Trying to put an end to a barrage of attacks by pro-Israel groups and officials, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders issued a statement making clear he did not intend to state that Israel killed more than 10,000 Palestinian civilians during the 2014 Gaza war.
“The idea that Sen. Sanders stated definitely that 10,000 Palestinians were killed is just not accurate and a distortion of that discussion,” Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs said in a statement. “Bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be easy. It would help if candidates’ positions on this issue are not distorted.”
The clarification followed a phone conversation between Sanders and Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League who had publically urged Sanders to correct his comment. “The senator assured me that he did not mean his remarks to be a definitive statement and that he would make every effort to set the record straight, Greenblatt said in a statement, adding: “We appreciate his responsiveness on this issue, especially at a time when there are many false and incendiary reports blaming Israel for applying disproportionate force in its struggle for self-defense.”
Israeli elected officials were less generous with Sanders after hearing of his factually incorrect comment regarding the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza. Zeev Elkin, who serves as minister of immigration absorption in the Israeli cabinet called Sanders’ comments “weird and loony.” Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and is now a member of Knesset in Netanyahu’s coalition said Sanders should apologize for what Oren described as a “blood libel.”
While Sanders, in his statement, sought to explain his inaccuracy when talking about the number of Palestinians killed by Israelis, he stopped short of apologizing for the mistake.
The explanation of Sanders’ inflated estimate of the Palestinian death toll provided by Briggs was that the senator’s recollection “was about the total number of casualties, not the death toll.”
According to the United Nations, 2,104 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza war, most of them civilians, and another 10,000 were wounded. Briggs noted that once Sanders was made aware by his interviewer that his estimate was mistaken, he “immediately accepted that correction and the discussion moved on to other topics.”
Sander’s interview with the New York Daily News editorial board, which has been described as “close to a disaster” exposed the Vermont senator’s lack of detailed plans for implementing his campaign promises on many key issues. It also irked pro-Israel activists who not only took issue with Sander’s misrepresentation of the Gaza death toll but also of his claim that Israel’s use of force was disproportionate and that all Israeli settlements in the West Bank should be removed as part of an Israeli – Palestinian peace deal.
Sanders, in his statement, reached back again to his past as a volunteer on an Israeli kibbutz in the 1960s to establish his pro-Israel credentials. “Sen. Sanders, as a young man, spent months in Israel and, in fact, has family living there now,” the campaign statement read. “There is no candidate for president who will be a stronger supporter of Israel’s right to exist in freedom, peace and security.”
Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman