- Joel Beininprofessor of Middle East history at Stanford University. He is the former director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo, author of several books, most recently, Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
As Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders prepare for tonight’s debate in Brooklyn, one issue expected to come up is the Israel-Palestine conflict. New York state, which holds its primary on Tuesday, is home to the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel. Sanders made headlines recently when he mistakenly told the New York Daily News editorial board that 10,000 civilians died in Israel’s assault on Gaza. Sanders said, “I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?” According to the United Nations, the actual civilian death toll was at least 1,473. Last week, former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who now serves in the Israeli Knesset, said Bernie Sanders owes Israel an apology. Oren accused Sanders of a blood libel. A blood libel is a false, centuries-old allegation that Jews were killing children to use their blood in religious rituals. During a recent CNN interview, Sanders described Israel’s response in Gaza as “disproportionate.” Clinton defended Israel’s actions, saying, “When you are being attacked, with rockets raining down on your people, and your soldiers are under attack, you have to respond.”
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As Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders prepare for tonight’s debate in Brooklyn, one issue expected to come up is the Israel-Palestine conflict. New York state, which votes on Tuesday, is home to the largest Jewish population in the world outside Israel. Much of the population is concentrated in Brooklyn. Bernie Sanders made headlines recently when he mistakenly told the New York Daily News editorial board 10,000 civilians died in Israel’s assault on Gaza. Sanders said, quote, “I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?” he asked. According to the United Nations, the actual civilian death toll was at least 1,473 people in Gaza at that time. Last week, former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, who now serves in the Israeli Knesset, said Bernie Sanders owes Israel an apology. Oren accused Sanders of a blood libel, which is a false, centuries-old allegation that Jews were killing children to use their blood in religious rituals. On Sunday, Senator Sanders appeared on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Was Israel’s response disproportionate? I think it was. All right, 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. And—
JAKE TAPPER: It is interesting, you will permit me to say, that the first Jew in American history to win a delegate, much less a primary, is taking this position with Israel that is usually in American politics—and I’m not criticizing you for it—but is usually in American politics everyone just supports Israel, whatever Israel wants to do. You’re taking a more critical position. You—
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I’m taking a more balanced position.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Senator Sanders on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper, who then asked Hillary Clinton to respond in a separate interview.
JAKE TAPPER: Senator Sanders told me that Israel’s response in Gaza was disproportionate—that was his word—leading to an unnecessary loss of innocent life. You told The Atlantic in 2014 that, quote, “Israel did what it had to do to respond to the attacks.” What do you make of Senator Sanders’ take on it, that it was disproportionate?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, he’ll have to speak for himself, but—
JAKE TAPPER: You don’t agree, though?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I agree with what I said, which is, when you are being attacked, with rockets raining down on your people, and your soldiers are under attack, you have to respond. And I think that what I learned when I negotiated the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in 2012 is that Hamas provokes Israel. They often pretend to have people in civilian garb acting as though they are civilians, who are Hamas fighters. And it’s a very difficult undertaking for Israel to target those who are targeting them. And I think Israel has had to defend itself. It has a right to defend itself. It did not go seeking this. This was, you know, promoted by Hamas. And I support Israel’s right of self-defense.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Hillary Clinton speaking on CNN Sunday. The network will host tonight’s debate in Brooklyn. To talk more about the Israel-Palestine conflict and the 2016 election, we’re joined by Joel Beinin. He is professor of Middle East history here at Stanford University, the former director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo. He’s author of several books, most recently, Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
Professor Beinin, welcome back to Democracy Now!
JOEL BEININ: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the clips that we just heard of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton?
JOEL BEININ: Bernie has been evolving. If we remember the summer of Israel’s assault on Gaza, when he tried to shout down people in a town meeting who asked him to be more critical of Israel, he was toeing the Democratic Party line. He has now backed off from that. He wants to be more balanced. He has appointed Simone Zimmerman as his Jewish community outreach coordinator. She recently wrote an op-ed in Haaretz, the leading liberal daily of Israel, saying that we should talk about boycott, divestment and sanctions; very friendly to Jewish Voice for Peace. A lot of what he’s saying is still a good bit away from where I think he should be. But compared to Hillary Clinton, who pretty much parrots the Likud line, he’s in a different place.
