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Transcript: Senator Bernie Sanders on "Face the Nation," May 23, 2021

Sanders urges "even-handed" U.S. approach to Mideast
Bernie Sanders urges "even-handed" U.S. approach to Israel and Palestinians 07:52

The following is a transcript of an interview with Senator Bernie Sanders that aired Sunday, May 23, 2021, on "Face the Nation."

JOHN DICKERSON: And we go now to Senator Bernie Sanders, who joins us from Burlington, Vermont. Good morning, Senator.


JOHN DICKERSON: I want to start in the Middle East. You have made the case that how the US government responds in this ceasefire period says something about President Biden's commitment to human rights more broadly. And last Sunday, you wrote a piece in The New York Times that said the US must stop being an apologist for the Netanyahu government. Since you wrote that the president has been very supportive of Israel. Do you think the administration is being an apologist for the Netanyahu government?

SEN. SANDERS: Look JOHN, all that I think is that given the incredible suffering in Gaza, where we have a poverty rate of 56%, 70% of the young people are unemployed. And after the Israeli attacks, you have wastewater plants destroyed, clinics destroyed, hospitals destroyed. I think the United States has got to develop a even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have to be pro-Israel, but we have to be pro-Palestinian. And I hope and believe the president understands that. And I was delighted to see that he is moving forward to try to rebuild with the international community,  the destruction- rebuild Gaza after all of that destruction.

JOHN DICKERSON: You mentioned an even-handed approach. When I read a portion of your editorial to Prime Minister Netanyahu, he thought it was preposterous, your claim that he had created the conditions and that- that he'd made peace impossible because he said, how do you have negotiations with Hamas? They are dedicated to the destruction of Israel. President Biden again said that this week when he said, "Until the region says unequivocally they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace." How do you have an even-handed approach to terrorists who want to destroy Israel?

SEN. SANDERS: Well, what you have got to do is also understand that over the years, the Netanyahu government has become extremely right wing and that there are people in the Israeli government now who are overt racists. You have in West Jerusalem people being evicted from their homes. Tremendous pressure on people within Israel, the Arab community, as well as Gaza. So you have a very difficult situation. You have Hamas, a terrorist group. You have a right-wing Israeli government, and the situation is getting worse. And all that I'm saying is that the United States of America has got to be leading the world in bringing people together, not simply supplying weapons to kill children in Gaza. This last series of attacks killed 64 children and destroyed a large part of the infrastructure of Gaza in a community that has already been one of the most uninhabitable territories in the world.

JOHN DICKERSON: You have put forward legislation that would delay the sale of military equipment to Israel. Would you also put the same kind of conditions you'd like to see on that aid to Israel on any aid the US gives through the UN or otherwise to the Palestinians to make sure that Hamas doesn't get any of it?

SEN. SANDERS: Absolutely. Look, Hamas is a terrorist, corrupt, authoritarian group of people, and we have got to stand up to them. But once again, our job is not simply to put more and more military support for Israel. It is to bring people together, and we can't do it alone. We need the international community. But that's what I think we need to be doing.

JOHN DICKERSON: Let me ask you about how this has played out here at home. The Anti-Defamation League says there were 193 reports of anti-Semitic incidents this week, up from 131 the previous week. So that's during this period while the crisis began. In the past, you've said it should be possible to be a critic of Israeli policy, but not be anti-Semitic. But it doesn't seem to be playing out that way with this uptick in random attacks.

SEN. SANDERS: Anti-Semitism is rising in America. It's rising all over the world. That is an outrage. And we have got to combat anti-Semitism. We have to combat the increase in hate crimes in this country, against Asians, against African-Americans, against Latinos. So we got a serious problem of a nation which is being increasingly divided, being led by right wing extremists in that direction.

JOHN DICKERSON: There are a number of liberals who use the word apartheid to describe Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, a number of them liberals in the House who use that language. The executive director of the American Jewish Congress, who handled Jewish outreach for your campaign, has said that that word, Joel Rubin, has said that using that word has increased the level of vitriol that has contributed to this anti-Semitism. Do you think those who- who share your view should not use that kind of language?

SEN. SANDERS: Well, I think we should tone down the rhetoric. I think our goal is very simple. It is to understand that what's going on in Gaza today is unsustainable when you have 70% of the young people unemployed, when people cannot leave the community, when hospitals and wastewater plants have been destroyed. That is unsustainable. And the job of the United States is to bring people together. And that is what we have got to try to do.

JOHN DICKERSON: I want to switch to domestic affairs now. The president and Republicans have been going back and forth on this question of infrastructure. The president made another bid, shortened the price tag a little bit. But the central question of what infrastructure means, Republicans say it roads and bridges. Democrats say it includes lots of other things in the environment, childcare, elder care. Is that difference so big that it can't be fixed through bipartisan negotiations and Democrats should just go it alone?

SEN. SANDERS: Well, look, I think most working-class Americans understand that for the last 40 years, what the government has done is catered to the needs of the wealthy and large corporations. The rich are becoming much richer while real wages for average American workers have gone nowhere over the last many, many decades. And I think what we have got to do now, JOHN, is start paying attention to a struggling middle class and struggling working class. What does that mean? It means that at a time when half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck, we have got to create millions of good paying, good paying jobs. That is rebuilding roads and bridges. We've talked about that forever, but it is also having to deal with the existential threat of climate. How do you not deal with climate when the scientists tell us that the very future of the planet is in peril? And furthermore, when I think about infrastructure, of course, it means education. How do we lead the world unless we have, in a competitive economy, world economy, the best-educated workforce in the world? Of course, it means childcare. Of course it means health care. And I think we've got to expand Medicare to cover dental, eyeglasses, hearing aids. 


SEN. SANDERS: And of course, that means dealing with income and wealth inequality.

JOHN DICKERSON: So in 30 seconds we have left, Senator, with ambitions like that which the president shares, how do you do it through a bipartisan process? Aren't you going to have to go through reconciliation just with Democratic votes?

SEN. SANDERS: That's probably right. And I think that's what the American people want. We would like bipartisanship, but I don't think we have a seriousness on the part of the Republican leadership to address the major crisis facing this country. And if they're not coming forward, we've got to go forward alone.

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Senator Bernie Sanders, thank you so much for being with us. And we'll be back in one mom- one moment. Stay with us.

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