Ahead of the April 19 New York State Primary, the gloves came off between the two contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Secretary of State and New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, at what is being called “The Brooklyn Brawl” – the Democratic Debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The confrontation was the most contentious to date, but still substantive with both candidates making strong arguments on major issues.
Here are annotated highlights from the “Brooklyn Brawl” – the debate between Democratic contenders for the nomination for president, former Secretary of State and New York State Senator Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, based on a transcript provided by CNN, the news organization that hosted the debate, April 14.
Of all the issues raised during the Brooklyn debate, the only one of particular importance to the New York primary voters raised concerned US-Israel Relations. It also inspired surprising reaction from the audience.
BLITZER: Senator, let’s talk about the U.S. relationship with Israel. Senator Sanders, you maintained that Israel’s response in Gaza in 2014 was, quote, “disproportionate and led to the unnecessary loss of innocent life.” (APPLAUSE) What do you say to those who believe that Israel has a right to defend itself as it sees fit?
SANDERS: Well, as somebody who spent many months of my life when I was a kid in Israel, who has family in Israel, of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attack. That is not a debate. (APPLAUSE)
“But — but what you just read, yeah, I do believe that. Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. But we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.
“Now, if you’re asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was, and let me say something else. (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING) As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run — and this is not going to be easy, God only knows, but in the long run if we are ever going to bring peace to that region which has seen so much hatred and so much war, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity. (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
“So what is not to say — to say that right now in Gaza, right now in Gaza unemployment is s somewhere around 40%. You got a log of that area continues, it hasn’t been built, decimated, houses decimated health care decimated, schools decimated. I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people. That does not make me anti-Israel. That paves the way, I to an approach that works in the Middle East.” (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
BLITZER: Secretary Clinton, do you agree with Senator Sanders that Israel overreacts to Palestinians attacks, and that in order for there to be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel must, quote, end its disproportionate responses?
CLINTON: I negotiated the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in November of 2012. I did it in concert with (APPLAUSE) President Abbas of the Palestinian authority based in Ramallah, I did it with the then Muslim Brotherhood President, Morsi, based in Cairo, working closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet. I can tell you right now I have been there with Israeli officials going back more than 25 years that they do not seek this kind of attacks. They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages. (APPLAUSE)
“They do not believe that there should be a constant incitement by Hamas aided and abetted by Iran against Israel. And, so when it came time after they had taken the incoming rockets, taken the assaults and ambushes on their soldiers and they called and told me, I was in Cambodia, that they were getting ready to have to invade Gaza again because they couldn’t find anybody to talk to tell them to stop it, I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated that.
“So, I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself. [She said with increasing assertiveness.] (APPLAUSE)
“That does not mean — that does not mean that you don’t take appropriate precautions. And, I understand that there’s always second guessing anytime there is a war. It also does not mean that we should not continue to do everything we can to try to reach a two-state solution, which would give the Palestinians the rights and…”
BLITZER: … Thank you…
CLINTON: … just let me finish. The rights and the autonomy that they deserve. And, let me say this, if Yasser Arafat had agreed with my husband at Camp David in the Late 1990s to the offer then Prime Minister Barat put on the table, we would have had a Palestinian state for 15 years. (APPLAUSE) (CHEERING)
“…of course there have to be precautions taken but even the most independent analyst will say the way that Hamas places its weapons, the way that it often has its fighters in civilian garb, it is terrible. (AUDIENCE REACTION)
“I’m not saying it’s anything other than terrible…remember, Israel left Gaza. They took out all the Israelis. They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people. And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza.
“So instead of having a thriving economy with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven that is getting more and more rockets shipped in from Iran and elsewhere.”
Sanders then attacked Clinton for not “discussing the needs of the Palestinian people,” in her speech to AIPAC, the American-Jewish organization that lobbies on behalf of Israel.
CLINTON: Well, if I — I want to add, you know, again describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it. And I have been involved, both as first lady with my husband’s efforts, as a senator supporting the efforts that even the Bush administration was undertaking, and as secretary of state for President Obama, I’m the person who held the last three meetings between the president of the Palestinian Authority and the prime minister of Israel.
“There were only four of us in the room, Netanyahu, Abbas, George Mitchell, and me. Three long meetings. And I was absolutely focused on what was fair and right for the Palestinians.
