Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) received a hero’s welcome at the J Street conference in Washington today for a speech that suggested that the way forward for the left is to double down on progressive values.
Toward the end of a wide-ranging address that touched on President Donald Trump, the Iraq War and climate change, Sanders asked the question that loomed over the J Street conference: What comes next for progressives during a Trump administration? Although Sanders did not explicitly answer his question, he proceeded to talk about values.
“As progressives, here are some of the values that we share in this country and around the world,” the 75-year-old senator and former presidential candidate said as the crowd applauded. “We believe in democracy, we believe in equality, we believe in pluralism, we are strongly opposed to xenophobia, we respect and we will protect the rights of minorities.”
Sanders also discussed the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the bomb threats on Jewish community centers and an increase in anti-Semitic speech in terms of universal values.
“When we see as a nation violent and verbal racist attacks against minorities, whether they be African-American, whether they be Jews or whether they be Muslims, immigrants in our country or the LGBT community, these attacks must be condemned at the highest levels of government,” said Sanders, who then faulted the Trump administration for not doing more to speak out against anti-Semitism.
Sanders also faulted the Trump administration for “careless” foreign policy and compared Trump’s casual discussion of the possibility of a one-state solution to someone talking about the difference between Coke and Pepsi.
Throughout the speech, Sanders returned again and again to the idea that he is both in favor of Israel and in favor of Palestinian rights — a talking point very much in line with J Street, which describes itself as “pro-Israel, pro peace.”
“There is no question that we should be and will be Israel’s very strong friend and ally in the years to come. There is no debate about that,” he said. “But at the same time, we must recognize that Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian territories and its daily restrictions on the civil liberties of the Palestinian people runs counter to fundamental American values and, I believe, Israeli values as well.”
Sanders offered a defense of various Obama administration policies including, the Iran nuclear deal and the decision late in the administration not to veto a United Nations resolution that condemned Israeli settlements, drawing a contrast between the diplomacy of the Iran deal and the pro-war rhetoric that led to the war in Iraq. “That is the power of diplomacy,” he said, referring to the Iran deal. “That in my mind is what real leadership is about.”
Sanders concluded by drawing a parallel between activism in the United States and activism in Israel.
“We must meet these challenges together,” he said. “As you struggle to make your nation better, more just and more egalitarian. I want to say to you, your fight is our fight.”