WASHINGTON (JTA) — In a major foreign policy speech identifying an emerging authoritarian strain around the world, Bernie Sanders included the passage of Israel’s nation-state law as an example of President Donald Trump inspiring anti-democratic moves.
“It should be clear by now that Donald Trump and the right-wing movement that supports him is not a phenomenon unique to the United States,” Sanders said Tuesday in a speech to the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. “All around the world, in Europe, in Russia, in the Middle East, in Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere we are seeing movements led by demagogues who exploit people’s fears, prejudices and grievances to gain and hold on to power.”
Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, said Trump by himself was not responsible for the rise of authoritarianism but was spurring it forward.
“While this authoritarian trend certainly did not begin with Donald Trump, there’s no question that other authoritarian leaders around the world have drawn inspiration from the fact that the president of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy is shattering democratic norms,” Sanders said.
The 2016 presidential candidate cited as examples the rise in popularity of a far right-wing politician in Brazil, increased repression in Saudi Arabia and policies of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“It’s also hard to imagine that Israel’s Netanyahu government would have taken a number of steps — including passing the recent nation-state law, which essentially codifies the second-class status of Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, aggressively undermining the longstanding goal of a two-state solution, and ignoring the economic catastrophe in Gaza — if Netanyahu wasn’t confident that Trump would support him,” Sanders said.
The nation-state law passed this summer enshrines Israel’s status as a Jewish state, downgrades the status of Arabic as an official language and singles out Jewish settlement as a national priority. It has stirred outrage on Israel’s left and among Israeli minorities, including some whose leaders have had close ties to the right-wing parties.
Sanders ran a surprisingly strong campaign in 2016 for the Democratic presidential nod, although he was ultimately defeated by Hillary Clinton. The first Jewish candidate to win major-party nominating contests, Sanders’ relative success has driven the party to embrace some of his policies, particularly related to narrowing the income gap. In recent months he also has become outspoken in criticizing Israeli policies, including the means Israel uses to contain Palestinian protests on its border with the Gaza Strip.