Politics

Sanders on Battling AIPAC: They Have a Lot of Money and Power

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) said Sunday he recognized the political risk of his battles with the pro-Israel lobby, saying it has a "lot of money" and "a lot of power."

Sanders and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee exchanged blows last month, with Sanders saying the group provided a platform for "bigotry," and AIPAC firing back that his attack was "shameful" and "odious."

Sanders, the current frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic nomination, acknowledged on Face the Nation that his criticism could have a political cost.

"They have a lot of money," Sanders said. "They have a lot of power. Look, I'm Jewish, and I'm very proud of my Jewish heritage…. I am not into [being] anti-Israel. I will do everything I can to protect the independence and the security and the freedom of the Israeli people. But 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 has repeatedly called Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "racist" and assailed Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. He often invokes the poor living conditions in the Gaza Strip, which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt due to its governance by the Palestinian terror group Hamas.

Sanders also frequently cites the months he spent living on a kibbutz in Israel in the 1960s as proof of his commitment to the alliance. However, he has also threatened to withhold aid to Israel as leverage regarding the country's handling of the Palestinian conflict.

Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon called Sanders an "ignorant fool" on Sunday and said the candidate wasn't welcome in Israel.

While support for Israel has been a bipartisan issue in the past, support for the Jewish state from the political left has decreased over the past decade. Self-described liberal Democrats were almost as likely to say they sympathized more with the Palestinians (38 percent) as the Israelis (41 percent) in a Gallup poll last year.