The Democratic Party has shifted to the left on US policy toward Israel in recent years, showing a greater willingness to criticize Israel and speak out in defense of Palestinian rights. President Joe Biden, on the other hand, does not appear to have gotten the memo. And the chasm between him and his party’s more progressive members is widening as the Biden administration struggles to address the escalating conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
So far, the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that has controlled Gaza since 2007, has killed at least seven Israelis from Hamas rockets, and around 70 Palestinians, including 16 children, have been killed, more than 300 have been injured, and entire apartment buildings have been flattened in Gaza as a result of Israeli airstrikes.
The Biden administration has strongly and publicly condemned Hamas for indiscriminately firing rockets at Israeli civilians. Despite this, it has refused to publicly criticize Israel for its precision bombing of civilian targets in Gaza, instead repeating the tired refrain that “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
According to a summary of National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s call with his Israeli counterpart on Tuesday, “he conveyed the President’s unwavering support for Israel’s security and its legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians.”
That kind of unwavering support for Israel would not have raised many eyebrows in the Democratic Party 20 or even 10 years ago. However, times have changed. The party has evolved. And it’s no longer just ruffling feathers.
“By only stepping in to condemn Hamas’ actions and refusing to recognize Palestinian rights, Biden reinforces the false notion that Palestinians instigated this cycle of violence,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted on Wednesday. “This isn’t neutral language.” It chooses a side — the occupation side.”
This is posing a problem for Biden, who promised to place human rights at the “center” of his foreign policy. Instead, he is becoming entrenched in the old US-Israeli policy, while his left flank on Israeli-Palestinian issues becomes increasingly vocal.
“It’s tearing the party apart,” a Democratic Senate staffer told me. “There is a schism between those who believe that support for human rights includes Palestinians and those who do not.” Biden is standing still while his party moves forward on this issue.
In March, a Gallup poll found that 53% of Democrats supported putting more pressure on Israel to make compromises to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a 10-point increase from 2018 and a 20-point increase from 2008.
This finding corresponded with poll after poll showing that liberal Democrats are less sympathetic to Israel than they were in previous years, despite the fact that the majority of Americans still support Israel and America’s alliance with it.
As a result, Israel went from having broad bipartisan support to having partisan concerns about its actions. “Donald Trump politicized US support for Israel,” Halie Soifer, CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America and former national security adviser to then-Sen. Kamala Harris, said. That is why congressional Democrats are more willing to criticize Israel.
Take, for example, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), a close Biden confidante who considers himself one of Congress’ most ardent supporters of Israel. He used a Twitter thread to condemn Hamas rocket attacks, but he also chastised Israel for attempting to evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem and other provocations.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), a Jewish lawmaker and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, also issued a statement last week criticizing Israeli aggression that contributed to the current conflict: “I continue to be deeply concerned about the violence in Jerusalem, including Israeli police violence, and I urge all parties to exercise restraint.”