Sanders said if he is elected, he would "take into consideration" moving the US embassy back to Tel Aviv, adding Middle East policy should be about protecting Israel "but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people."

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to media in the spin room after the Democratic presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on February 25, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders speaks to media in the spin room after the Democratic presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on February 25, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina. (AFP)

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "reactionary racist" at the Democratic presidential debate Tuesday.

Sanders said if he is elected, he would "take into consideration" moving the US embassy back to Tel Aviv, adding that Middle East policy should be about protecting Israel, "but you cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people."

"I'm very proud of being Jewish. I actually lived in Israel for some months. But what I happen to believe is that right now, sadly, tragically, in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist who is now running that country," he said.

Bibi is Netanyahu's often-used nickname.

Sanders said the US has to have a policy that reaches out to the Palestinians and brings nations together.

In late 2017, US President Donald Trump unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, triggering a world outcry. 

The following May, Washington relocated its embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem remains at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Palestinians hoping that East Jerusalem –– now occupied by Israel –– might eventually serve as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Apart from Sanders, six other candidates vying to take on Trump were on the stage at Tuesday night's Democratic debate in South Carolina.

They included former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and businessman Tom Steyer.

For her part, Warren said the Israelis and the Palestinians should be encouraged to return to the negotiation table, noting the Israeli people have a right to security and Palestinians have a right to be treated with dignity and to have self-determination.

"That is a two-state solution. But it's not up to us to determine what the terms of a two-state solution are," she said.

When asked if the US embassy should be moved back to Tel Aviv, Warren said it is not Washington but Israel and Palestine that should determine the capital themselves.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies