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Gaza War a deepening minefield for Biden and the Democrats

Time may be their friend. If a ceasefire is brokered and violence recedes, the ‘genocide Joe’ voters may realise Trump is worse on the issues they care about.
Dan Coleman
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Man in front of microphone

US President Joe Biden (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images).

Published: 3 March 2024

Last updated: 21 March 2024

Time may be their friend. If a ceasefire is brokered and violence recedes, the ‘genocide Joe’ voters may realise Trump is worse on the issues they care about.

As the war rages on in Gaza, pro-Palestine Americans have increasingly focussed their frustrations on President Biden and the Democrats. Despite his expressed intentions, Biden has been unable to broker a ceasefire. And the Biden administration seeks to provide additional billions in military support to Israel.

These tensions came into focus during last week’s Democratic presidential primary in Michigan. In late January, a movement called “Listen to Michigan” formed, urging Democratic voters to “Tell Biden, Count Me Out for Genocide”, its goal to encourage enough voters to tick “Uncommitted” rather than Biden in order to “demonstrate that we hold his margin of victory for re-election.”

Their campaign succeeded, with more than  100,000 votes (16%) cast for Uncommitted. In the city of Dearborn, with a 54% Arab American population, Uncommitted came in ahead of Biden.

It’s not just Americans of Arab descent who supported the Uncommitted campaign. The Jewish former Democratic Congressman Andy Levin (2019-23), author of the Two-State Solution Act, was a key spokesperson for the campaign. He told Democracy Now that the message to Biden is “you must change course for the sake of your re-election.”

It is undeniable that Biden has strengthened his resolve, as demonstrated by his initiating a series of airdrops of humanitarian aid. Representative Jim Banks (R-IN) criticised Biden as “basing his foreign policy on a Michigan election that he’s going to lose.”

While the Michigan results are dramatic, their broader implications for the November election are uncertain. Political analyst with The New York Times, Nate Cohn, pointed out that, in 2020, Biden could have lost every vote in the Michigan townships with the highest Arab American populations and still have defeated Trump in Michigan.

The identification of African Americans with the Palestinian cause is strong: 'They are oppressed people. We are oppressed people.'

But it is not 2020 and the electoral prospects this year are far from clear. Currently, some polls show Biden trailing Trump in key battleground states as well as nationally. If the race is close enough, a significant number of Arab Americans could tip the scales away from Biden. In the US, where voting is not compulsory, they could do so just by staying home.

As well as Arab and Muslim Americans, there are other constituencies the Democrats are surely concerned with. Demonstrations targeting Biden administration policy have spread across university campuses and major cities.

In January, more than 1000 Black pastors representing hundreds of thousands of congregants called on Biden to press Israel to cease offensive occupations. The identification of African Americans with the Palestinian cause is strong. As Rev. Cynthia Hale of the Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia succinctly expressed it: “They are oppressed people. We are oppressed people.”

Yet, after African Americans, Jewish voters might be the Democrats’ most reliable constituency. Biden would be hard pressed to bow, for example, to pressure from the Left to allow a censure of Israel to pass the UN Security Council, knowing that it could push many Jewish voters into the Republican column.

Thus, Biden must thread a needle, pushing for an end to war, for the release of hostages, for a Palestinian state, for the rebuilding of Gaza, all while sustaining a commitment to the security of Israel. It’s not just Biden, but also candidates in the Congressional primaries who are navigating a minefield. Those who echo Biden’s pro-Israel stance risk alienating progressive voters who demand a more balanced approach. Conversely, progressive candidates advocating for Palestinian rights face opposition from pro-Israel interest groups and centrist challengers.

The Gaza war has become a litmus test for ideological resolve, forcing candidates who would rather be discussing reproductive rights, the economy, or immigration to focus instead on foreign policy, human rights, and the long history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The convoy tragedy will ramp up criticism by those who somehow hold Biden responsible for events in Gaza.

As progressive NY Democratic incumbent Jamaal Bowman told Politico, “I ran for Congress to serve the most marginalised people in my district to deal with the issue of concentrated poverty, to deal with the issue of climate justice, lack of access to affordable housing, all of the issues that the majority of Americans care about… I’m never going to be distracted from fighting for those issues.”

Bowman’s passion may be rewarded by Americans’ long-standing lack of interest in foreign affairs and their laughable ignorance of geography beyond their own borders. On point, according to the Wall Street Journal, only 47% of college students polled who embraced the slogan “from the river to the sea” could identify the river and the sea in question. Almost unbelievably, 10% thought Yasser Arafat was the first Prime Minister of Israel.

Time may turn out to be the Democrats’ best friend in resolving the competing and irreconcilable demands of the supporters of Palestine and those of Israel. The November 5 election is precisely eight months from today. If a ceasefire is brokered, if the violence is well into the rear-view mirror, the voters who today sling epithets like “genocide Joe” may conclude that Donald Trump and the Maga cult that supports him are far worse on every issue they care about.

It would be a tragedy built upon a tragedy to let Trump slip into the White House because of Gaza.

On the other hand, continuing tragedies like that surrounding a humanitarian aid truck convoy last week will only ramp up criticism of Biden by those who somehow hold him responsible for events on the ground in Gaza. Israel has reportedly accepted a six-week ceasefire proposal developed by the US, Egypt, and Qatar. But Hamas is demanding a permanent ceasefire. If they do not accept the current proposal, pro-Palestine Americans will continue to blame Biden.

It would be a tragedy built upon a tragedy for those on the American Left and in minority communities to let Donald Trump slip into the White House because of the war in Gaza, especially given that likely Trump policies would be far worse for the Palestinians and for the cause of peace. But the Israel-Palestine conflict has been one of ongoing tragedies. The Hamas atrocities of October 7 were meant to spread a sense of those tragedies around the world. In that, they have clearly succeeded.


Read the Polls Properly: Most Americans Back Israel Over Hamas (Haaretz)
DAHLIA SCHEINDLIN: What if Israelis weren't being told time and again, in every news cycle in Israel, that anti-Israel, pro-Hamas sentiment is sweeping through America, terrifying Jews and Israelis there?

Most US Jews say Israel to play major role in presidential election, survey finds (Ynet)
Majority of respondents note considerable decline in US support for Israel's war effort, contrasting with earlier polls, while more now believe US does not support Israel enough.

What would Donald do? Here’s what we know about how Trump would handle Israel and Gaza (JTA)
The former president has not released a detailed plan on the war, but arguments from Trump and his supporters focus on his support for Israel during his first term, and his posture toward Iran, an ally and funder of Hamas. 

One third of Americans are reluctant to vote for a pro-Israel politician, ADL survey finds (JTA)
One fifth are uncomfortable buying products from Israel. More than 40% at least somewhat agreed that Israel intends to cause as much Palestinian suffering as possible. 

About the author

Dan Coleman

Dan Coleman is a former member of the Carrboro, North Carolina Town Council, and a former political columnist for the Durham (NC) Morning Herald. He is the author of Ecopolitics: Building A Green Society. He lives in Melbourne.


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