CNN SOTU: Bernie Refuses To Condemn Tlaib ‘From The River To The Sea’ Video

November 5th, 2023 2:15 PM

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sat down with CNN’s Dana Bash for a contentious interview in which he refused to condemn Squad Congresswoman Rachida Tlaib (D-MI) over her video which featured the expression “from the river to the sea”, widely known to be antisemitic and exterminationist. Sanders also suggested that there should be a change in military strategy against Hamas as a precondition to any further foreign aid to Israel.

Watch as Sanders passes on multiple opportunities to criticize Tlaib’s use of that term in the video, instead pivoting to “But Trump!” and critiques of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (click "expand" to view transcript):

DANA BASH: Senator, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib released a video on Friday. I want you to watch part of it. 

U.S. REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI): Mr. President, the American people are not with you on this one. We will remember in 2024. 

PROTESTERS: FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA! FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA!

TLAIB: We will remember in 2024.

BASH: That last screen said Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people. I know you know the definition of genocide. It is defined as a crime committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious or group. Do you think that is what Israel is doing here? 

U.S. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Look- what's going on right now is a horror show. We don’t have to quibble about words. Thousands of men, women, and children are being killed. It has got to end right now. And one of the things that concerns me Dana is, there’s not been enough talk about what right-wing Republicans are doing -- they don't want any aid to go to the Palestinians. Somebody should be talking about that. Somebody should be talking about how Trump wants to expel Palestinians from this country. So it's, you know, you can disagree with Joe Biden, but on his worst day, he'll be 100 times better than trump and the right-wing Republicans are coming from. 

BASH: So you think Rashida Tlaib should save her ire for Trump and the right wing and not a fellow Democrat? 

SANDERS: Well, Rashida Tlaib- Rashida is a friend of mine, her family comes from Palestine, I think she has been shaken as all of us are about what goes on- is going on right there, right now. 

BASH: Yeah, -

SANDERS: We have to address the humanitarian crisis. But if anyone thinks that Trump is going to be better than Biden on this issue or any other issue, for that matter, I think they are sorely mistaken. 

BASH: And I understand that. I also understand and I know you know that words matter. And I want to ask about what she said -- 

SANDERS: I don’t- Look. Words matter, but what matters more, Dana is you have a horrible humanitarian disaster that has to be dealt with right now. You call it whatever you want to call it. It has to be dealt with. Women and children cannot be bombed with 2,000-pound bombs. And we need the entire world community to stop that. 

BASH: So when she says, “from the river to the sea”- when she says “from the river to the sea”, which the ADL says is anti-semitic, she says, it's aspirational, but the ADL says it is anti-semitic, do you want her to stop using terms like that? And others?

SANDERS: Well, I think that what--her, her-- Dana, you know, it's not what I want or anything else. This is what you've got. President Obama just said the other day, I think quite correctly, and we've all gotta deal with it. This is an enormously complex issue, and slogans like “the river to the sea”, if that means the destruction of Israel, that's not going to work. People who are saying, “Israel, right or wrong, we are for you all the way”, that's not going to work. This is a horrendously complex situ-- you have a right-wing government in Israel which is racist and the people- by the way, the good news is, last poll I saw, only 18% of the people of Israel want Netanyahu to stay in office. I hope they get rid of him. I hope they put in a government which understands the severity of the crisis and can help us move towards a two-tier state.

BASH: Senator-

SANDERS: On the other hand, in terms of Hamas, you’ve got a terrorist organization that cannot be trusted for a minute. This is, as President Obama said, a very complex issue. 

I counted FOUR opportunities to condemns Tlaib’s use of the antisemitic phrase in her video- and Sanders whiffed on all of them. In fact, Sanders did everything in his power to avoid aggrieving Tlaib, including attributing her statements to having relatives in Palestine and being "shaken". This is the basis for Sanders' weird pivot to Trump, which could potentially backfire by reminding people that the world was not aflame from 2017-2021. The harshest condemnation Sanders could muster, despite Bash's insistence, was a tepid "slogans don't work".

Before closing, Bash took one last pass by appealing to Sanders’ personal history, with the same result:

BASH: Senator, real quick, and you're really alluding to this in your answers and our discussion here, you really are in a unique position, maybe even a difficult one, because you're a leading progressive voice in American politics. And you're also Jewish. And you have family who died in the Holocaust. How difficult is this for you?

SANDERS: This has got- this has nothing to do with me, Dana. 

Throughout the 2016 presidential primary, Sanders expressed the degree to which the Holocaust shaped his worldview. Therefore, it is strange to see this detached response to the increase of exterminationist antisemitic discourse- not just in the United States, but among his ideological fellow travelers.

