Bernie Sanders calls Netanyahu a 'reactionary racist' in fiery Democrat debate

The candidates laid out their stalls on Middle East policy

CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 25: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) 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. Seven candidates qualified for the debate, hosted by CBS News and Congressional Black Caucus Institute, ahead of South Carolinas primary in four days.   Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

Another feisty debate between Democratic candidates running to face off with US President Donald Trump featured front-runner Bernie Sanders taking aim at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The six Democratic candidates gathered in South Carolina on Tuesday to set up their stalls. The debate grew fractious as the group discussed domestic and foreign policy.

On the Middle East, Mr Sanders stood apart from the field in directing heavy criticism at Mr Netanyahu.

While saying he is “very proud of being Jewish,” Mr Sanders described the head of the Likud party as a “reactionary racist”.

He said the US could defend Israel but “cannot ignore the suffering of the Palestinian people".

Mr Sanders said he would consider reversing Mr Trump's decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv if he became president.

Former mayor of New York City Mike Bloomberg disagreed, saying: “It was done and you will have to leave it there."

Former mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, expressed support for the people of Idlib in Syria under bombardment from the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

“I stand with the people of Idlib,” Mr Buttigieg said, but offered no plan to resolve the humanitarian crisis that has caused more than 900,000 people to flee since December, according to the UN.

Elizabeth Warren, a senator for Massachusetts, called for a humanitarian response and said the US should work with allies on Idlib.

Ms Warren also voiced her support for withdrawing troops from the Middle East.

“We have a sacred responsibility to them and that means to not use our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily," she said.

Former vice president Joe Biden was more combative in the latest debate, appealing to African-American voters whose backing will be crucial to give him a victory in the Palmetto state on Saturday.

“I will win South Carolina,” Mr Biden said after losses in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

He would use a possible win there to gain momentum for the Super Tuesday states next week.

Mr Biden promised to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court if he won the presidency.

Asked about his motto, Mr Biden said it was: “Everyone’s entitled to be treated with dignity, no matter what, no matter who they are."

Mr Sanders quoted Nelson Mandela, saying: “Everything is impossible until it happens."

He leads in national polls, with Mr Bloomberg and Mr Biden fighting for second place.

But the leftist senator came under heavy attack from other candidates on Tuesday for praising education programmes in Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba and not being clear about funding for his costly healthcare plans.

Fourteen states will vote next Tuesday, encompassing 40 per cent of the US population.

The Democratic candidates will try to accumulate as many delegates as possible to reach the 1,991 required to secure the nomination.