.S. officials speaking out against Israel’s military campaign, most are still hesitant to use terms like “apartheid,” “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide,” language that is particularly freighted when discussing a state that was established for Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Sanders said he believes the question of whether “genocide” is an applicable term should be determined by international courts.

South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians, a charge that Israel vehemently denies. That case is currently sitting before the International Court of Justice. A bombshell United Nations report also concluded that Israel’s actions in Gaza constitute genocide.

Multiple human rights groups have released reports that say Israel has long been committing apartheid against Palestinians, not just in Gaza but also in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.