Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) condemned the Israeli response to riots in Gaza and criticized President Donald Trump’s foreign policy during an interview Monday.
Speaking to Mehdi Hasan of the Intercept, Sanders maintained that America needs to dial back its involvement abroad and argued Israel is to blame for violence in Gaza. Hasan said various “human right groups” have accused the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) of committing war crimes.
“Do you believe, as many human rights groups — American, Israeli, Palestinian, European — are saying, that the IDF snipers shooting kids, people in wheelchairs, are those war crimes?” Hasan asked.
“Those are terrible actions,” Sanders said, stopping short of calling them war crimes. “Instead of applauding Israel for its actions, Israel should be condemned. Israel has a right to security, but shooting unarmed protesters is not what it is about.”
The terrorist organization Hamas directed the riots Hasan spoke about, according to the Israeli internal security service Shin Bet. The purpose of the riots is to use civilians to breach a border fence so that Hamas terrorists can enter Israel with cover from the rioting crowd, but Sanders did not address Hamas in his response except when he accidentally referred to Hamas’ “unemployment” crisis.
“When you have a situation in Hamas, where youth unemployment is somewhere around 60 percent,” Sanders said, prompting Hasan to interject.
“Gaza,” Hasan said, correcting Sanders for saying “Hamas.”
After Sanders blamed the violence on economics, Hasan tried to steer the discussion toward the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A ceremony on Monday marked the official opening of the embassy in Jerusalem.
“Today’s violence seems to be almost in direct response to the embassy move — some would say an illegal embassy move — how much do you think Donald Trump is responsible for today’s violence?” Hasan asked.
“It doesn’t matter what it is,” Sanders said. “Obviously Trump is playing a very counterproductive role in every sense.”
Asked about Iran, Sanders said he was worried that closeness with Saudi Arabia could lead to “an Orwellian nightmare of never-ending war.” “We’ve got to do everything we can to prevent that,” Sanders said.
He also signaled his support for the Iran nuclear deal and answered affirmatively to the question of whether European leaders should stand up to Trump.
“I think so; you have got to save the deal,” Sanders said. “It’s not just Europe — the United States Congress has got to reassert its authority over foreign policy.”
Hasan asked if Democrats should campaign against “another illegal war” with Iran, and Sanders said a change of foreign policy was needed.
“The American people do not want us to continue to spend enormous sums of money, put American lives at risk, destabilized the region – we need a change of policy,” Sanders said.
Hasan read questions selected from Intercept Facebook readers that expressed favor for Iran’s claims in the regions, noting some consider it unfair Iran is not allowed a nuclear program to counter Israel’s nuclear weapons and that Iran has good reason not to trust the United States. Hasan nodded along as Sanders said the problems between Iran and the U.S. stem from the CIA overthrowing Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, even though the senator said he did not want Iran or any other country to have nuclear weapons.
Sanders refrained from criticizing Iran and instead went after Saudi Arabia.
“This is a despotic regime run by a number of multi-billionaires,” Sanders said about the Saudis.
Sanders also spoke more broadly about the problems of U.S. involvement in the world.
“We talk about the war on drugs being a failure, well what about the war on terrorism, should we start rethinking that?” Sanders asked.