The Gaza bloodbath and the Palestinian issue are causing deepening divisions in the United States, particularly within Biden’s party. Unqualified support for Israel has always been a given in American politics, and in much of the media, but now we are seeing hints of a shift.
A Quinnipiac poll released last week showed a growing divide in the Democratic Party, particularly among voters under 35, as a result of the “total support” professed by the president on his trip to Israel after October 7. Later, Biden did attempt to contain Netanyahu’s retaliation against Gaza, but his exhortations to “not repeat the mistakes” of past U.S. responses, and the State Department’s complaints about “too many civilian deaths” caused by the IDF, had no real effect. And many of the munitions that have razed or damaged more than 10,000 buildings in the Strip and caused the mounting carnage have been supplied by the U.S.
Last month, Josh Paul, an official in the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs, resigned from the State Department to protest the carte blanche on arms supplies granted to the Israeli government in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks. Paul revealed that the Pentagon had opened an emergency channel to meet Jerusalem’s demands, bypassing normal approval procedures. Biden has asked Congress for approval of an arms package worth $14.3 billion in addition to the annual supply of about $3 billion of war materials to Israel. But in the meantime, the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs, which oversees the flow of U.S. weapons around the world, approved the sending of the weapons needed for Israel’s Gaza operation without parliamentary oversight, using, for instance, weapons stored in the War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel (WRSA-I), which is, in effect, a stockpile of U.S. weapons that have already been delivered in advance to Israeli soil, for any “urgent” use.
These kinds of revelations and the unacceptable civilian casualty count have fueled a growing protest movement in the U.S., with demonstrations and civil disobedience actions continuing in dozens of cities. Pro-Palestine protests – many of them called and led by Jewish pro-peace youth organizations – have outnumbered pro-Israel protests 2 to 1.
Recently, bridges were blocked in Boston and San Francisco, as well as Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles; there were also many protest actions in New York City. Each of these protests took place in liberal districts with strong Democratic majorities. Last Saturday, in Sacramento, thousands of protesters disrupted the proceedings of the California Democratic Party convention, an indication of the effect the conflict is having on traditional positions on the Middle East, especially within the Democratic Party.
In the Republican Party, support for the Israeli ally is still prevalent – if anything, it has been strengthened by the natural affinity among the radical right for Netanyahu (although, at the same time, there is increasing evidence of an openly anti-Semitic resurgence among the extremist fringes of Trumpism – including some Twitter propagandists dear to Elon Musk).
But the issue is especially divisive on the left and within the president’s party, which traditionally draws support from the vast majority of the Jewish electorate, one of the most reliably progressive segments of the country. It is, in fact, among the left wing of the party that the president’s support for the Netanyahu government is raising the most explicit criticism.
Beside the marches, this has been expressed in Congress by Democratic representatives such as Cori Bush, congresswoman from Missouri and Black Lives Matter activist, and especially by Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the only congressional representative of Palestinian descent. Their criticism of Israel broke an institutional taboo, and Tlaib was censured on the House floor for using the wording “from the river to the sea,” deemed anti-Semitic because of the alleged “excessive” Palestinian territorial aspirations it would imply.
Tlaib is a member of “the Squad,” the group of progressive representatives to which Alexandria Ocasio Cortez also belongs, who last week authored an open letter signed by 24 representatives that called on Biden to intervene more decisively to stop the deaths, especially those of children. The leading Israeli political lobby AIPAC (America Israel Public Affairs Committee) decided to take action against the signatories, announcing that it will allocate $100 million to fund their political opponents.
Twenty-four signatures may not seem like a lot out of 435 House members, but they are nonetheless noteworthy in such a historically pro-Israel institution, and, most importantly, they are an indication of the shift taking place among the party’s base in light of the ethnic cleansing in Gaza.
While a majority of Americans still say they are pro-Israel, the Quinnipiac poll shows a sharp increase in sympathy for the Palestinian cause – rising from 13 percent to 24 percent over the past month. The effect is especially marked among the youth, of which 50 percent think the U.S. is “too supportive” towards Israel and as many as 66 percent find the Israeli reaction to the October 7 attack “excessive.” While support for Israel remains strong among over-65 Democratic voters, among young people there is a growing need to take a moral stand against the ongoing slaughter. There was also a division along ethnic lines, with 72 percent of whites in favor of Israel versus only 50 percent of minorities.
Most importantly, the “generational” rift is likely to cost Biden dearly, since the youth segment is a crucial component of the coalition of progressives, women and minorities that the president must succeed in activating in order to have a chance of being reelected next November. Episodes such as the one that occurred on Wednesday in Washington, when demonstrators protesting for a cease-fire outside the DNC (Democratic National Committee – the headquarters of the Democratic Party) as key Dem leaders were gathered inside were violently set upon by police, don’t seem to bode well.