Biden tries to hold the line with progressive Democrats on Israel

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden speaks Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, as Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken listen. Evan Vucci/AP

Biden tries to hold the line with progressive Democrats on Israel

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President Joe Biden visited Israel before most Democrats alive today were born.

Biden is standing firm behind the embattled Jewish state in the aftermath of Hamas terrorist attacks. While the majority of the Democratic Party is behind him at the moment, that stance could be challenged over time.


“This is a moment for the United States to come together, to grieve with those who are mourning,” Biden said Tuesday. “Let’s be real clear. There is no place for hate in America. Not against Jews, not against Muslims. Not against anybody. What we reject is terrorism. We condemn the indiscriminate evil as we’ve always done. That’s what America stands for.”

He then made an unequivocal statement of support for Israel.

“Let there be no doubt,” Biden continued. “The United States has Israel’s back. We’ll make sure the Jewish and democratic state of Israel can defend itself today, tomorrow, as we always have. It’s as simple as that.”

For some Democrats, however, the situation is not so simple.

While they represent a small fraction of the House Democratic caucus, members of the progressive “Squad” have made headlines by calling for a ceasefire or talking about damage done on both sides.

Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Cori Bush (D-MO) have described Israel as “an apartheid state” and called for the end of U.S. funding after Hamas’s deadly terrorist attacks. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) called for an end to the “blockade in Gaza.” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) said the United States should stop “unconditional weapons sales and military aid to Israel.”

Some groups of college students have gone even further, most notably a collection from Harvard that said Israel is “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” Black Lives Matter chapters across the United States have also come out in support of Palestinians.

When asked about the equivocation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre gave a forceful rejection.

“I’ve seen some of those statements this weekend, and we are going to continue to be very clear: We believe they are wrong,” she said. “We believe they are repugnant, and we believe they are disgraceful.”

“Our condemnation belongs squarely with terrorists who have brutally murdered, raped, and kidnapped hundreds, hundreds of Israelis,” Jean-Pierre continued. “There can be no equivocation about that. There are not two sides here. There are not two sides.”

The White House was lit up in the colors of the Israeli flag Monday night.

But as the initial shock of the attacks fades and Israel begins operations in Gaza, that resolve may be tested. Support for Israel among Democrats has been slipping for a decade, to the point that it may now constitute a minority of the party’s voters.

A March Gallup poll found that 49% of Democrats now sympathize more with Palestinians in the Middle East, compared to 38% whose sympathies lay more with the Israelis. That poll was taken well before the terrorist attacks, though it could point to the origin of some early resistance to supporting Israel in the conflict.

Biden has to navigate these tensions as he runs for reelection. He has to be seen as strong on national security and fighting terrorism, but he also needs progressive voters to turn out, especially in the battleground states.

Democratic strategist Brad Bannon predicts Biden will be rewarded for his clarity.

“Biden’s handling of this is going to be a big plus for him,” Bannon said. “This is the commander in chief taking strong, decisive action in a crisis. This is really made to order for Biden.”

GOPers have been quick to point out the intraparty division, with Republican National Committee spokesman Jake Schneider boasting in an email blast that his party will always stand with Israel.

“Why are so many prominent Democrats seemingly against Israel’s right to self-defense?” Schneider wrote. “Because Democrats have an antisemitism problem — even if they won’t acknowledge it.”

Bannon said that attack is laughable given the Republican Party’s dysfunction.

“The House of Representatives can’t respond to the Israel crisis because they don’t have a speaker,” he said. “[Sen. Tommy] Tuberville [R-AL] is holding up promotions of the leaders of our Middle East battle command and he says this crisis won’t stop his hold. The Republican response to this, or lack thereof, is a joke.”

Bannon thinks Biden will gain much more support from the middle than he’ll lose on the Left fringe, saying that pro-Hamas rallies may attract news coverage but tend to have sparse attendance.


Biden appears to think so as well. He shared a story of visiting Israel before the 1973 Yom Kippur War and meeting with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir, who told him the country had a secret weapon: Its residents had nowhere else to go.

“You know, there are moments in this life — and I mean this literally — when the pure, unadulterated evil is unleashed on this world,” Biden said. “The people of Israel lived through one such moment this weekend. The bloody hands of the terrorist organization Hamas, a group whose stated purpose for being is to kill Jews. This was an act of sheer evil.”

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