Bernie Sanders Has Finally Called for a Cease-Fire. Sort Of.

Prior to today’s letter, the senator had urged for a “humanitarian pause.”

Mindy Isser

An image of Bernie Sanders in a suit and tie, briefly pausing on his walk to Senate chambers.
Senator Bernie Sanders walks to the Senate chamber on Dec. 12. Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

At long last, Senator Bernie Sanders has finally called for a cease-fire — sort of. This morning, the senator posted on X, formerly Twitter, a letter he sent to President Joe Biden condemning the Israeli government’s actions as deeply immoral.” Sanders calls on the president to do two things: withdraw support for an additional $10.1 billion in military aid to Israel and back efforts at the United Nations to demand an immediate cease-fire, including full humanitarian access to Gaza and the release of all hostages. 

A just cause for war does not excuse atrocities in the conduct of that war,” writes Sanders (I-Vt.).“Israel has the right to go to war against Hamas. It does not have the right to go to war against innocent men, women and children in Gaza.”

Many of Sanders’ most die-hard supporters, including more than 300 former staffers and DNC delegates, have publicly pushed him to introduce a Senate companion to Congresswomen Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Rashida Tlaib’s (D-Mich.) Cease-fire Now” resolution. President Biden clearly values your counsel, as is shown by the ways you’ve managed to shape the outcomes of his presidency,” reads the letter from former staffers. We urge you to make it clear what is at stake in this crisis politically, morally and strategically.” The letter also called on Sanders to support an end to U.S. military funding that furthers violence against Palestinian people, the illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the blockade on Gaza. 

People in coats and jackets extend Palestinian flags into the air while walking across a street as the sun glints off of buildings in the distance.
Protesters march with flags in New York on Dec. 12 as the United Nations General Assembly votes on a resolution to demand a cease-fire in Gaza. Photo by Kena Betancur/VIEWpress

Some former staffers also released a video message urging him to take action. Former staffer Hannah Fertig said, in the video, As a fellow Jewish American, [your deep commitment to the basic humanity of all Israelis and Palestinians] is something that I’ve always admired about you, and why I came to work for you.” Other staffers shared their disappointment in his stance on this issue, considering he is the strongest voice in the Senate on progressive foreign policy,” and an inspiration to many anti-war activists. We ask you to stand up more forcefully, as you always have, against war and bombs and for peace, freedom and justice,” says one staffer in the video.

“We ask you to stand up more forcefully, as you always have, against war and bombs and for peace, freedom and justice.”

Over the past two months, former Sanders voters and volunteers have also pleaded with him to call for a cease-fire and take a different stance on Israel’s aggression, expressing their disappointment with some of his previous actions and rhetoric. On both his official and campaign social media accounts, the senator has received countless critical comments on posts both about the crisis in Gaza and unrelated issues, such as union campaigns. One Instagram comment reads, I, along with many others, rallied our Arab American and Palestinian communities to vote for you. Twice. And they responded resoundingly. … The millions of Arab, Palestinian and Muslim Americans put their political lives on the line for you. Do right by us. Call for a CEASE-FIRE NOW!”

Prior to Wednesday’s letter to Biden, Sanders called for a humanitarian pause” in Gaza to get more aid into the region and allow at least some number of hostages to leave safely. He publicly rejected calls for a cease-fire and was even, somewhat ironically, applauded by AIPAC for his clear and principled opposition to calls for a cease-fire with Hamas.” Sanders then tried to distance himself from the pro-Israel lobbying group. 

Prior to Wednesday’s letter to Biden, Sanders called for a “humanitarian pause” in Gaza to get more aid into the region and allow at least some number of hostages to leave safely.
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To the senator’s credit, he has almost always spoken up about Palestinian rights, which is why the fact he hadn’t called for a cease-fire has been so confounding. During a debate with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading up to the 2016 primary, Sanders said, We are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.” He also, at least in part, credits the growth of Hamas to the blockade on Gaza, which he says needs to end along with freezing settlements in the West Bank.

But as the death toll in Gaza approaches 20,000, many would like to see more from Sanders and his colleagues. On December 10, during a CBS News interview, Sanders asserted that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas and opposed calling for a permanent cease-fire — a popular demand among many anti-war activists. The following day, dozens of activists protested inside a Senate office building to demand a permanent cease-fire, leading to almost 50 arrests. 

“We are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.”

Funding more death and destruction of human life…makes no one secure, and instead fuels hatred and continued war,” said Sandra Tamari, executive director of the Adalah Justice Project, an organization involved in the protest, in a news release. The Senate must heed our urgent demand to stop funding militarism and instead invest in life.”

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Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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