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Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada says that in spite of the mounting denunciation of Israel’s war on Gaza in 2014, Hillary Clinton continues to defend it

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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.   During the Democratic debate on Thursday night in New York City, there was a heated exchange between Clinton and Sanders about whether Israel used disproportionate force in the summer of 2014. That is in the 50 Day War against Palestinians living in the Gaza strip. Let me remind everyone that according to the UN, that war killed 2,131 Palestinians in the 50 days. 1,473 were civilians including 501 kids/children and 257 women. And it left 1,500 children orphaned. During the same period, 71 Israelis were killed by Palestinians and that included 66 soldiers and 4 civilians. Now getting back to the debate last night, let’s have a look at how each of the Democratic candidates responded to this question of proportionality posed by Wolf Blitzer of CNN. WOLF BLITZER: Senator Sanders you maintain that Israel’s response in Gaza in 2014 was quote “disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of innocent life.” What do you say to those who believe that Israel has a right to defend itself as it sees fit? BERNIE SANDERS: Well, as somebody who’s spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate. But what you just read, I do believe that, Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But 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. Now if you’re asking me, not just me but countries all over the world, was that a disproportionate attack? The answer is I believe it was. And let me say something else… HILLARY CLINTON: The way that Hamas places its weapons, the way that it often has its fighters in civilian garb, it is terrible. I’m not saying it’s anything other than terrible. But it would be great, remember Israel left Gaza. They took out all the Israelis. They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people and what happened? Hamas took over Gaza. So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere. PIERES: Joining us now from Chicago to discuss this is Ali Abunimah. Ali is co-founder of the award-winning online publication The Electronic Intifada. His latest book is The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Ali, good to have you with us. ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you Sharmini, it’s great to be back. PERIES: So Ali, let me get your reaction to the two candidates’ response to this question of disproportionality. ABUNIMAH: I mean, let’s start with Hillary. She repeated in that clip and throughout their exchanged every discredited lie and propaganda point from Israel’s most extreme and most racist government. I mean, even in that little clip she claims Hamas took over Gaza. She neglects to say that Hamas won an election that the United States demanded the Palestinians have and they won it fair and square. She repeats these discredited lies that Hamas is using Palestinians as human shields and that somehow justifies or excuses all the deaths that you listed in the introduction. And of course there’s mountains of evidence discrediting these lies, from the Independent Human Rights Council Inquiry to Amnesty International, to Human Rights Watch, to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, to even Israeli human rights groups. But that didn’t stop Hillary beating up on dead Palestinians and repeating these discredited lies.  What we have from Saunders, on the other hand, was really the minimum we should hear from any honest person talking about this. I mean, frankly, I don’t like the term disproportionate because that suggests that any of Israel’s attacks on Gaza are justified and I think none of them are justified. But that exchange, and it was actually a 10-minute-long exchange, was extraordinary because we’ve never seen a major-party candidate [with] the stature of Bernie Sanders challenge this orthodoxy. He challenged Hillary over her speech at AIPAC recently. He said, you know, Netanyahu’s not always right and for the context of American politics, these were actually pretty extraordinary statements and quite an extraordinary exchange. PERIES: And Ali, we had not had the benefit of having your commentary the last few weeks because you were actually out of the country. But Bernie Sanders did issue a position paper on the Middle East while you were away. I’m wondering whether you had an opportunity to take look at it, giving us a better sense for what his position is when it comes to Israel-Palestine? ABUNIMAH: Well, his position, his long-standing position, going back to the late 1980s and the first Palestinian uprising since the 1967 occupation began, he actually used to say back then, cut off military aid to Israel. More recently his positions have not been so clear. In fact, there is a notorious video clip of him angrily silencing constituents in Vermont who are challenging him of the attack on Gaza. What appears to have happened in the course of the campaign is that Sanders is much more willing to be forthright about criticizing Israel and calling for the way he put it, respect and dignity for the Palestinian people. Even-handedness, that’s another word he used. His positions are sort of standard support -the-two-state-solution positions. In that sense, he’s not very radical. But to say the U.S. should be even-handed, to talk about treating the Palestinians with respect and dignity, you know, again I’m talking about in the context of U.S. politics. Those are definitely pushing the envelope.  