Sanders, the only Jewish presidential candidate in the race, was trying to make a larger point about the many costs of the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled. Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe and I don't think I'm alone in believing that Israel's force was more indiscriminate than it should have been," he said.
This incensed Oren. In August 2014, the United Nations put the Palestinian death toll in the conflict at 2,104, including 1,462 civilians. That is a figure that the Israelis still dispute, arguing that there were fewer civilian casualties and that more "terrorists" were killed.
"First of all, he should get his facts right. Secondly, he owes Israel an apology," Oren told the Times of Israel in an interview. He then dropped an incendiary charge against Sanders.
“He accused us of a blood libel. He accused us of bombing hospitals. He accused us of killing 10,000 Palestinian civilians. Don’t you think that merits an apology?" Oren said.
As WorldViews has discussed in the past, the phrase "blood libel" is particularly loaded, with deep historic roots in the Jewish experience. It has its origins in the medieval era or perhaps even earlier, dating to a time when violence against Jewish communities was sometimes rationalized with myriad false rumors of Jews stealing Christian babies, eating a gentile's entrails and participating in various grisly, sordid blood rituals.
(The Anti-Defamation League, which said it wished Palin "had used another phrase," did not respond to a query from WorldViews regarding Oren's comments.)
Nevertheless, it does not appear to be much of a taboo for Israeli politicians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the term in November 2014 when describing the motives behind recent Palestinian attacks on Israelis. At the time, the head of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, cautioned Israeli leaders to eschew rhetoric that could be perceived as incitement.
Among the field of U.S. presidential candidates, Sanders has stood out for his dovish positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was the only one not to speak at a conference organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent pro-Israel lobby group.
In his interview with the Times of Israel, Oren focused his ire on what he thought was Sanders's apologia for Palestinian militancy.
"He doesn’t mention the many thousands of Hamas rockets fired at us," Oren said. "He doesn’t mention the fact that Hamas hides behind civilians.... He doesn’t mention any of that. That, to me, is libelous."
On this front, Oren is wrong. If he had looked at the transcript, it's clear that Sanders did address the issue of militant attacks and groups such as Hamas operating within civilian areas.
Sanders said the first thing he would demand of the Palestinians would be "the absolute condemnation of all terrorist attacks." He went on: "The idea that in Gaza there were buildings being used to construct missiles and bombs and tunnels, that is not where foreign aid should go. Foreign aid should go to housing and schools, not the development of bombs and missiles."
The Israeli offensive in Gaza caused widespread devastation, and the impoverished coastal territory is still struggling to recover almost two years later.
Oren said Sanders's comments about disproportionate Israeli violence were "a classic contribution to delegitimization," gesturing to wider attempts by activist groups to encourage boycotts of and divestment from the Israeli state. This is a suggestion that Sanders, the only U.S. presidential candidate to have spent time living on an Israeli kibbutz, would probably reject.
"I lived in Israel. I have family in Israel. I believe 100 percent not only in Israel's right to exist, a right to exist in peace and security without having to face terrorist attacks," Sanders told the Daily News. He went on, explaining his view:
But from the United States' point of view, I think, long-term, we cannot ignore the reality that you have large numbers of Palestinians who are suffering now, poverty rate off the charts, unemployment off the charts, Gaza remaining a destroyed area. And I think that for long-term peace in that region, and God knows nobody has been successful in that for 60 years, but there are good people on both sides, and Israel is not, cannot, just simply expand when it wants to expand with new settlements. So I think the United States has got to help work with the Palestinian people as well. I think that is the path toward peace.