Sanders also made news by putting forth that aid to Israel be conditioned to a change in military strategy: 

SANDERS: So, once again: the immediate concern is, you gotta have a pause in the bombing, you gotta take care of the immediate disaster. Israel’s gotta change their strategy. Let me just say this: the United States of America provides $3.8 billion every year to Israel. We have a right- Israel can do what they want, they're an independent country. But we have a right to say, sorry, you need a new military strategy. Go after Hamas, but that means -- but do not kill innocent men, women, and children. 

BASH: You mentioned money. There is going to be a measure before you relatively soon for the House-passed more than $14 billion. And there is going to be at least some version of that in the Senate. Will you support that? Or will you put conditions on that? 

SANDERS: Well, we'll see what the bill- we’ll see what the bill looks like. But I think it's terribly important that as we debate that to say to Israel, “you want this money, you gotta change your military strategy”

The dissension within Democrats on the issue of Israel-Hamas is such that it would warrant "Republicans In Disarray" headlines were the shoe on the other foot. 

Click “expand” to view the full transcript of the aforementioned interview as aired on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, November 5th, 2023:

DANA BASH: And across the U.S., this weekend, large crowds of pro-Palestinian protesters took to city streets to call for a cease-fire. And on Capitol Hill Friday, dozens of activists were arrested after entering the offices of several senators. One of those senators is here with me now. Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Senator, thank you so much for joining me this morning. Four weeks ago, more than 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, were slaughtered in their homes and at a festival. You've been critical of Israel's response recently. How do you think Israel should be responding?

U.S. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Well, this is what you've got. And it’s, I think, clear to most people, what Hamas did, and Hamas is an awful terrorist organization, is they slaughtered 1,400 people in cold blood. Israel has a right to defend itself. But what Israel does not, in my view, have a right to do, is to kill thousands and thousands of innocent men, women, and children who had nothing to do with that attack. So the immediate concern, Dana, to my mind, is we have got to stop the bombing now! You had 600- over 600,000 people pushed out of their homes. Where are they going? They're staying in United Nations facilities. Overcrowded. There's not enough water, there's not enough food, there's not enough medicine. Not enough fuel. You have a humanitarian disaster. It has to be dealt with right now. 

BASH: So, senator -- go ahead. 

SANDERS: I'm sorry, go ahead.

BASH: No, please. 

(CROSSTALK)

BASH:OK. So what you're saying about -- what you're saying about the lack of food and water and so forth, uh, I think that most people in the West, certainly the U.S., believes that that is because Hamas is hoarding it. And the other question is: How does Israel…

SANDERS: It's not just -- 

BASH: How does Israel destroy Hamas…

SANDERS: Dana, it's not just that Hamas is hoarding it. They are. It's more than that. That's what Israelis’ policy has been. 

BASH: Okay. So let’s- let’s-  

SANDERS: So it's a combination of factors…go ahead.

BASH: Let's get to the other- let’s get to the other point that you made, which is really is key one, which is, innocent civilians dying. And they are. How should Israel destroy Hamas, post-attack on these innocent civilians in Israel, without hurting, killing innocent men, women, and children when Hamas is hiding behind them and putting them in danger? How does that work? 

SANDERS: That is, that is exactly the right question to be asked of the military experts, of which I am not one. But clearly, yeah, the have- Israel has a right to defend itself. Hamas has sworn- that’s what its goal is, is to destroy Israel. They gotta deal with that. But there's got to be a better way than killing thousands of men, women, and children. So, once again: the immediate concern is, you gotta have a pause in the bombing, you gotta take care of the immediate disaster. Israel’s gotta change their strategy. Let me just say this: the United States of America provides $3.8 billion every year to Israel. We have a right- Israel can do what they want, they're an independent country. But we have a right to say, sorry, you need a new military strategy. Go after Hamas, but that means -- but do not kill innocent men, women, and children. 

BASH: You mentioned money. There is going to be a measure before you relatively soon for the House-passed more than $14 billion. And there is going to be at least some version of that in the Senate. Will you support that? Or will you put conditions on that? 

SANDERS: Well, we'll see what the bill- we’ll see what the bill looks like. But I think it's terribly important that as we debate that to say to Israel, “you want this money, you gotta change your military strategy”. The other point is, we have to give hope to the Palestinian people. They are living -- they were living before October 7th in a disastrous situation in Gaza, 75% youth employment, massive poverty. And right now in Israel, you're having the Netanyahu government, an extreme right-wing government with racists aboard, trying to make it impossible for a two-state solution in the West Bank. They're killing settlers there. So what we need is the world to come together to give hope to the Palestinians, we need a two-state solution, and we need to have many of the very wealthy countries in the region, the United Arab Republic, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, they are extraordinarily wealthy…

BASH: Yes, they are.

SANDERS: …work with the United States, work with the community in order to provide some hope and decency and freedom to the Palestinian people, which Hamas will never do. 

