Deputy Defense Minister says Sanders needs to ‘learn the facts’ about Israel

Democrat candidate inflated Gaza death toll; Elkin: Politicians sometimes make mistakes.

US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders raises a fist as he speaks at his caucus night rally Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016  (photo credit: REUTERS)
US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders raises a fist as he speaks at his caucus night rally Des Moines, Iowa February 1, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israelis were critical but forgiving of candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the US Bernie Sanders’ misstatement about Operation Protective Edge.
Sanders said in an interview with the New York Daily News this week that Israel’s actions during the 2014 Gaza operation were “disproportionate,” and that his “recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza,” expressing uncertainty about the figures.
Sanders’ figures surpassed Palestinian estimations by far, and exceeded the total number of Palestinians killed since Hamas seized power in Gaza.
The UN Human Rights Council cites Palestinian figures that there were 1,462 civilian fatalities out of 2,251 Gazans killed in the 2014 operation.
Israel says half of the Palestinians killed were combatants, pointing out that Hamas puts rocket launchers and digs tunnels in areas populated by civilians.
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben Dahan said Thursday: “I invite Sanders to learn the facts and numbers about the IDF and the wars of Israel.”
Former ambassador to the US, MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) took to Twitter to complain: “Let me get this straight.
Sanders aids BDS by inflating Palestinian casualties – half of them Hamas thugs – by five and won’t apologize to Israel?” Others were more forgiving, like Immigration and Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who characterized Sanders’s comments as “weird and loony” in an interview with Israel Radio Thursday, but added that politicians “sometimes make mistakes.”
“What is ultimately important is what [candidates] do and not what they say in election campaigns,” Elkin added.
“Therefore, I recommend to us all that we get a little less excited about this or that statement that is made.”
Democrats Abroad Israel spokesman Sheldon Schorer called Sanders’s gaffe an “honest error,” adding, “I don’t believe for a second that there was an intentional attempt to inflate numbers or try to malign Israel.”
Schorer argued that Operation Protective Edge happened nearly two years ago and Sanders remembered that a large number of civilians were estimated to have died, but got the number wrong.
He also pointed out, as Sanders himself said, that Hamas shoots missiles at and from civilian areas.
“It’s a question of who’s responsible. Hamas started the war by refusing to extend the cease-fire and shooting missiles at Israel,” Schorer stated.
“The key question,” Schorer said, “is why did Hamas put civilians as human shields in the firing line? Why did Hamas prevent these civilians from escaping when Israel warned them by dropping leaflets and sending text messages?...I think they did this for publicity reasons.”
Sanders “knows that a lot of civilians died. Each one of these deaths is regrettable.
The Israeli Army tries to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas tries to maximize them, precisely to get this type of sympathy expressed around the world, including by Bernie Sanders,” he added.
Schorer said Sanders is “concerned for the little man, weak people, versus powerful sources,” and if he perceives Israel to be “a strong power bombing civilians... then that is a distorted view of what happened and has to be corrected.”
That view, according to Schorer, reflects the fact that he is a senator from a small state with little experience in international relations.
Schorer contrasted Sanders with Hillary Clinton, the candidate he prefers, who he said has “extraordinary experience and understands the region better than any other candidate running.”
The Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, slammed Sanders for the statement and called on him to issue a correction.
“Even the highest number of casualties claimed by Palestinian sources that include Hamas members engaged in attacking Israel is five times less than the number cited by Bernie Sanders,” said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt.
“As Mr. Sanders publicly discusses his approach to key US foreign policy priorities, including Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, accuracy and accountability are essential for the voting public, but also for US credibility in the international community. We urge Senator Sanders to correct his misstatements.”
Danielle Ziri in New York and Reuters contributed to this report.