The foreign policy divide between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could not have been more obvious than in last week’s debate in Brooklyn when the moderator brought forward the issue of Israel and Palestine. The answers they gave not only revealed differing emphases among two politicians who both strongly identify as being “pro-Israel,” it revealed a striking contrast regarding the role the United States should play as a mediator in international conflicts and attitudes towards international humanitarian law.
Referring to the fighting between Israeli and Hamas forces during the summer of 2014, Bernie Sanders reiterated both his longstanding position condemning Hamas rocket attacks on Israel and supporting Israel’s right to self-defense. But he also declared that the killing of nearly 1,500 Palestinian civilians by Israel during that fifty-day conflict represented a “disproportionate” use of force.
Comparable observations were made at that time by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Secretary of State John Kerry, UN ambassador Samantha Power, senior White House official Valerie Jarrett, the U.S. State Department, the leading Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, and the Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence, as did—as Sanders put it—“countries all over the world.”
But Hillary Clinton refused to acknowledge that Israel had done anything wrong, responding “You have a right to defend yourself,” even though Sanders was not disputing that. She insisted the civilian deaths were because of “the way that Hamas places its weapons” and that Hamas “often has its fighters in civilian garb.” However, independent human rights investigators found very few of the Palestinian civilian deaths were a result of such actions.