Science, Space and Technology Minister Ophir Akunis said on Saturday that US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders should apologize to Israel for misstating the number of Palestinian casualties during the 2014 war with Gaza.
"Sanders has spread horrible lies against the State of Israel and he needs to apologize as soon as possible," Akunis said at a cultural event in Rishon Lezion.
"We cannot interfere in the internal elections of the United States, but when there is libelous misinformation being spread against Israel, we need to react and stand firm on the truth and the facts," the minister said.
For the second time in one week, Sanders on Friday named an inflated number for Palestinian civilian deaths during Operation Protective Edge.
Speaking on MSNBC on Friday morning, the Jewish Democratic presidential candidate acknowledged that he had not known “the exact number” when he told the New York Daily News he thought that 10,000 Gazans died in 2014. “It turns out that, according to the United Nations, over 2,000 civilians were killed” in the war, he said, and repeated his allegation that Israel’s military actions were “disproportionate.”
But the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs puts the Gaza civilian death toll in the 2014 war at 1,423, while Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, gives a similar number, 1,462. Israel has argued the number of civilian deaths is likely lower.
In the interview, Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, echoed a previous statement by his campaign, saying: “As someone who is Jewish, who has lived in Israel for a few months when I was a young man, who has family in Israel, of course, the security of Israel, the independence of Israel, the right of Israel to live in peace and security, is paramount but you have to recognize the plight of the Palestinians.
“I know that in America, in politics, that is not something that is said very often. But we’re not going to have lasting peace unless we recognize that in Gaza, for example, the current situation there is deplorable, people living in horrific levels of poverty and in an area that has been demo … just annihilated.”
On Thursday, Sanders’ campaign spokesman defended the senator’s overestimate in the interview with the New York Daily News editorial board published Monday, and accused critics of “distortion” in presenting it as a definite assertion. Michael Briggs commented on the issue in response to the Anti-Defamation League’s request for clarification.
“The idea that Sen. Sanders stated definitely that 10,000 Palestinians were killed is just not accurate and a distortion of that discussion,” Briggs said. “Bringing peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be easy. It would help if candidates’ positions on this issue are not distorted.”
Sanders spent months in Israel as a young man, Briggs added, “and, in fact, has family living there now. There is no candidate for president who will be a stronger supporter of Israel’s right to exist in freedom, peace and security.”
During the New York Daily News interview, Sanders said he thought 10,000 Palestinians were killed during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, though he added that he did not “remember the figures” and asked for his interlocutors to check, accepting their correction that 2,104 were killed, including 1,462 civilians. He said Israeli bombings in Gaza were indiscriminate.
In addition to prompting the ADL to demand that Sanders “correct his misstatement” on the death toll, his comments angered Israeli politicians. Zeev Elkin, Israel’s immigration absorption minister, called Sanders’ comments “insane.” Michael Oren, a lawmaker and former Israeli ambassador to Washington, demanded Sanders apologize for what he called his “blood libel.”
ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt welcomed Sanders’ “clarification,” the ADL wrote in a statement. “The senator assured me that he did not mean his remarks to be a definitive statement and that he would make every effort to set the record straight, Greenblatt said. “We appreciate his responsiveness on this issue, especially at a time when there are many false and incendiary reports blaming Israel for applying disproportionate force in its struggle for self-defense.”