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Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders Image Credit: AP

Washington: Bernie Sanders said Monday he’d use US aid to Israel as “leverage” to push the country to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

He said “$3.8 billion is a lot of money, and we cannot give it carte blanche to the Israeli government.” Sanders spoke at a forum hosted by the progressive pro-Israel group J Street, where he was well-received.

Sanders, who said he hopes to become the first Jewish president, said the situation in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip is “absolutely inhumane, it is unacceptable, it is unsustainable.”

“It is not anti-Semitism to say that the Netanyahu government has been racist,” he said. “We will not accept authoritarianism or racism, and we demand that the Israeli government sit down with the Palestinian people and negotiate an agreement that works for all parties.”

Another candidate, Pete Buttigieg said Monday that US aid to Israel shouldn’t be used to promote “annexation” of land or the building of colonies that has occurred under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We need to have the visibility to know whether US funds are being used in a way that’s actually not compatible with US policy, and US policy should not be promoting this kind of [colony] construction,” the Democratic presidential candidate said at a Washington forum hosted by J Street, a progressive pro-Israel group.

He also responded to President Donald Trump describing Democrats as anti-Semitic.

“The upsetting cynicism of this White House is that you have somebody who on one hand who, on one hand, sees actual, literal” neo-Nazis, referring to the marches in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, “and on the other hand believes he can get people to think he’s a friend to the Jewish people” by aligning with right-wing forces, Buttigieg said. “The American people and the American Jewish community are a lot smarter than that.”