Target:
Senator Bernie Sanders
Region:
United States of America

The progressive movement and its leaders have a disturbing blind spot in relation to the brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that began after the 1967 Six-Day War and continues to this day. Senator Bernie Sanders, known as a champion of progressive values and goals, recently signed onto a letter from the Senate to the UN Secretary-General complaining, in clear disregard for the facts, that the United Nations is unfairly biased against Israel and calling upon the UN to correct his alleged bias. This action by Senator Sanders was deeply disappointing to many in the progressive movement, and the purpose of this petition is to call on Sanders to rethink his position of this vital issue.


May 15, 2017

Dear Senator Sanders,

We are writing to you as people who supported you wholeheartedly in your 2016 presidential campaign, and who have been inspired and heartened by your voice of honesty and integrity on the issues of equal pay for equal work, the universal right to health care, the urgency of preserving our precious environment, the need for to get money out of politics, the call for a $15.00 minimum wage, and other issues of vital importance.
As individuals who have looked to you for guidance and inspiration, we are troubled and disappointed at your having signed onto the April 27, 2017 letter addressed by the Senate to the UN Secretary-General claiming, in utter disregard of the facts, that the UN has been advancing “an anti-Israel agenda” and thereby reinforcing “the broader scourge of anti-Semitism.” The letter deceptively conflates criticism of Israeli government policy with anti-Semitism. Note that both Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, two of the most outspoken critics of Israel, are themselves Jews, with Finkelstein having lost several members of his family in Nazi concentration camps.
As noted by Michael Brown (https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/michael-f-brown/bernie-sanders-throws-palestinians-under-bus), the claim that the UN is somehow biased against Israel is made despite the fact that “Israel has flouted international law and UN resolutions for decades without ever once being subjected to UN sanctions.” Not surprisingly given its thrust, the Senators’ letter to the UN Secretary-General makes no mention of Israel's brutal military occupation of Palestinian land, which marks its 50th anniversary this June. Nor does it acknowledge Israel's illegal colonization of Palestinian territory through ever-expanding settlements which are in flagrant violation of international law.
The letter also attacks UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, whose woefully inadequate resources mean the difference between life and death for a million Gazans, who have been under a decade-long Israeli siege, while failing to note that UNRWA only exists in the first place because some 80 percent of Palestinians were violently expelled from their homeland in the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing by the Zionist militias that formed the state of Israel. Today, seventy years later, the UN recognizes more than 5 million Palestinian refugees, who also receive no mention in the U.S. senators' letter.
The idea proposed in the Senate’s letter that Israel has been “singled out for special scrutiny” is almost laughable. After taking a sample “word cloud” of the frequency of countries referred to in U.N. press statements throughout 2016, Ben Norton (http://www.alternet.org/grayzone-project/senators-un-letter-israel-palestine-sanders-warren) observes that “Israel barely registered a blip, wedged between Syria and Central-African-Republic.”
As for the focus on Israel’s human rights record by U.N. bodies like the Human Rights Council, it follows logically from the fact that the U.N. Security Council has done virtually nothing to curb Israel’s human rights abuses over the years and decades. Indeed, Norton points out, apart from December 2016, the last time the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution even vaguely condemning Israel was in 2002, when Res. 1397 passed calling for a two-state solution. Apart from these two exceptional instances, the United States has consistently vetoed anything remotely negative concerning Israel, thereby guaranteeing that even Israel’s most flagrant human rights abuses will go unchecked by the only body with the power to actually enforce anything. Since 1972, the US has vetoed no fewer than 42 UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/u-s-vetoes-of-un-security-council-resolutions-critical-to-israel).
Additionally, the Senate’s April 27 letter calls for the elimination or “reform” of U.N. committees which, so it claims, "inspire the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions, and divestment (BDS) movement." BDS is, in fact, a global movement that employs peaceful economic mechanisms to pressure the Israeli government to comply with international law.
Further, the letter applauds the U.N. Secretary-General for withdrawing a March report by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia according to which "Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people, which amounts to the commission of a crime against humanity." Pressure by the U.S. government forced Rima Khalaf, a Jordanian diplomat and the former head of ESCWA, to resign. Khalaf stands by the accuracy of the report and says she has "no regrets." This same ESCWA report was co-written by Richard Falk, a renowned legal scholar who is also Jewish. Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, and former U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories, has flatly rejected the allegation that the U.N. singles out Israel for disproportionate criticism. He has noted that the U.N. and its predecessor, the League of Nations, have failed to fulfill their obligations to the Palestinians. Falk wrote, "If this attention to the case of Israel by the United Nations appears exceptional, therefore, it is only because no comparable linkage exists between United Nations actions and any other prolonged denial to a people of their right of self-determination."
The letter correctly notes that "some of the world's worst human rights violators" sit on the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC). What it does not state is that the U.S. and its allies supported putting some of those violators on said council! Saudi Arabia, for example, has bought well over $100 billion in weapons from the U.S. over the last ten years. In September 2015, the U.S. State Department "welcomed" the appointment of Saudi Arabia, whose laws systematically subjugate women, on the U.N. commission for women's rights. However, Saudi Arabia receives no mention whatsoever in the Senate missive. Instead, its authors insist that UNHRC focus its attentions on the human rights violations committed by U.S. enemies Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Venezuela. This double standard alone should expose the political bias of the senators' letter.
Where is the Bernie Sanders who, during the Palestinian uprising in 1988, blasted Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinian protesters as “an absolute disgrace” after Israeli soldiers were filmed methodically breaking the limbs of Palestinian youths on the orders of then defense minister Yitzhak Rabin? What happened between that time and Israel’s bloody rampage in Gaza in August 2014, which you were strangely unwilling to condemn? During the euphemistically termed “Operation Protective Edge” of 2014, 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians, among them 551 children. More than 11,000 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children, were injured with almost 10 percent suffering permanent disabilities. By contrast, a total of 6 Israeli civilians were killed in the same conflict, with approximately 60 Israeli soldiers killed while fighting the Palestinian resistance.
A recent University of Maryland poll shows that 56 percent of Democrats back sanctions or more serious action against Israel. It also indicates that a majority of Americans – 54 percent – wants the US to be even-handed between Israelis and Palestinians. That figure soars to 72 percent among Democrats. However, while you speak of being even-handed, you are actually moving in the opposite direction by signing onto the AIPAC-endorsed letter and opposing BDS. It is not enough for you to be progressive on everything except Palestine.
Therefore, we call on you, Bernie, to live up to your ideals on this most crucial issue: for the sake of the millions of Palestinians who have been robbed for the last fifty to seventy years of their freedom and dignity; for the sake of the millions of ordinary Americans whose needs for high-quality education, affordable health care and countless other services are deemed less important by our Government than perpetuating an unjust, cruel occupation of Palestinians’ land to the tune of $3 billion of US taxpayers’ money every year; and for the sake of all the US citizens who look to you for moral leadership at a time when such leadership is a precious rarity in our nation, and when, without such leadership, our future as a nation is bleak indeed.
We are counting on you.
Most sincerely,

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