Nearly 300 alumni of the presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders are urging the Vermont senator to join calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.
In a letter sent Tuesday, former staffers asked Sanders to introduce a Senate-side companion to the “ceasefire now” resolution in the House; support an end to U.S. funding “for war crimes against the Palestinian people, the expansion of settlements, and the occupation of Palestinian lands”; and to support an end to the blockade of Gaza. The House ceasefire resolution — led by Reps. Cori Bush, D-Mo.; Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; André Carson, D-Ind.; Summer Lee, D-Pa.; and Delia Ramirez, D-Ill. — now has 18 members supporting it.
“President Biden clearly values your counsel, as is shown by the ways you’ve managed to shape the outcomes of his presidency,” the staffers wrote. “We urge you to make it clear what is at stake in this crisis politically, morally, and strategically.” The group also produced a video appealing directly to Sanders.
The Vermont senator has taken to the Senate floor to advocate for humanitarian aid for people in Gaza and urge Israel to allow aid to enter the region, along with calling for a halt from “the bombs and missiles from both sides.” Still, he has not formally endorsed a ceasefire, and his former aides are urging him to introduce a Senate resolution more clearly laying out the case.
For veterans of the Israel-Palestine fight in the United States, Sanders is someone who expanded the boundaries of allowable dissent, but has never been a radical on the question. In the 2016 presidential campaign, his suggestion that the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza had been disproportionate was elevated as an indication that Sanders was heavily critical of Israel. Pressed on his characterization on CNN, Sanders stood by it.
“Was Israel’s response disproportionate? I think it was,” Sanders said. “Israel has a 100 percent — and no one will fight for that principle more strongly than I will — has the right to live in freedom, independently, and in security without having to be subjected to terrorist attacks. But I think that we will not succeed to ever bring peace into that region unless we also treat the Palestinians with dignity and respect, and that is my view.”
CNN’s Jake Tapper noted to Sanders that even that formulation was outside the realm of standard campaign fare. “It is interesting that the first Jew in American history to win a delegate, much less a primary, is taking this position with Israel,” Tapper said to Sanders. “Usually in American politics, everyone just supports Israel whatever Israel wants to do, but you are taking a more critical position.”
“I’m taking a more balanced position,” Sanders responded.
At a presidential debate, advocates of Palestinian human rights cheered when Sanders became effectively the first serious candidate to insist the U.S. “treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.”
“I read Secretary Clinton’s speech before AIPAC. I heard virtually no discussion at all about the needs of the Palestinian people,” Sanders said. “Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but long-term, there will never be peace in that region, unless the United States plays an even-handed role, trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people … There comes a time when, if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”
Because the Israel-Palestine dialogue was so fiercely constrained, Sanders’s intervention may have suggested to his supporters that he was willing to go further on the issue than he actually was. But in 2014, as he made those “disproportionate” comments, Sanders was heckled back home at a Vermont town hall, sparking a testy exchange in which he told voters who wanted stronger condemnation of Israel that they wouldn’t always be satisfied with his answers.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have the magic answer. This is a very depressing and difficult issue. This has gone on for 60 bloody years,” he said. “If you’re asking me, do I have the magical solution, I don’t. That is my answer. I hear that some of you don’t like it. You have better ideas, that’s great.”
In 2020, after former President Donald Trump introduced a “peace plan,” Sanders tweeted that any acceptable proposal “must end the Israeli occupation and enable Palestinian self-determination in an independent state of their own alongside a secure Israel.” In 2021 — amid a flare-up of violence sparked by the eviction of Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Israeli police storming the city’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound — Sanders urged for “an immediate ceasefire” and for the U.S. to “take a hard look at nearly $4 billion a year in military aid to Israel,” out of concern that U.S. aid supports human rights violations.
The letter is part of mounting opposition against the United States’s unconditional support for Israel. Last week, over a dozen former John Fetterman campaign staffers, 411 current congressional staffers, and 260 former Elizabeth Warren presidential campaign staffers issued statements demanding support for a ceasefire (and more have since signed on), while an 11-year State Department official resigned due to his moral disagreements with the Biden administration’s approach to the conflict.
Last week, as the death toll of Israel’s assault in Gaza approached 3,800 people, the progressive polling firm Data for Progress found that 66 percent of all likely voters and 80 percent of Democrats were in favor of a ceasefire. Just days later, as of Tuesday, Israel has killed almost 2,000 more people — at least 5,700 total since October 7 — according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
In the letter, Sanders’s aides said that his advocacy for Palestinian rights was among the major reasons they came to work for him. “Many of us, your former staff, are Muslim and/or Arab, and were inspired to support your campaign because of your calls to end the ‘Forever Wars’ waged against people who look like us and worship like us,” they wrote. “We felt proud to serve a candidate who acknowledged the plight and humanity of Palestinians and who spoke out against the Israeli occupation. Many of us, your former staff, share your Jewish heritage. Like your family, many of our families had entire sections erased from existence by Nazi barbarism in the Holocaust. It is our duty to stand up and say that our pain and sorrow at the losses on October 7 will not be weaponized to justify the ethnic cleansing or genocide of Palestinian civilians.”
“You are the strongest voice in the US Senate on progressive foreign policy,” they added. “We need you to stand up forcefully, as you always have.”