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Sen. Bernie Sanders earned audience applause and progressive praise Wednesday night for comments on the Democratic debate stage in Atlanta, Georgia endorsing a future U.S. policy that treats Palestinians like human beings.
The Vermont senator’s remarks came—unprompted—during the foreign policy portion of the debate.
“It is no longer good enough for us simply to be pro-Israel. I am pro-Israel,” Sanders said. “But we must treat the Palestinian people with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
“What is going on in Gaza right now, where youth unemployment is 60, 70 percent, is unsustainable,” Sanders added.
The senator’s remarks sparked immediate praise from progressives, political activists, and journalists.
“I just want to make it clear that almost NO ONE in American politics brings up Palestinian human rights without being forced to,” tweeted the Hill‘s Krystal Ball. “MASSIVE KUDOS to Bernie Sanders.”
The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald said on Twitter that Sanders’ answer showed why the senator is unique among the Democratic candidates.
“Is there even a small chance that any candidate other than Sanders would speak so powerfully about the oppression of Palestinians and how it means we need to re-think support for Israel?” asked Greenwald. “I can’t think of one.”
John Cassidy of The New Yorker noted that Sanders has been a longtime supporter of Palestinian rights.
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“Well done Bernie Sanders for bringing up Palestinian rights and the situation in Gaza,” said Cassidy. “He’s been consistent on it.”
Advocacy group IfNotNow’s Yonah Lieberman made sure to credit the longterm grassroots Palestinian rights movement with shifting the U.S. conversation on the conflict.
“The small glimmer of courage we saw on the debate stage is not possible without a powerful grassroots movement making space for leaders to take that clear moral stance, and giving a push to those who aren’t yet ready to do so,” said Lieberman.
Other observers, like Sanders foreign policy advisor Matt Duss, pointed to the positive reaction of the crowd as evidence that the conversation in the Democratic Party on Palestine is changing.
“You hear that applause for Palestinian rights at the Democratic debate?” said Duss. “Yeah you do.”
The Atlantic‘s Peter Beinart said that “the audience cheered when Bernie Sanders spoke about Palestinian rights because ordinary Democrats believe in Palestinian rights.”
“And because they know that, even in the Democratic Party, acknowledging Palestinian humanity requires political courage,” Beinart added.
John Nichols of The Nation said he had never heard a presidential candidate give that impassioned a defense of the Palestinian people.
“Senator Bernie Sanders just gave the best Israel-Palestine answer ever delivered by a serious contender in an American presidential debate,” said Nichols.
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