“I was absolutely focused on what we needed to do to make sure that the Palestinian people had the right to self-government. And I believe that as president I will be able to continue to make progress and get an agreement that will be fair both to the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever, ever undermining Israel’s security.” (APPLAUSE)
SANDERS: There comes a time — there comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”
CLINTON: If you are from whatever perspective trying to seek peace, trying to create the conditions for peace when there is a terrorist group embedded in Gaza that does not want to see you exist, that is a very difficult challenge.
Sanders Strategist Weighs In
In the spin room after the debate, Sanders’ campaign strategist Tad Devine was asked whether Sanders’ comments about Israel could get him into trouble in New York?
“The thing about Bernie Sanders is he doesn’t give answers to seek political advantage. He says what he believes. And I think he believes sincerely – and this is from someone who is Jewish, someone who spent 6 months on a kibbutz in Israel, who has a number of family members there – he believes the best way forward for peace is the one he described tonight. I would just suggest that the answers he gives not just on that issue, but a number of issues, are not given for political calculation but are given because this is what he believes.”
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When Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Obama earlier this month, it was their first face-to-face meeting in a year.
The meeting promised to re-set the relationship between the United States and Israel.
This includes the pragmatic realization that it is highly unlikely that a two-state solution will be achieved during the remaining time of Obama’s Administration.
“We are reassessing given the fact that the landscape is different, and that we’ve reached that conclusion,” Rob Malley, NSC Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf Region, said during a press call previewing the meeting. “The President has reached that conclusion that right now — baring a major shift — that the parties are not going to be in a position to negotiate a final status agreement.
“We can’t be satisfied with the status quo, so we have to find ways of making sure that the situation on the ground does not lead to confrontation, but that also we can preserve the option of the two-state solution and try to find ways to move in that direction, despite the current context.”
Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, added, “the fact that we have the realistic assessment that we’re not looking at a very near-term conclusion of negotiations toward the two-state solution in no way diminishes our very fervent belief that a two-state solution is the one way to achieve the lasting peace, security and dignity that the Israeli and Palestinian people deserve.
“And frankly, it continues to be the President’s view that the urgency of moving in the direction of a two-state solution very much remains in part because of what you’re seeing in the facts on the ground, and the demography, and the development of technology, all of which complicates both the security picture and the ability to move swiftly at the appropriate time towards the achievement of a two-state solution. Clearly, settlements, continued settlement activity complicates both the trust that is necessary to move in the direction of peace and could very practically complicate the achievement of a viable Palestinian state.”
Indeed, it was Netanyahu’s zeal to build settlements in the West Bank – even launching an initiative while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting, without any prior warning – that initially caused the strained relations between the two leaders. That was vastly compounded by Obama’s pursuit of the Iran nuclear deal.
Netanyahu has sorely tested the relationship with Obama, especially in his address to the joint sessionof Congress. This was especially foolhardy when, over its entire existence, Israel would have seemed to be totally on the receiving end of the bargain.
But the situation now has changed vastly as it has become clear that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not the primary factor in the the explosion of violence throughout the Middle East and into Africa, and the realization that the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is not really about territory.
A couple of weeks ago, there were two events in Great Neck in support of Israel: a rally brought out about 500 people from across the spectrum of the Jewish community, to show solidarity with Israel over the uptick in terror attacks and to demand the Obama Administration hold the Palestinians accountable for incitement. The rally was followed that evening with a speech by Ambassador Ido Aharoni of Israel at Great Neck Synagogue.
“We have a simple message; Israel wants peace. Unfortunately we do not have peace or security,” Andrew Gross, political adviser to deputy consul general of Israel, declared at the rally. “We are facing an unprecedented situation, when a 13 year old Palestinian kid feels is right to kill another 13 year old Israeli boy riding bicycle. Why are Palestinian children killing? Because of a culture of hate, incitement festering in Palestinian Authority for decades.
“Let’s be clear who are the perpetrators and who the victims. The victims are Israelis, Jews and Israeli Arabs who are going about their lives. The perpetrators are Arabs who are attacking and are sometimes killed in the process. But we won’t apologize for defending ourselves….We need American support.”
Gross, who is originally from New Jersey, later told me “The international community needs to call up Palestinian Authority President Abbas to stop the incitement. Kerry has been helpful – Israel appreciates the fact he has taken time to engage.”
The violence, he said, “is a product of years and years of irresponsible leadership, fostering culture of hatred. Never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
“The real question is why Abbas continues to reject offer to Netanyahu to meet with him.
