Bernie Sanders is the first presidential candidate to show sympathy for Palestinians

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Israel and Palestine. This is perhaps one of the most contentious issues, globally — so much so that no presidential candidate for the United States has ever declared their support for the Palestinians. Until now.

Bernie Sanders sparred with Hillary Clinton in Thursday night's Democratic primary debate on the subject of Israel and Palestine. Couching his message in his "100%" support for Israel, Sanders said the Palestinians needed to be treated with compassion and "dignity" for any progress to be made — and that America plays a big role in that. Clinton did not appear to agree.

See photos from the contentious debate:

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Bernie Sanders is the first presidential candidate to show sympathy for Palestinians
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14: Democratic Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) debate during the CNN Democratic Presidential Primary Debate at the Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on April 14, 2016 in New York City. The candidates are debating ahead of the New York primary to be held April 19. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders speak simultaneously during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) gestures towards rival candidate Senator Bernie Sanders as she speaks during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton (L) and Bernie Sanders both gesture during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Members of the audience watch as Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) and Senator Bernie Sanders discuss issues during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (L) looks on as rival candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks during a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton demonstrate before a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders demonstrate before a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Supporters of US Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders shout slogans outside the Brooklyn Navy Yard ahead of the CNN Democratic Debate on April 14, 2016, in New York. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders take their increasingly acrimonious battle for the Democratic White House nomination to a debate stage in Brooklyn on April 14th ahead of the key New York primary. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of democratic U.S. presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders demonstrate before a Democratic debate hosted by CNN and New York One at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
The Williamsburg Bridge stands past the media row before the start of the Democratic presidential candidate debate in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 14, 2016. While Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have tussled over energy policy, immigration, and gun control, it's the back-and-forth over Wall Street that has been most persistent through weeks of campaigning in the state. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A member of the media takes a photograph with a mobile device before the start of the Democratic presidential candidate debate in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 14, 2016. While Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have tussled over energy policy, immigration, and gun control, it's the back-and-forth over Wall Street that has been most persistent through weeks of campaigning in the state. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Attendees hold signs in support of Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, not pictured, before the start of the Democratic presidential candidate debate in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 14, 2016. While Sanders and Hillary Clinton have tussled over energy policy, immigration, and gun control, it's the back-and-forth over Wall Street that has been most persistent through weeks of campaigning in the state. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's supporters shout slogans outside the Brooklyn Navy Yard ahead of the CNN Democratic Debate on April 14, 2016, in New York. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders take their increasingly acrimonious battle for the Democratic White House nomination to a debate stage in Brooklyn on April 14th ahead of the key New York primary. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shout slogans outside the Brooklyn Navy Yard ahead of the CNN Democratic Debate on April 14, 2016, in New York. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders take their increasingly acrimonious battle for the Democratic White House nomination to a debate stage in Brooklyn April 14th ahead of the key New York primary. / AFP / Jewel SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
The stage stands before the start of the Democratic presidential candidate debate in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Thursday, April 14, 2016. While Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have tussled over energy policy, immigration, and gun control, it's the back-and-forth over Wall Street that has been most persistent through weeks of campaigning in the state. Photographer: John Taggart/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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"As somebody who is 100% pro-Israel, in the long run, and this is not going be easy ... if we are ever going to bring peace to that region — which has seen so much hatred and so much war — we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity," Sanders, who is himself Jewish and has spent prolonged periods of time in Israel, told the audience.

Bernie Sanders Is the First Presidential Candidate to Show Sympathy for Palestinians
Source: Mic

He was responding to moderator Wolf Blitzer's question of whether or not Israel's 2014 Gaza offensive was disproportionate in its retaliation. Sanders replied in the affirmative, a position he's made known in the past.

"Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks [and] has every right in the world to destroy terrorism," the Vermont senator said. "But we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed. Now if you're asking me ... 'Was that a disproportionate attack?' The answer is I believe it was."

MORE: Who won the Democratic debate

Just hours before these remarks, Sanders suspended Simone Zimmerman, in charge of his campaign's national Jewish outreach, for making distasteful remarks about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Facebook — Zimmerman also aspersed Clinton in her posts.

Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail:

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PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 15: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to a crowd gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center during a campaign rally on March 15, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary elections in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio, while Missouri and Illinois remain tight races. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
DES MOINES, IA - JANUARY 26: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks to the media after holding a campaign event with United Steelworkers Local 310L, on January 26, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. Sanders continues his quest to become the Democratic presidential nominee.. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - US Senator and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a campaign event at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 24, 2016, ahead of the Iowa Caucus. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, participates in the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016. Hours before Sunday's Democratic debate, the two top Democratic contenders held a warm-up bout of sorts in multiple separate appearances on political talk shows, at a time when the polling gap between the pair has narrowed in early-voting states. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) shakes hands with supporters after outlining his plan to reform the U.S. financial sector on January 5, 2016 in New York City. Sanders is demanding greater financial oversight and greater government action for banks and individuals that break financial laws. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
LEBANON, NH - NOVEMBER 11: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) marches in the Veterans Day Parade November 11, 2015 in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Sanders goes into the Democrats second debate this weekend still running strong in the polls.(Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute conference in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015. While next Tuesday's first Democratic presidential debate will probably lack the name-calling and sharp jabs of the Republican face-offs, there's still potential for strong disagreements between the party's leading contenders. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks about the Workplace Democracy Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
US Senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses striking low-wage contract workers from the US Capitol and religious leaders at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, DC, on September 22, 2015 for an interfaith service ahead of the arrival of Pope Francis for a six-day visit to the US. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, NH - SEPTEMBER 19: Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks on stage during the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention on September 19, 2015 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Five Democratic presidential candidates are all expected to address the crowd inside the Verizon Wireless Arena. (Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
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The Zionist or Israel lobby in the upper echelons of American power has silenced many on the issue of Israel and Palestine. It is "one of the most potent advocacy groups in Washington, D.C.," the Independent explained in 2013, after Chuck Hagel, during his Secretary of Defense confirmation hearing, reneged on his comments that Congress was intimidated by the lsrael lobby.