AMY GOODMAN: And Hillary Clinton right now, where she stands, and your view on that, on the Israel-Palestine conflict?
JOEL BEININ: She’s awful. I mean, you heard in the clip, “Israel didn’t go looking for this.” Well, that’s not the historical record. Israel in fact provoked Hamas into the firing of the rockets. It’s not the first time that Israel has provoked Hamas into firing rockets after a period of relative quiet. The testimony of Israeli soldiers who gave evidence to breaking the silence say that Israel used an insane amount of violence and firepower in invading Gaza, and that the levels of destruction of civilian infrastructure was insane. That’s very different than what Hillary Clinton is saying.
AMY GOODMAN: You wrote a letter to Senator Sanders?
JOEL BEININ: Yes. What I tried to do was to say, “OK, great that you’re against the influence of billionaires in American politics. You talk primarily about domestic politics, and I agree with all of that. But there’s also a very pernicious influence of billionaires in foreign policy, and perhaps nowhere more so than Israel-Palestine.” Sheldon Adelson, the Adelson primary, all the Republican candidates traipsed to Las Vegas to get his endorsement. And on the Democratic side, Haim Saban is a huge contributor both to Hillary Clinton’s current campaign and to past campaigns of Bill Clinton and to the Clinton Foundation. And both of them are single-issue people. They care only about Israel. Haim Saban said he’s prepared to spend whatever it takes to get Hillary Clinton elected president. And the policies that Hillary Clinton advocates, as we heard in the clip, reflect Haim Saban’s views.
AMY GOODMAN: In her speech to AIPAC last month, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said the U.S. should help Israel maintain its, quote, “qualitative military edge.”
HILLARY CLINTON: As president, I will make a firm commitment to ensure Israel maintains its qualitative military edge. The United States should provide Israel with the most sophisticated defense technology, so it can deter and stop any threats. … One of the first things I’ll do in office is invite the Israeli prime minister to visit the White House. And I will send a delegation from the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs to Israel for early consultations.
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was the only top candidate to skip the AIPAC conference last month. He did not—he did address the issue on the campaign trail in Utah, calling for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Peace will mean ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed-upon borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza, once considered an unthinkable move on Israel’s part. And that is why I join much of the international community, including the U.S. State Department and the European Union, in voicing my concern that Israel’s recent expropriation of an additional 579 acres of land in the West Bank undermines the peace process and, ultimately, Israeli security, as well. It is absurd for elements within the Netanyahu government to suggest that building more settlements in the West Bank is the appropriate response to the most recent violence. It is also not acceptable that the Netanyahu government decided to withhold hundreds of millions of shekels in tax revenue from the Palestinians, which it is supposed to collect on their behalf.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernie Sanders. Professor Joel Beinin, commenting on both candidates.
JOEL BEININ: So, Hillary Clinton was giving you the standard cant. Nobody says Israel has the most powerful military between Morocco and Pakistan. They really don’t need any more armaments. They have 200 nuclear weapons and so on. And moreover, yes, there have been terrorist attacks against Israel. None of them, altogether, represent anything remotely resembling an existential threat to Israel. They’re unfortunate. It’s a tragic loss of civilian life when that happens. But from a security point of view, it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, Israel has aggressively attacked its neighbors in 1956, in 1967, in 1982. On balance, Israel has been the aggressor for most of its historical existence. Hillary, I don’t know if she knows the history, doesn’t care about the history. She says what candidates need to say in order to get elected. Bernie Sanders is inching his way towards a more reasonable position. He is pointing out that Israel is expanding settlements. He mentioned in the interview with the New York Daily News that the settlements are actually illegal, although he wasn’t clear that every single one of them is illegal according to international law. And that’s not a matter of who thinks international law means what. But he’s moving along. It’s clear that the millennials who support him 85 to 15 are more critical of Israel, and he’s getting closer to their views.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Beinin, you urged Sanders in your letter to him to take action against U.S. arms sales to countries in the region, among them Israel, but also Saudi Arabia, which has been enjoying some of the largest arms sales in the—in U.S. history, and, as well, Egypt. Can you talk about why this is so important?
