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Bernie Squares the Circle

By Robert Jennings

Senator Bernie Sanders wowed those assembled at the J Street conference on Monday, Feb. 27. [Click here for the JTA news report, and click here to read his text at]

This is from an article by an Arab American impressed with Sen. Sanders’ speech:

For so long, the idea that one could condemn Israel’s military and political actions against Arabs while supporting the Jewish state’s right to existence seemed impossible, and Sanders’ statement finally makes it clear that being pro-Palestine doesn’t have to attempt to delegitimize Israel.

We need Bernie. We need optimism. We need a moral center, not just a strategy. Yes, we need to be pragmatic, but we can’t let it overwhelm our ideals. And we can’t let our commitment to a Jewish homeland (and against the hardcore anti-normalization of the official BDS movement) allow us to dismiss the need for outreach to Arabs, Muslims, and Palestinians who are willing to dialogue with us.

What I was struck with is Bernie’s confidence. For him, Israel simply is legitimate. To acknowledge the Nakba and begin to work out what that might mean ethically does not in any way negate Israel’s legitimacy as a national home for the Jewish people, nor American support for its right to defend its citizens. This contrasts with the paranoia of Netanyahu, who constantly demands reaffirmation that Israel is legitimate and will be defended.

My hunch is that only Bernie has the political capital and rhetorical genius as both a pro-Palestinian progressive and a pro-Israel Jew to convert anti-Zionists to accepting Israel’s legitimacy, simply by declaring it–and the responsibilities that come with it–not by demanding it.

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