And the influence extends beyond Capitol Hill. Actors Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem were threatened to be blacklisted by many Hollywood studio executives after they co-signed an open letter comparing Israel's attacks on Gaza to genocide. Much like Hagel, Cruz had to backtrack and subsequently released a statement saying she only meant to promote peace and that she was "not an expert" on the "complex" issue.

The couple were accused of being anti-Semitic as their critics conflated Zionism with Judaism — a comparison Sanders has overtly rejected. Numerous politically active organizations, such as Jews for Justice for Palestinians, are evidence that being Jewish is not synonymous with being pro-Israel.

Clinton, by comparison to Sanders, was staunchly supportive and defensive of Israel in the debate.

Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail:

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Bernie Sanders is the first presidential candidate to show sympathy for Palestinians
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 10: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton holds a campaign rally at City Garage April 10, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. Voters will head to polling places for Maryland's presidential primary April 26. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton laughs as she listens to Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) speak on a gun control panel in Port Washington, New York April 11, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton holds a Latino organizing event on April 9, 2016 while campaigning in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. The New York Democratic primary is scheduled for April 19th. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images)
SPRINGFIELD, MA - FEBRUARY 29: Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a 'Get Out The Vote' rally at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History on February 29, 2016 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Massachusetts and Virginia ahead of Super Tuesday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to supporters at the Old South Meeting Hall during a rally in Boston, Massachusetts on Monday February 29, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 01: Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton greets patrons at Mapps Coffee on March 1, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Hillary Clinton is campaigning in Minnesota as Super Tuesday voting takes place in 12 states. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
MOUNT VERNON, IOWA - OCTOBER 7: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to voters during an outdoor town hall meeting at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa on Wednesday October 7, 2015. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 19: Hillary Clinton attends the Phoenix Awards Dinner at the 45th Annual Legislative Black Caucus Foundation Conference at Walter E. Washington Convention Center on September 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)
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US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes part in a discussion after speaking about the Iran nuclear deal at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on September 9, 2015. Clinton expressed firm support for the nuclear accord with Iran, calling it flawed but still strong. Clinton added that the agreement must be strictly enforced and said that if elected president next year, she would not hesitate to use military force if Iran fails to live up to its word and tries to develop a bomb. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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Hillary Clinton announced her campaign for president on Sunday April, 12, 2015 with a video on YouTube. 

(Screenshot from YouTube)

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"I don't know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist attacks, rockets coming at you," Clinton said in response to the very same question regarding disproportionate response. "You have a right to defend yourself."

Sanders was forceful about his position and pushed back in an attempt to pin Clinton down on the issue.

"I don't think anybody would suggest Israel invites or welcomes missiles flying into their country. That is not the issue," he said. "And you evaded ... the question. The question is not, 'Does Israel have a right to respond?' Not 'Does Israel have a right to go after terrorists and destroy terrorism?' That's not the debate. 'Was their response disproportionate?' I believe that it was. You have not answered that."

MORE: Debate highlights big irony

"I think I did answer it by saying that of course there have to be precautions taken," Clinton replied. She proceeded to blame Palestine for regional political failings and argued they it would never have found itself in this position if then-leader Yasser Arafat had agreed to husband Bill Clinton's peace deal.

"Israel left Gaza ... They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people," she added. "And what happened? Hamas took over Gaza. So, instead of having a thriving economy, with the kind of opportunities that the children of the Palestinians deserve, we have a terrorist haven."

Clinton's accusation of Palestinians depriving themselves of a thriving economy overlooks Israeli policy that inhibits economic development in the West Bank and Gaza. For example, it is extremely difficult for Palestinians to access land for commercial or agricultural development.

Bernie Sanders Is the First Presidential Candidate to Show Sympathy for Palestinians
A young girl stands in an apartment building damaged by the Israeli military offensive in 2014.
Source: Hatem Moussa/AP

"I read Secretary Clinton's statement, speech before [American Israel Public Affairs Committee]. I heard virtually no discussion at all about the needs of the Palestinian people," Sanders said.

MORE: Sanders gets raucous response from activists

"Of course Israel has a right to defend itself, but long term, there will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays ... an evenhanded role, trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people," he concluded. "That is, I believe, what the world wants us to do and that's the kind of leadership that we have got to exercise."

Source: YouTube
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