Biden is getting squeezed over Israel and Palestinian cause. Will it cost him the White House?

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WASHINGTON – Two days after a Democratic Jewish group launched an ad praising President Joe Biden as a steadfast friend and supporter of Israel, the president was challenged at a Democratic Party fundraiser about his approach to the Israel-Hamas war.

“Mr. President, if you care about Jewish people, as a rabbi, I need you to call for a cease-fire right now,” said the woman, who identified herself as Jessica Rosenberg. “Palestinians and Israelis have died. Please explain to me why.”

Biden is getting increasingly squeezed within his own party by those who want him to stand strong behind Israel after the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and those warning that the Palestinian people are at risk of annihilation.

Without meaningful changes in policy, Othman Atta, an attorney and executive director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, said of Biden, “we’re just not going to be voting for him.”

Atta is among some 1,500 voters who’ve signed onto a statement, being circulated by Arab, Muslim and progressive groups, declaring they won’t back Biden in 2024 unless he ends his support for Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Americans are suing to get the federal government to evacuate U.S. citizens from the Gaza Strip.

And troubling polls show a drop in support for Biden among Democrats and among Arab Americans since Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 attack on Israel that left 1,400 dead and led to the kidnapping of over 200 others.

“This war is bad for the Democratic party. It’s divisive,” said Max Abrahms, a political scientist at Northeastern University in Boston. “There will be many people who simply will not vote for Biden because of his strong pro-Israel stance, and they were previously reliable Biden voters.”

Democrats’ support for Palestinians has grown

In recent years, U.S. support for Israel has increasingly become a partisan issue.

Republicans are seen as more staunchly pro-Israel while the Palestinian cause has become a big issue for the Democrats’ progressive wing, Abrahms said.

“I view Biden as someone who’s not entirely in step with the Democratic Party when it comes to Israel,” he said. “We may not ever see another president who’s a Democrat who’s as pro-Israel as Biden.”

Gallup has been tracking the gradual downward shift in sympathy toward Israel among Democrats that started in about 2014. In February, for the first time, Democrats’ sympathies for the Palestinians were higher than for the Israelis, 49% to 38%.

“It certainly is a new paradigm in the history of U.S. attitudes on the Middle East,” said Lydia Saad, Gallup’s director of social research.

Biden’s approval drops among Democrats

Since the Oct. 7 attacks, Gallup’s tracking poll found a 11 percentage point drop in Biden’s approval rating among Democrats in the past month. The results strongly suggest support fell sharply in the aftermath of the attacks and Biden’s promise of full support for Israel, according to Gallup.

Separately, a poll released by the American Arab Institute this week shows Biden’s approval rating has nosedived among Arab Americans – from 74% in 2020 to 29% in the new poll.

“How permanent it is, I don’t know,” said pollster John Zogby, president and co-founder of the American Arab Institute. But he noted the poll was the first in his more than two decades of surveys in which a majority of Arab Americans did not prefer the Democratic Party. Only 23% identified as Democrats compared to 32% who are Republican and 31% who call themselves independent.

Arab Americans have voting clout in key states

Arab Americans make up a sizable voting bloc in several key states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, which Biden won by razor-thin margins in 2020. Biden beat Donald Trump in Pennsylvania by just 80,000 votes, or 1.2%, and carried Michigan by 2.8%.

Arab Americans account for about 2% of voters in Pennsylvania and can be as high as 5% in Michigan, depending on turnout. “That’s a lot of votes to lose in states where you only won by very small margins,” Zogby said.

Biden ‘wants to hear’ how he’s doing

Asked if the White House is concerned about that drop in support among Arab and Muslim Americans, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden is “always concerned and wants to hear how different communities feel about the work that he’s doing.”

Democratic strategist Waleed Shahid said the “fundamental issue that Muslim Democrats and Arab Democrats have with President Biden is that he does not value Israeli lives and Palestinian lives equally,”

Shahid pointed to Biden’s recent remarks that he had “no confidence” in the Gaza death toll caused by the Israeli strikes because it was provided by the Hamas-run health ministry. To many, that came across as tone deaf and disrespectful to those who have died, Shahid said.

“Even if Biden doesn’t think the numbers are accurate, there have obviously been enormous civilian casualties in Gaza,” he said.

Biden ‘thoroughly understands’ emotions on both sides

Biden said he “thoroughly understands the emotions, both on the Palestinian side of this argument and on the Jewish side of the argument.”

“This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis,” Biden said after being interrupted by Rosenberg Wednesday night in Minneapolis. “And it’s incredibly complicated for the Muslim world as well.”

“But, folks, the fact of the matter is that Hamas is a terrorist organization, a flat-out terrorist organization,” he said.

Biden also defended his record, saying he supports a two-state solution to the Palestinian homeland issue.  And he took credit for convincing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to help get hostages released and for working with Egypt to open a pathway for humanitarian aid to get into Gaza and for civilians to get out.

To address a rise in anti-Muslim hate incidents, the administration announced Wednesday it’s developing a national strategy to combat Islamophobia, similar to a plan launched in May to address antisemitism.

Is it ‘too little, too late’?

Atta, the executive director of the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, dismissed that initiative as “too little, too late.”

The statement he signed demands that Biden call for an immediate ceasefire, stop defending Israeli violence, demand full entry of humanitarian aid, water, fuel and food into Gaza, stop supporting the Israeli military with U.S. funding and resources and stop blocking measures by the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and other international forums to hold Israel accountable.

Democrats who think Biden is doing a good job supporting Israel while not forgetting about the civilians in Gaza dismiss concerns that the divisions among Democrats will cost the party the White House.

“To the extent people are wondering how this plays out in 2024, Israel will not be on the ballot,” said Steve Israel, a former U.S. Congressman from New York who previously headed the campaign arm for House Democrats. “Donald Trump will.”

Israel called Trump the greatest voter turnout motivator Democrats could have.

Halie Soifer, head of the Jewish Democratic Council of America whose political arm is running ads to boost Biden’s support among Jewish voters in critical states, said it’s important to remember that the election is 12 months away.

“I think there will be time for those rifts to heal,” she said. “And just as Jewish voters in 2022 prioritized the future of our democracy and abortion access at the polls, I think American voters writ large in 2024 will be thinking about the future of our rights, our democracy and our country when they vote for president. Which is why I think Joe Biden will win re-election.”

Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian American civil rights attorney from Michigan who was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2020, said that while she won’t vote for Biden or Trump next year, she would consider a third-party candidate.

Arraf said Biden may have shifted his tone lately in emphasizing efforts to ship food and water into Gaza but “it’s insulting at this point because he thinks Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians are stupid or gullible and that the American people are gullible, that we don’t see what you’re doing.”

Atta predicted that some Arab Americans would simply choose not to vote. In past elections, he said, he stressed to others that everyone’s vote matters and that they should vote even if they don’t agree with all of a candidate’s policies.

 But, he said, “I don’t believe in that anymore with Biden.”

Dig deeper Inside an American family’s frantic fight to free their loved ones held hostage by Hamas

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