Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders defended himself Sunday against attacks by the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon, who denounced the senator for criticizing the country's prime minister.
Sanders has often criticized Israel's policy toward Palestinians, particularly those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as being racist and inhumane. Speaking at the annual AIPAC conference in Washington on Sunday morning, Danon dug into Sanders for the criticism, saying: "We don't want Sanders at AIPAC. We don't want him in Israel. Anyone who calls our prime minister a 'racist' is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both."
Netanyahu is up for his third consecutive election on Monday — two previous elections have left neither Netanyahu nor leading rival Benny Gantz with sufficient support to form a government. In last week’s Democratic Party debate in Charleston, S.C., Sanders said of Netanyahu: “In Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country.”
Speaking Sunday on CBS “Face the Nation,“ Sanders said he wholeheartedly supports Israel and would do "everything I can to protect the independence and the security and the freedom of the Israeli people."
Still, he said, "what we need in this country is a foreign policy that not only protects Israel, but deals with the suffering of the Palestinian people as well."
Sanders, who lived in Israel during the 1960s, cited the high youth unemployment in the Gaza Strip and the lack of mobility for Palestinians in the area.
When asked whether he saw a political cost in antagonizing the pro-Israel lobby, the Vermont senator said he does, but that doesn't erase his pride in his Jewish heritage and his support for peace in the region.
"I am pro-Israel. I am pro-Palestinian," Sanders said. "I want to bring people together to finally achieve peace in that region."