BASH: I just -- you're right about that. They have a lot of money and they, to this point, not have been really willing to use that money in that region to help their fellow Arabs. I want to just clarify one thing, Senator, if I might. You support a humanitarian pause in Gaza. Some of your fellow progressives say that there should be a full-on cease-fire, which would require an agreement on both sides to halt the fighting. Do you support a cease-fire? And if not, why not? 

SANDERS: Well, I don't know how you can have a cease fire- permanent cease fire with an organization like Hamas, which is dedicated to turmoil and chaos and destroying the state of Israel. And I think what the Arab countries in the region understand that Hamas has got to go. So what we need right now, the immediate task right now is to end the bombing, to end the horrific humanitarian disaster, to build, go forward with the entire world for a two-tier, two-state solution to the crisis, to give the Palestinian people hope. 

BASH: Senator, Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib released a video on Friday. I want you to watch part of it. 

U.S. REP. RASHIDA TLAIB (D-MI): Mr. President, the American people are not with you on this one. We will remember in 2024. 

PROTESTERS: FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA! FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA!

TLAIB: We will remember in 2024.

BASH: That last screen said Joe Biden supported the genocide of the Palestinian people. I know you know the definition of genocide. It is defined as a crime committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious or group. Do you think that is what Israel is doing here? 

SANDERS: Look- what's going on right now is a horror show. We don’t have to quibble about words. Thousands of men, women, and children are being killed. It has got to end right now. And one of the things that concerns me Dana is, there’s not been enough talk about what right-wing Republicans are doing -- they don't want any aid to go to the Palestinians. Somebody should be talking about that. Somebody should be talking about how Trump wants to expel Palestinians from this country. So it's, you know, you can disagree with Joe Biden, but on his worst day, he'll be 100 times better than trump and the right-wing Republicans are coming from. 

BASH: So you think Rashida Tlaib should save her ire for Trump and the right wing and not a fellow Democrat? 

SANDERS: Well, Rashida Tlaib- Rashida is a friend of mine, her family comes from Palestine, I think she has been shaken as all of us are about what goes on- is going on right there, right now. 

BASH: Yeah, -

SANDERS: We have to address the humanitarian crisis. But if anyone thinks that Trump is going to be better than Biden on this issue or any other issue, for that matter, I think they are sorely mistaken. 

BASH: And I understand that. I also understand and I know you know that words matter. And I want to ask about what she said -- 

SANDERS: I don’t- Look. Words matter, but what matters more, Dana is you have a horrible humanitarian disaster that has to be dealt with right now. You call it whatever you want to call it. It has to be dealt with. Women and children cannot be bombed with 2,000-pound bombs. And we need the entire world community to stop that. 

BASH: So when she says, “from the river to the sea”- when she says “from the river to the sea”, which the ADL says is anti-semitic, she says, it's aspirational, but the ADL says it is anti-semitic, do you want her to stop using terms like that? And others?

SANDERS: Well, I think that what--her, her-- Dana, you know, it's not what I want or anything else. This is what you've got. President Obama just said the other day, I think quite correctly, and we've all gotta deal with it. This is an enormously complex issue, and slogans like “the river to the sea”, if that means the destruction of Israel, that's not going to work. People who are saying, “Israel, right or wrong, we are for you all the way”, that's not going to work. This is a horrendously complex situ-- you have a right-wing government in Israel which is racist and the people- by the way, the good news is, last poll I saw, only 18% of the people of Israel want Netanyahu to stay in office. I hope they get rid of him. I hope they put in a government which understands the severity of the crisis and can help us move towards a two-tier state.

BASH: Senator-

SANDERS: On the other hand, in terms of Hamas, you’ve got a terrorist organization that cannot be trusted for a minute. This is, as President Obama said, a very complex issue. 

BASH: Senator, real quick, and you're really alluding to this in your answers and our discussion here, you really are in a unique position, maybe even a difficult one, because you're a leading progressive voice in American politics. And you're also Jewish. And you have family who died in the Holocaust. How difficult is this for you?

SANDERS: This has got- this has nothing to do with me, Dana. What this is is, as a nation, we are living now, in my view, through a more difficult moment than we have lived in my lifetime. You know, people are worried about, we had the pandemic, worried about climate change, worried about the attacks on democracy, our health care system is collapsing. We have artificial information which is gonna, you know, make radical changes to the economy, you got crime all over this country. People are worried and concerned. All that I am begging people is to understand slogans are not gonna do it. Social media is not gonna do it. We need a serious discussion on how the hell we get out of this difficult situation, maintain democracy, bring peace to the world. And it ain't easy. But slogans are not going to do it on any side. 

BASH: Senator, thank you so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it.

SANDERS: Thank you, Dana.