Bernie Sanders
Bernie SandersReuters

Democratic frontrunner Senator Bernie Sanders defended himself from accusations he is anti-Israel in an interview with Margaret Brennan on CBS News Sunday.

Sanders, who refused to address this week's AIPAC policy conference, was asked if he thought he would suffer politically for shunning the pro-Israel lobby.

"Yeah, I do. I mean, they have a lot of money. They have a lot of power," Sanders said of the pro-Israel lobby in the US,

"Look, I'm Jewish and I'm very proud of my Jewish heritage. As a kid, I spent time in Israel. I am not anti-Israel. I will do everything I can to protect the independence and the security and the freedom of the Israeli people. But what we need in this country is a foreign policy that not only protects Israel, but deals with the suffering of the Palestinian people as well. You've got 70 percent youth unemployment in Gaza. People can't even leave that district, that area, major, major crises. It is not sustainable that we continued conflict in the Middle East until the United States develops an even handed policy."

Sanders has been criticized for statements and actions perceived as anti-Israel. Last week he stated that he would seriously consider moving the US embassy in Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv and called Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a "reactionary racist."

He also claimed that AIPAC provides a platform for "leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights" in justifying his decision not to address the conference.

Sanders' campaign has become associated with a number of people accused of open anti-Semitism, including controversial former Women's March leader Linda Sarsour and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon fired back at Sanders during his address to the AIPAC conference Sunday.

"We don't want Sanders at AIPAC. We don't want him in Israel. Anyone who calls our prime minister a 'racist' is either a liar, an ignorant fool, or both,” Danon said.