Sen. Bernie Sanders called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government "racist" on Monday night, pointing to its treatment of Palestinians.
"I am 100% pro-Israel," Sanders said. "They have every right in the world to exist and to exist in peace and security and not be subjected the terrorist attacks, but the United States needs to deal not just with Israel, but with the Palestinian people as well."
Sanders has been a fierce critic of Netanyahu and American foreign policy in the region, which includes massive financial support for Israel.
"I just believe that the United States should deal with the Middle East on a level-playing-field basis," Sanders said, referring to the stalled peace process. "In other words, the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right wing, dare I say, racist government."
"As a young man about your age, I spent a number of months in Israel," he continued, discussing his time volunteering on a kibbutz in the 1960s. "I have family in Israel. I am not anti-Israel but the fact of the matter is that Netanyahu is a right wing politician who I think is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly."
Sanders, who is Jewish, has repeatedly come to the defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has questioned American politicians' close relations with Israel and pro-Israel American lobbyists. Omar's comments, which have included the use of anti-Semitic tropes, have set off fierce criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. Sanders last week denied that Omar was anti-Semitic herself, but also said that the freshman congresswoman, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, "has got to do maybe a better job in speaking to the Jewish community."