Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Sunday lambasted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) over the critical comments he recently made about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, describing the presidential candidate as “a liar, an ignorant fool or both.”
Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, Danny Danon offered a searing rebuke to Sanders for calling Netanyahu a “reactionary racist,” according to The Times of Israel.
“Whoever calls the prime minister of Israel a ‘racist’ is either a liar, an ignorant fool or both,” Danon said as he spoke on the first day of the pro-Israel lobbying group’s annual conference. “We don’t want Sanders at AIPAC. We don’t want him in Israel.”
Sanders, one of two Jewish candidates running for president this year, has for years been an outspoken critic of Israel and some of its policies. He said last month that he would not attend the AIPAC conference because the group provided a platform to “leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights.”
Addressing that decision and his past comments about Israel, Sanders emphasized during the Democratic debate in South Carolina that U.S. foreign policy should “absolutely” work to protect the independence and security of Israel.
“I’m very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months. But what I happen to believe is that right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country,” Sanders said.
“You cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people,” he added. “We have got to have a policy that reaches out to the Palestinians.”
Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, called the remarks from Sanders “shocking.” Netanyahu also addressed the remarks, saying, “What I think about this issue is that he is of course wrong, no question.” But he added that he would not intervene in U.S. elections.
AIPAC was founded in 1963 with a mission of promoting the U.S.-Israeli relationship. In recent years, it has faced consistent scrutiny from progressives over its policy stances and support of Netanyahu. The organization dismissed Sanders’s criticism ahead of its annual conference, saying that the senator “has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment.”
“By engaging in such an odious attack on this mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel,” the organization said. “Truly shameful.”
In wake of Danon’s comments at the AIPAC conference, Sanders was asked on CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday whether he felt there would be a “political cost” to taking on the pro-Israel lobby.
“Yeah, I do. They have a lot of money, they have a lot of power,” he said, before stressing that he is not “anti-Israel,” but rather someone who advocates for a foreign policy “that not only protects Israel but deals with the suffering of the Palestinian people as well.”