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David Cohen

Bernie Sanders says Senate should use aid package to force Israel to change

Sen. Bernie Sanders arrives for a classified briefing for senators on Israel and Gaza at the Capitol on Oct. 18, 2023. | Nathan Howard/AP

Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday the United States should use aid to Israel as leverage to force its government to change its approach.

"If you want this money, you got to change your military strategy, Sanders (I-Vt.) said on CNN's "State of the Union" when asked about a possible aid package for Israel to be considered by the Senate.

But the two senators who followed Sanders on that program were much more concerned about what Iran might be up to than what Israel is doing.

Sanders condemned both Hamas ("an awful terrorist organization") and the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (whom he hopes will be voted out), calling for a two-state solution to the intractable crisis but not specifying how to create a path forward without Hamas, Netanyahu or war.

Saying "Hamas has got to go," Sanders said Israel needed to "go after Hamas but do not kill innocent men, women and children."

He emphasized: "We've got to stop the bombing now."

When pressed by host Dana Bash on how it would be possible to destroy Hamas without inflicting some level of civilian casualties, Sanders said military experts would be needed to explain that.

Sanders supported former President Barack Obama's recent statements about how the situation in the Middle East required introspection and nuanced analysis. “If you want to solve the problem, then you have to take in the whole truth. And you then have to admit nobody’s hands are clean, that all of us are complicit to some degree,” Obama said in a recent interview.

Sanders backed Obama's characterization of the situation as "a very complex issue."

While decrying empty slogans on both sides of the conflict, Sanders also declined to endorse or condemn Rep. Rashida Tlaib's (D-Mich.) criticism of President Joe Biden — she accused him of supporting "genocide" — even as he said attention needed to be paid to the rhetoric of Republicans on the subject, citing former President Donald Trump.

"If anyone thinks that Trump is going to be better than Biden on this issue or any other issue, for that matter, I think they are sorely mistaken," he said.

The two senators who followed Sanders on "State of the Union" were much more supportive of Israel and offered a different legislative priority, a resolution designed to deter Hezbollah attacks on Israel from Lebanon by threatening Iran, Hezbollah's chief backer.

"It basically says," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said of the resolution to be introduced, "if the war expands, if Hezbollah opens up a second front in the north against Israel in a substantial way, to overwhelm the Iron Dome, then we should hit the Islamic republic of Iran. There is no Hamas without the Ayatollah's support. There's no Hezbollah without the Ayatollah's support."

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said of the resolution: "It's aggressive, but it's absolutely necessary."

Graham rejected criticism of Israel for its conduct of the war, equating it to the way the United States conducted World War II after being attacked by Japan.

"One thing I want to say for sure is Israel is not engaged in genocide," Graham said.

For his part, Blumenthal encouraged a humanitarian pause in the fighting, citing not only the need to help the citizenry of Gaza but also the release of the more than 200 Israeli captives.

He also said a visit to Israel after Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks on civilians in southern Israel, which launched the current fighting, had been eye-opening.

"What we heard and saw was harrowing to us," Blumenthal said.

Speaking on "Fox News Sunday," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) also assailed Hamas but said there could be benefits to working directly with the Palestinian people.

"What we have to do is not speak to Hamas, they are intolerant," he said. "We have to speak to the Palestinian people. We have to give them hope. We have to give them an aspiration so that they will break with Hamas."

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