Biden faces pressure from Democrats over Israel policy amid Hamas attacks

The recent surge of violence in the Middle East has exposed the deepening rifts within the Democratic Party over the U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. President Joe Biden, who has been a staunch supporter of Israel for decades, is facing pressure from some progressive lawmakers and activists to take a more critical stance on the Israeli government’s actions and to push for a more balanced approach to the conflict.

The Hamas offensive and the Israeli response

On Saturday, October 7, 2023, Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel from Gaza, firing thousands of rockets and sending suicide bombers across the border. The attack, which Hamas claimed was in retaliation for Israel’s blockade of Gaza and its settlement expansion in the West Bank, was the most intense and deadly since the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. According to Israeli officials, at least 11 Americans were killed and some were “likely” taken hostage by Hamas. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) estimated that they killed about 1,500 terrorists inside Israel and destroyed hundreds of rocket launchers and tunnels in Gaza. Israel also faced skirmishes on its northern border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah militants fired rockets and drones at Israeli targets.


Biden condemned the Hamas attack as “appalling” and “unprovoked” and expressed his solidarity with Israel. He said that Israel had a right to defend itself and its people, and that the U.S. stood ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the Israeli government. He also spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other regional leaders, urging them to de-escalate the situation and restore calm. The U.S. also began arms shipments to Israel, including precision-guided munitions and missile defense systems.

The Democratic divide over Israel

While Biden’s response was in line with his long-standing pro-Israel position, it was met with criticism from some members of his own party, especially from the progressive wing. Some Democrats argued that Biden’s statement was too one-sided and failed to acknowledge the suffering and grievances of the Palestinians, who have been living under Israeli occupation and blockade for years. They also questioned the wisdom and morality of providing more weapons to Israel, which they accused of using disproportionate force and violating human rights in Gaza and the West Bank.

Some prominent progressive lawmakers, such as Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), issued statements or tweets expressing their sympathy for the Palestinians and calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel. They also urged Biden to support a UN Security Council resolution that would condemn both sides for the violence and call for an immediate ceasefire. However, the U.S., which has veto power in the council, blocked such a resolution three times, saying that it was not balanced and that it would undermine diplomatic efforts.

Other Democrats, especially those with close ties to the pro-Israel lobby or constituencies, defended Biden’s stance and reiterated their unwavering support for Israel. They condemned Hamas as a terrorist organization that deliberately targeted civilians and provoked a war with Israel. They also praised Israel for its efforts to minimize civilian casualties and protect its citizens from rocket attacks. They argued that cutting off or conditioning U.S. aid to Israel would only embolden its enemies and endanger its security.

The implications for Biden’s agenda

The growing partisan gap in support for Israel among Democrats poses a challenge for Biden, who has been trying to keep his coalition together and advance his domestic and foreign policy agenda. According to a Gallup poll conducted in February 2023, Democrats were closely divided on their sympathies in the Middle East conflict, with 42% siding with Israelis and 39% siding with Palestinians. This contrasts with a 79% to 11% split in favor of Israelis among Republicans.

Biden’s handling of the crisis could affect his popularity among different segments of his base, as well as his ability to work with Congress on other issues. Some progressives have threatened to withhold their votes on Biden’s infrastructure bill or other legislation if he does not change his approach to Israel. Some moderates have warned that alienating pro-Israel voters or donors could hurt the Democrats’ chances of retaining control of Congress in the 2024 midterm elections.

Biden has tried to balance his support for Israel with his commitment to advancing a two-state solution that would ensure the rights and dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians. He has appointed seasoned diplomats, such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr, to engage with both sides and regional partners. He has also pledged to restore humanitarian aid to the Palestinians that was cut off by his predecessor, Donald Trump.

However, Biden’s influence over the parties may be limited by several factors, such as the lack of trust between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the internal divisions within both Israeli and Palestinian politics, the involvement of other regional actors, such as Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, and the competing priorities of his own administration, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis, and the rise of China.

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