President Biden’s Handling of the Israel-Gaza Conflict Divides Democratic Party

Photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/POOL/REUTERS.

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United States President Joseph Biden’s response to Israeli strikes and ground operations in Gaza and the West Bank following the October 7 attacks from Hamas, particularly his refusal to call for a ceasefire, has exacerbated divisions in the Democratic Party’s voting base. This has been especially true among Muslims, Arabs, progressives, and younger voters. Biden has repeatedly reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself, leading many progressive coalitions within the Democratic Party to criticize what they perceive as a lack of meaningful action to address the root causes of the conflict and the disproportionate use of force by Israeli authorities.

The United States has historically positioned itself in a mediating role between the Israeli and Palestinian governments; however, its consistent backing of Israeli policy and lack of enforcement in limiting settler encroachment, among other things, discredits its commitment to being a neutral arbitrator. In a lecture regarding Israeli-Palestinian relations, scholar Dr. David Myers described the realization among Palestinians that “the U.S. was not the honest broker that they hoped for.”

Through the 1993 Oslo Accords, the former Clinton administration inserted itself into negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) negotiator Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to establish a two-state solution. Despite various agreements and efforts, including the Hebron Protocol and the Wye River negotiations, the peace process faced considerable setbacks, particularly with the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the collapse of the Camp David summit in 2000. 

The United States’ failure to defend the agreements made on the account of the Palestinian people was disappointing, to say the least, and has led to distrust and resentment of the U.S. government from both abroad and within borders. This resentment has only been magnified by the recent conflict, specifically the over 29,000 deaths caused by Israel’s military operation. The images and videos of civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure in Gaza have fueled outrage in various communities across the country and inspired a global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) and protest movement.

In the U.S., pro-Palestine coalitions have gained momentum through intersectional solidarity, bringing together people of different demographics. Some of the prominent groups organizing for Palestinian liberation include Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapters in universities across the country, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), If Not Now (INN), and others. In addition to these voices, many Black and Indigenous activists have spoken out in solidarity with Palestinians. 

Biden’s support for Israel’s military actions has strained relations with Muslim and Arab American communities nationwide, who have historically felt marginalized by U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Many view Biden’s stance as prioritizing his long-standing relationship with Israel over the Palestinian people, contributing to a sense of alienation and disillusionment for the president. 

Students and young voters are another critical faction within the Democratic Party that will be affected by Biden’s foreign policy strategy. Polling data indicates that young Democratic constituents are growing more sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians and are increasingly critical of unconditional U.S. support for Israel.

Source: Harvard Institute of Politics Fall Youth Poll | Ages 18-29

Failure to address the concerns of progressive and minority communities risks eroding the party’s support base and dampening enthusiasm among key demographic groups. The Israel-Gaza conflict has become a flashpoint for discontent with U.S. foreign policy. It underscores the need for a more inclusive and nuanced approach to addressing the region’s complex challenges. As the Biden administration grapples with these issues, its ability to bridge ideological divides and uphold democratic values will be critical in shaping the party’s future trajectory.

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This article was edited by Anousheh Naqvi and Anthony Vu.