Netanyahu has made clear Israel wants peace- ready to begin negotiations without preconditions.” Despite his pronouncements during his reelection campaign, and the retreat now from negotiations, Netanyahu’s official policy,” he said, “is a two state solution.”
There is more behind suspending movement toward negotiations, besides the fact that Israel has never had a honest “partner” in negotiations, and the latest upsurge in terror attacks.
It is the realization that “land for peace” will not end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. That illusion has been shattered by the Palestinian Authority’s rejection of every territorial accommodation Israel has made, going back to the Camp David Accord in 2000, the complete withdrawal from Gaza, and then the 2008, Olmert’s proposal that would have returned 100% of the territory taken in the 1967 Six Day War, only to be answered by the Palestinian leader:’ I’ll get back to you.’ And never did,” Ambassador Ido Aharoni said at the Great Neck Synagogue.
“For many years we were told that the root cause for all instability in the Middle East is Israel-Palestinian conflict, but look around Middle East, it has nothing to do with Israel-Palestinians and everything to do with two things,” Aharoni said, pointing to the 1500 year old rift between Shiites and Sunnis and the way that colonial powers sliced and diced the Middle East after World War I “completely ignoring ethnic, religious and tribal affiliations. What we are seeing now is a new region realigning itself according t o ethnic, tribal, and religious lines, and this realignment is very painful, violent, brutal.
“Syria is disintegrating.. Because of Syria vulnerability, many regional and international powers trying to put their foot on ground – Iran is heavily, now Russia is getting in. ISIS identified Syria as a fertile ground to instill Sunni pride – and all in all 20 different groups.
“It’s very confusing. In America, you used to think about confrontations between good guys and bad guys. But here’s the challenge: ISIS is killing Al Qaeda, is that good or bad? ISIS is killing Hezbollah, is that good or bad.?”
In this context, Israel has more to contribute to the US-Israel relationship than merely being on the receiving end of American largesse.
These issues were manifest during the meeting this week between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
“This is going to be an opportunity for the Prime Minister and myself to engage in a wide-ranging discussion on some of the most pressing security issues that both our countries face,” President Obama said. “It’s no secret that the security environment in the Middle East has deteriorated in many areas. And as I’ve said repeatedly, the security of Israel is one of my top foreign policy priorities. And that has expressed itself not only in words, but in deeds.
Obama went on, “We have closer military and intelligence cooperation than any two administrations in history. The military assistance that we provide we consider not only an important part of our obligation to the security of the state of Israel, but also an important part of U.S. security infrastructure in the region, as we make sure that one of our closest allies cannot only protect itself but can also work with us in deterring terrorism and other security threats.
“In light of what continues to be a chaotic situation in Syria, this will give us an opportunity to discuss what’s happening there. We’ll have an opportunity to discuss how we can blunt the activities of ISIL, Hezbollah and other organizations in the region that carry out terrorist attacks…
“We’ll also have a chance to talk about how implementation of the Iran nuclear agreement is going. It’s no secret that the prime minister and I have had a strong disagreement on this narrow issue. But we don’t have a disagreement on the need to make sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, and we don’t have a disagreement about the importance of us blunting the destabilizing activities in Iran that may be taking place.”
“And we will also have an opportunity to discuss some of the concerns that both of us have around violence in the Palestinian Territories. I want to be very clear that we condemn in the strongest terms Palestinian violence against innocent Israeli citizens. And I want to repeat once again, it is my strong belief that Israel has not just the right, but the obligation to protect itself.
“I also will discuss with the Prime Minister his thoughts on how we can lower the temperature between Israelis and Palestinians, how we can get back on a path towards peace, and how we can make sure that legitimate Palestinian aspirations are met through a political process, even as we make sure that Israel is able to secure itself.”
Netanyahu then stated, “We are obviously tested today in the instability and insecurity in the Middle East, as you described it. I think everybody can see it — with the savagery of ISIS, with the aggression and terror by Iran’s proxies and by Iran itself. And the combination of turbulence has now displaced millions of people, has butchered hundreds of thousands. And we don’t know what will transpire.
“And I think this is a tremendously important opportunity for us to work together to see how we can defend ourselves against this aggression and this terror; how we can roll back. It’s a daunting task.
“Equally, I want to make it clear that we have not given up our hope for peace. We’ll never give up the hope for peace. And I remain committed to a vision of peace of two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.
“I don’t think that anyone should doubt Israel’s determination to defend itself against terror and destruction, and neither should anyone doubt Israel’s willingness to make peace with any of its neighbors that genuinely want to achieve peace with us. And I look forward to discussing with you practical ways in which we can lower the tension, increase stability, and move towards peace.
