Democratic candidate for president Bernie Sanders harshly cricitized Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a CNN debate on Thursday night, saying "if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time."
Sanders also attacked rival Hillary Clinton, accusing her of neglecting the Palestinians during her speech to AIPAC, the biggest and strongest pro-Israel lobby in the United States.
"You gave a major speech to AIPAC, which obviously deals with the Middle East crisis, and you barely mentioned the Palestinians ... All that I am saying is we cannot continue to be one-sided. There are two sides to the issue," Sanders said.
Clinton responded to the Vermont senator's claims, saying, "I have been involved, both as first lady with my husband's efforts, as a senator supporting the efforts that even the Bush administration was undertaking, and as secretary of state for President Obama, I'm the person who held the last three meetings between the president of the PA and the prime minister of Israel ... I was absolutely focused on what we needed to do to make sure that the Palestinian people had the right to self-government. And I believe that as president I will be able to continue to make progress and get an agreement that will be fair both to the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever, ever undermining Israel's security."
The topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a contentious one during the debate, with the politeness and political correctness that characterized the Democratic race so far broken, as now both candidates are fighting for their home state of New York ahead of the April 19 primary.
Wolf Blitzer, the moderator, asked Sanders the age-old question, "you said that Israel didn't respond proportionally in Gaza. Do you not think that Israel has a right to defend itself?"
Sanders, who in the last several days went out of his way to prove that he isn't anti-Israel, insisted that "of course Israel has the right to defend itself.
"Of course Israel has a right not only to defend themselves, but to live in peace and security without fear of terrorist attacks. That is not a debate. But what you just read, yeah, I do believe that. Israel was subjected to terrorist attacks, has every right in the world to destroy terrorism. 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."
He continued, saying "Now, if you're asking not just me, but countries all over the world was that a disproportionate attack, the answer is that I believe it was."
He went on to say, "I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people. That does not make me anti-Israel."
Meanwhile, Clinton responded by talking about her quarter century of dealings with the issue and clarifying that the Israeli leadership, "(does) not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages."
She recounted that, after hundreds of missile attacks and ambushes by Hamas, the Israeli leadership reluctantly informed her that they were about to attack.
"And, so when it came time after they had taken the incoming rockets, taken the assaults and ambushes on their soldiers and they called and told me, I was in Cambodia, that they were getting ready to have to invade Gaza again because they couldn't find anybody to talk to tell them to stop it, I flew all night, I got there, I negotiated that.
"So, I don't know how you run a country when you are under constant threat, terrorist tact, rockets coming at you. You have a right to defend yourself," she continued.
Sanders adviser: Netanyahu a mass murderer
Sanders found himself in hot water again recently when his new adviser on Jewish affairs called Prime Minister Netanyahu a "mass murderer" in a Facebook post chock-full of expletives.
He first got in trouble with the pro-Israel community in the US when he said that Israel killed 10,000 innocent Gazans during Operation Protective Edge - and later he corrected himself. He also refused to take a clear position on whether or not Israel should withdraw to the 1967 borders, and repeatedly mentioned the "appalling" situation in Gaza.
In an effort to improve his ties with the American Jewish community, the Vermont senator appointed a new consultant for his campaign, whose defined role is to maintain the relationship with Jews and to advise on the subject. But over the past week it quickly became clear that Sanders has not done his homework on his new advisor, Simone Zimmerman.
Only a year ago, Zimmerman harshly condemned the Israeli prime minister in a Facebook post, saying “Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative a**hole.”
A few days later, however, she dropped the offensive word and replaced it with "politician."
In another post she called Netanyahu "a mass murderer," accusing him of sanctioning "the murder of over 2,000 people this summer in a war of choice," adding "f*** you." A few hours later, she changed the offensive phrasing to "shame on you."
Zimmerman, a graduate of the prestigious University of California-Berkeley, where she wrote an opinion piece and called for the Jewish student organization Hillel International to join the boycott movement in support of BDS.
At the time, she worked to promote the play "Martyr's Street," which draws comparisons between a Jewish settler and a young man who makes bombs for Hamas.