An Israeli cabinet minister condemned U.S. Democratic Party presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Tuesday for describing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as racist over its treatment of Palestinians.
While enjoying unprecedentedly strong backing from the Republican administration of President Donald Trump, some Israelis have been fretting about whether this comes at the cost of losing traditionally bipartisan support in Washington.
Addressing a televised CNN event alongside other Democratic candidates on Monday, Vermont senator Sanders said he was “100 percent pro-Israel” but proposed changing U.S. policy toward it.
“The goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing, dare I say, racist government,” Sanders said, adding that Netanyahu “is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly”.
Netanyahu was reelected to a fifth term on April 9 and appears likely to build a coalition government including religious ultranationalists opposed to Palestinian statehood.
“We condemn statements like that made by Sanders, which was really strange,” Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister in Netanyahu’s outgoing cabinet and senior member of his conservative Likud party, told Israel’s Reshet 13 TV.
“The Israeli government is not a racist government, nor does it include a single racist minister,” the regional cooperation minister said.
“To be right wing is not illegitimate and it is odd that the Democratic Party allows one of its senior members to not respect the democratic choice of the State of Israel.”
Hanegbi cast his own remarks as specific to Sanders rather than any more generalised criticism of the Democratic Party.
Asked whether Israel risked being seen in the United States as a country championed by Republicans, he said: “We make every effort to avoid this danger because, indeed one of Israel’s greatest advantages over all the years was the ability not to get caught up in the political dispute between the parties.”
U.S. Jews overwhelmingly vote Democratic, studies show, a trend that political analysts say has also contributed to a degree of grassroots disconnect between the allies since Trump’s rise. Sanders is himself Jewish and, in his CNN appearance, noted his past visits to, and relatives living in, Israel.