“And finally, Mr. President, I want to thank you for your commitment to further bolstering Israel’s security in the memorandum of understanding that we’re discussing. Israel has shouldered a tremendous defense burden over the years, and we’ve done it with the generous assistance of the United States of America. And I want to express my appreciation to you and express the appreciation of the people of Israel to you for your efforts in this regard during our years of common service and what you’re engaging in right now — how to bolster Israel’s security, how to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge so that Israel can, as you’ve often said, defend itself, by itself, against any threat.
“So for all these reasons, I want to thank you again for your hospitality, but even more so for sustaining and strengthening the tremendous friendship and alliance between Israel and the United States of America.”
What’s significant is that the US-Israel role is less about propping up Israel, than in maintaining a vital alliance in the fight against violent Islamic extremism. It changes the dynamic from only what Israel can take from the US, to how the US can also benefit from having a strong ally in the region that for the most part, shares our value system.
But Israel still needs to be more judicious about how it struts around.
Rabbi Dale Polakoff introduced Ambassador Aharoni saying, “He has spent his career working on improving the name of Israel – the brand of Israel – throughout the world – fighting against difficult odds . He accomplished a tremendous amount.”
I have to disagree. It seems almost impossible but over the last 30 years, Israel has managed to be painted in the eyes of the world not as the victim of Arab aggression and incessant terrorism, not as the proponent of peace, willing to give up (and give back) land legitimately won and needed to provide a security rim, in exchange for security, but has become the aggressor, the occupier.
Here in America, we have to fight with our own liberals and progressives who inexplicably have taken up the cause of the Palestinians as a pathetic, impoverished people.
It is very disturbing that the National Press Club in Washington DC will be the venue for a day-long conference “Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?” co-sponsored by the American Educational Trust, publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy.
Timed to take place two days before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) holds its annual policy conference, “keynote speakers will analyze the enormous impact Israel’s influence has on Congress, establishment media, academia and other major institutions. They will explore the costs and benefits in terms of foreign aid and covert intelligence, foreign policy, America’s regional and global standing, and unbiased news reporting.”
The group goes on to note, “American taxpayers provide Israel with more than $3.1 billion annually in military aid. Since 1948 Israel has received far more than any other country, despite polls showing that most Americans oppose such aid. Israel and its U.S. supporters are now lobbying for a $1 billion increase–to $4.5 billion yearly–as ‘compensation’ for the recently concluded nuclear deal with Iran, despite Israel and its lobby’s overt attempts to prevent it..
“In 2001 Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who characterized the 9/11 attacks on America as “good” for Israel, stated, ‘I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.’
“The lobby in charge of moving America is vast and powerful. It will raise and spend another estimated $4.1 billion in 2016 charitable contributions to indirectly subsidize Israeli institutions such as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), finance U.S. Israel advocacy, lobby local, state and federal officials, and support Israel-centric “education” programs.
The notice goes on to state, “Some of this ‘education’ supports pro-Israel programs in schools, colleges and universities. It also covers training federal and local law enforcement officials to focus on American Muslim and Arab communities as potential terrorist and ‘violent extremist’ threats.”
This is what Israel needs to contend with, and why it is important for Israel to demonstrate that it isn’t just taking from the United States, but now occupies a key place in this global crisis.
The reason for this is laid on pervasive anti-Semitism and The Media which is an agent of anti-Semitism.
In fact, Netanyahu has been a disaster for Israel’s image in the world, and provided fuel to progressives’ fire.
It’s one thing to have such a man among your advisers, but to have him as the “face” of Israel in the world? A diplomat to be so extraordinarily undiplomatic?
Aharoni talked about Israel’s “brand.” It is significantly in need of improvement.
Israel must depend more than ever on the United States as its singular ally of any substance in the world, continually fending off efforts to delegitimize Israel’s existence.
“This administration has repeatedly stood up against the delegitimization of Israel, including under Secretary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, with respect to the Goldstone report, with respect to the response to the incident with the flotilla that was trying to reach Gaza,” Rhodes said. “And in the aftermath of that tenure, under Secretary Kerry at the State Department, we’ve continued to stand up against efforts to delegitimize Israel, including through BDS. So there’s been a very consistent diplomatic effort by this administration at various international fora to oppose one-sided efforts to single out Israel or to delegitimize Israel in any way.”