It’s also interesting that the other candidate who talked about being even-handed and used the word even-handed is Donald Trump. So what it shows us is these outsider candidates are challenging a bipartisan orthodoxy that says you know it must be Israel, right or wrong. And what’s, I think, significant is that Sanders is doing this with overwhelming support of a new generation that doesn’t buy into Hillary’s extremist Netanyahu right-or-wrong anti-Palestinian position. Sanders has the support of a significant part of the Democratic base to take these kinds of positions. I think they’re actually pushing him because I think if left to his own devices and his own instincts, we’ve seen, he doesn’t go this far. I think he’s reflecting a change in the base of the Democratic party and more widely among young people and people of the United States.  PERIES: I think you’re absolutely right there, because this is the first time I’ve seen a debate within the Democratic party that really takes on Israel. A lot of people referenced the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement as being one of the reasons, which as you said something that’s pushed for by the next generation, by the younger people who are actually supporters of Bernie Sanders, bringing it to the forefront of political debate in this country. I’m wondering whether that resonates with you? ABUNIMAH: Definitely. There was this incident that should be mentioned where the Sanders campaign had appointed an outreach person to the Jewish community who was said to be supportive of BDS and then suspended her apparently, from what I’ve read over a post she’d written some time ago that was very critical of Netanyahu. PERIES: You’re speaking about Simone Zimmerman. ABUNIMAH: Exactly; and, you know, a lot of people pointed to that and said, well that’s inconsistent. But definitely, you know, Simone Zimmerman represents a much broader generational shift where young Americans, including young Jewish Americans, are not succumbing to the appeal of, you know, of sort of knee-jerk support for Israel. What’s also an interesting shift is that what Bernie Sanders did by challenging Hillary over her AIPAC speech is he reflected a much broader shift within the Democratic party that even includes the mainstream Democratic party of starting to view AIPAC as a, really a Republican vehicle. No longer a sort of bipartisan forum where you used to get this parade of Republican and Democrat members of Congress and leaders and so on. We’re seeing more broadly, Democrats turning away from AIPAC and, you know, support for Israel becoming a much more partisan issue.  As it comes to BDS, people signing up, you know, to express their support for BDS in droves because it’s proving successful. We’ve seen big companies pulling out of Israel in recent months and really because it’s the only game in town. Hillary talks about, oh we have to do all we can to help, we can get to peace. But what does she really actually do? All she does is give 100% unconditional support to Israel, to its settlements, to its wars on Gaza. Whereas BDS offers a nonviolent strategy to actually put pressure on Israel to get to something like justice. And Sanders even used the word justice, which has been a total taboo when it comes to talking about Israel-Palestine in mainstream politics.  So, you know, what I don’t want to do is sort of overstate how great Sanders’ personal positions are because I think that they fall short in many ways. But I think what he did last night was significant in making this a big issue and confronting Hillary’s knee-jerk support for Israel head-on. And in reflecting this broader change that’s happening among young people, including a lot of young people who support the Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions and see that now as the real peace process. Not the kind of thing that Hillary’s boasting about that she used to meet with Arafat and she used to meet with [Arbaaz] and this Israeli Prime Minister and that Israeli Prime Minister. I think young people understand that that has only lead to more occupation, more settlements, more apartheid, more death for Palestinians, and they’re signing up to this Palestinian-led BDS movement because they see real hope in it. PERIES: Ali Abunimah, I thank you so much for joining us and there’s a lot more to unpack in terms of the Clinton’s role as well as Bill Clinton’s role in terms of Israel and their allegiance to it, which we hope to do at another time. Thanks so much, Ali. ABUNIMAH: My pleasure. Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.  


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Ali Ahmida is a professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. His specialty is political theory, comparative politics, and historical sociology of power, agency and anti-colonial resistance in North Africa, especially modern Libya. He is the author of The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonization and Resistance (1994) in addition to numerous articles. He is editor of Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the Maghrib: History, Culture and Politics (2000).