“We Need You to Stand Up”: Bernie Sanders’ Former Staffers Call on Him to Back Cease-Fire in Palestine and Israel
Hundreds of former staffers of the democratic socialist senator have signed a letter urging him to back a peaceful resolution to the war in Palestine.
More than 365 former campaign staffers for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have signed a letter urging the nation’s most famous democratic socialist to introduce a Senate version of the House resolution that calls for an immediate cease-fire and de-escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine. That resolution, backed by more than a dozen House progressives, has gained support throughout the past week. The letter also asks that Sanders support lifting the blockade of Gaza and advocate for the United States to stop providing military funding to the Israeli government that helps further the occupation and violence.
The signatories of the letter to Sanders, including In These Times’ executive director Alex Han, join a growing chorus of concerned former political staffers making similar demands of other powerful elected officials. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and John Fetterman (D-Pa.) both received open letters from former campaign staff last week urging them to support a cease-fire. Fetterman and Warren have also recently been the targets of efforts by Jewish groups and anti-occupation activists calling for the same action to be taken.
“Throughout your career, you have spoken with moral clarity on the issues in Israel and Palestine,” the signees wrote to Sanders. “Today, we’re asking you to use your power, the respect you have across the United States and globe, to clearly and forcefully stand up against war, against occupation and for the dignity of human life.”
In These Times reached out to Sanders’ office for immediate comment shortly after the letter went public but has not yet received a response.
The former staffers wrote to Sanders with the hope that he can influence President Joe Biden’s administration to rethink its nearly unequivocal support of the Israeli government.
“President Biden clearly values your counsel, as is shown by the ways you’ve managed to shape the outcomes of his presidency,” the former staffers wrote. “Cooler heads must prevail and prevent further suffering and bloodshed.”
The letter comes as a dire humanitarian crisis has worsened dramatically in Gaza — and appears to be steadily getting worse as an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza appears imminent. The enclave has been pummeled by Israeli forces for the past 18 days after a surprise attack by Hamas on October 7. Hamas killed roughly 1,400 people in Israel, and the vast majority of those who died were civilians, according to the United Nations, which cited official Israeli sources. At the same time, more than 200 hostages are being held captive. The latest available numbers show that the death toll in Gaza is nearing 6,000 people, including more than 2,000 children. “The Israeli government is deliberately deepening the suffering of civilians in Gaza” by cutting off water, electricity and access to fuel, medicine and food, according to Human Rights Watch.
Protestors have taken to the streets worldwide to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, decry the Israeli government’s actions and call for a cease-fire.
So far, Sanders has responded to the violence by criticizing the Israeli government’s targeting of civilians as a violation of international law and advocating for humanitarian aid for Gaza — but he has also voted with the rest of his Senate colleagues to reaffirm support for the Israeli government and military.
On October 19, Sanders added his name to a resolution that pledged U.S. support in assisting Israel “both during the immediate crisis and in the near future, including by accelerating delivery of defense articles and systems.” That same day, he blocked a bill spearheaded by Republican lawmakers that would have effectively stopped the U.S. from providing humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Former staffers recalled the “moral clarity” Sanders provided on the campaign trail during his presidential runs, writing, “We saw you bring the truth of the Palestinian reality under military occupation to the forefront in both the 2016 and 2020 elections, and in doing so, change public attitudes on these issues across the country.” During his 2020 Democratic primary campaign for president, Sanders called for a more radical foreign policy realignment than his peers. On the campaign trail, he called Jewish settlements on Israeli land illegal and criticized far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “reactionary racist.” In 2020, Sanders earned praise from many anti-occupation organizers and activists around his positions, and the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow — who have helped organize mass protests against the Israeli government’s assault on Gaza in recent weeks — even formally endorsed him for president in 2020.
But his actions over the past two weeks echo a stance he’s taken in the past. In 2021, Sanders signaled his support for an additional one billion dollars in aid to support the Israeli military’s Iron Dome antimissile system after securing a promise from Democratic leadership that the U.S. would send additional humanitarian aid to Gaza. Palestinian rights advocates criticized the move, calling it an insufficient fix for ending the causes of suffering in Gaza.
While he sometimes faces criticism for not going far enough, Sanders is still the Israeli government’s most consistent critic in the Senate. He has continuously opposed the unconditional flow of aid to Israel. In 2021, during a previous bombardment of Gaza, Sanders introduced legislation to block a $735 million arms sale. He also endorsed a cease-fire then: “The United States should be urging an immediate cease-fire. We should also understand that, while Hamas firing rockets into Israeli communities is absolutely unacceptable, today’s conflict did not begin with those rockets.” Earlier this year, Sanders and congressional progressives sent a letter to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking that taxpayer money not be used to expand illegal Israeli settlements. The lawmakers also urged the administration to investigate whether aid has been used in violation of domestic law that regulates the use of U.S. weapons, citing concerns about escalating violence in the occupied West Bank.
In urging him to support a cease-fire, Sanders’ former staffers invoked his historical willingness to go against the status quo. “You taught us to always speak the truth, and to be on the right side of history, even when it is lonely and especially when it is difficult.”
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
We've partnered with the publisher, Haymarket Books, and 100% of your donation will go towards supporting In These Times.
Eloise Goldsmith is a freelance fact-checker and journalist. Her work appears in In These Times, Jacobin, and Strike Wave. She tweets @Eloise_Gold.