American Passion. According to political scientist Marie-Cécile Naves, attacks by Hamas and the intervention of the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip are having a powerful effect on internal politics in the United States. On the Republican side is found an escalation in the “friendship” shown to Israel. As for the Democrats, they are torn between a prudent policy of support and a highly critical new generation.
President Joe Biden’s support for Israel is long-standing — it is political and personal — even “visceral,” to quote U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. As a senator, and later as vice president, Biden visited Israel more than 10 times and met every one of its prime ministers. This does not mean there have been no disagreements, even strong ones, particularly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the peace process, West Bank settlements and the highly controversial judicial reforms.
If Oct. 7 marked a turning point, with a boost in American military and financial aid to Israel, Biden is also working hard to convince Netanyahu not to give in to the hawks in the Israeli government by launching a ground offensive in Gaza before hostages are released or by opening a second front in the north of the country against Lebanon’s Hezbollah — and also to have clear goals in the war against Hamas. On this point, Biden has reminded him of America’s mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq. A flare-up of the conflict in the region is certainly not in Washington’s best interest.
On the Left, a Socially Conscious Generation Holds Biden to Account
For the left wing of the Democratic Party, Biden’s support for Israel, viewed as unconditional, is hard to accept today. Around 20 members of Congress are demanding a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. Younger generations and activist groups in particular, who see a link between the fortunes of minority groups oppressed and discriminated against in the U.S. (notably since the death of George Floyd) and the tragic situation of Palestinian civilians, are adding their voices to those highly critical of the White House.
Blinken is taking time to meet with them and hear them out and has reminded them of two major points: First, in diplomacy, a lot happens behind the scenes. Undeniably, Biden is more frank and uses a firmer tone when speaking to Netanyahu behind closed doors than in speeches before the press. Second, Biden is now publicly concerned about the fate of civilians in Gaza and has asked Israel to make it a “priority.”*
Will these inflections be enough? Should the Democrats worry about a possible disaffection in November 2024 of younger voters concerned about Palestinian rights? It is too soon to say, but vigilance is needed. On the one side, this is neither an organized nor representative movement; on the other, groups long involved in other causes, such as Sunrise for climate change, are beginning to mobilize for peace in the Middle East.
The specter of a repeat of 2016 is looming over Democrats: a significant abstention coupled with a vote in favor of a third candidate capable of running in a few decisive states. That could be enough to tip the balance in favor of Donald Trump.
On the Right, the Race to Be ‘Israel’s Greatest Ally’
Conservatives are well aware and stoking the embers to galvanize their most fervent voter base. They cannot resist conflating support for the Palestinian people with support for the Hamas terrorists. They also criticize Biden for his supposed weakness on Iran, all the while feigning to forget that the Iranian nuclear accord was unilaterally broken by Trump and that it will be a long and difficult path to a new one. Finally, they deride the incompetence of the executive branch while the highly controversial Abraham Accords, concocted by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and self-appointed Mideast specialist, buried the Palestinian issue.
After calling Hezbollah “very smart” on Oct. 11, Trump drew criticism from his rivals for the Republican nomination. He then went on to declare himself “the best friend Israel has ever had.” The annual meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition on Oct. 28 set the stage for Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and others to compete for the title of Israel’s greatest ally. At stake, in particular, is the support of Evangelical Christians, who are very influential in Iowa where the first Republican caucus will be held in Jan. 2024, and who hold a messianic or biblical vision of Israel’s destiny — and voted 80% for Trump in 2016 and 2020.
But for younger Republicans, this unconditional support for the Hebrew state is less pronounced than in prior generations. The Republican Party can revel in the stringency of the new Democratic guard. It should also, on this matter as on others, be concerned about what its own young voters expect of it in a changing America, whatever it might think.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quoted passage is attributed to a publication accessible by subscription only.