JOEL BEININ: It’s important because it’s the sale of U.S. arms that often fuels conflicts. If the United States didn’t sell any arms to just those three countries, plus the other Gulf Cooperation Councils, the Arab oil monarchies, then all of those countries would have to deal with each other in a more reasonable, diplomatic way. Those arms sales don’t, in fact, contribute to anybody’s defense. Saudi Arabia is essentially incapable of using the American weaponry that it buys. There’s always American advisers to help them do it. And when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the Saudis couldn’t repel that invasion on their own, even though they had tons of military hardware. Those sales are a boon to American military industry. So, basically, what’s happening is American taxpayers are subsidizing the profits of the Lockheed, Douglas—McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman and so on, and those are the real Israel lobby. They are the ones who want that grant of $3 billion-plus a year to go to Israel.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about both aid to Israel and to Egypt, some of the largest recipients of aid in the world, and how much of that aid, of those billions of dollars, go to, in the end, U.S. arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin.
JOEL BEININ: So, Israel gets a little bit over $3 billion officially, grant in aid, military aid. Egypt gets now, let’s say, somewhere between $2.1 [billion] and $2.3 billion. That proportion was set up following the 1979 Arab—Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and it’s remained fixed since then. Those are gifts. Israel gets the money every quarter, in advance, not tied to any project. Some proportion of that money can be spent on—inside Israel, some of it for Israeli equipment, some of it for equipment that Israel manufactures for itself and for the United States military. Most of it is spent in the United States. In the case of Egypt, every penny is spent in the United States for equipment supplied by American arms manufacturers.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Mubarak, the toppled despot of Egypt?
JOEL BEININ: Her relationship with Mubarak exemplifies her hawkish status quo approach, not only to the Middle East, but yesterday you were talking about Honduras. She had a similar view there. The entire population of Egypt was rising up against Mubarak, and she says that she believes the Mubarak regime is stable. She’s tone deaf when it comes to the democratic aspirations not only of the Egyptian people, but certainly also to the Palestinian people.
AMY GOODMAN: Hillary Clinton said in 2009, “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family.”
JOEL BEININ: Well, I’m sure they were. Probably not anymore. Yeah, why not? The president of Egypt, yeah, would be friends with the family of a secretary of state and former president. The American government has done a great deal to keep the Mubarak family in power for 31 years, so they would be friends.
AMY GOODMAN: In a nutshell, though we’d like to have you back to talk more extensively about your new book, Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, talk about the significance of what you found today.
JOEL BEININ: So the basic story is that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank had been for decades trying to impose neoliberal economic structural reforms to reshape the economies of the Middle East. And what happened there is a version of what happened here: The rich got richer, and the poor get poorer, even when, in some cases, the economies did grow. Poverty increased; it didn’t decrease as the World Bank claimed it would. People, in some cases, literally couldn’t afford bread. I was present in Egypt when huge crowds of people were chanting about the price of bread there. In Tunisia, one of the slogans of the uprising was “Bread, water and no Ben Ali,” the former president of Tunisia. So, basic human needs were not being met, despite the proud claims of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank of economic success. Two French presidents called Tunisia an economic miracle. Well, it was miraculous for the family of the president’s wife, who owned perhaps 30 percent of the national economy, but not so miraculous for people who started the uprising.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us. Professor Joel Beinin teaches Middle East history here at Stanford University, former director of Middle East Studies at the American University in Cairo, author of a number of books, most recently, Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
And, of course, we will bring you excerpts of the Democratic presidential debate that will take place in Brooklyn tonight, tomorrow on Democracy Now! Juan González will be co-hosting, who got a chance to question both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at his New York Daily News editorial board meeting. We’ll get more from Juan on the meetings.
I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, kids are involved in a lawsuit around climate change. We’ll find out more.