Alan Silverstein

Would Joe Biden’s abandoning support of Israel yield electoral success?

Joe Biden’s reelection campaign is facing discouraging poll numbers. Surveys reveal a lead for Donald Trump both in swing states and nationally.

Voters are concerned about the President Biden’s physical and mental frailty and advancing age. They are alarmed about migrants penetrating U.S. borders and arriving in American neighborhoods. They are worried about the U.S. economy, gun violence, crime, access to abortion, protection of America’s democracy, and much more.

Yet like some Progressive Democrats, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), cochair of the Biden get-out-the-vote effort, is focusing primarily on one issue. He regards Biden’s fate as intertwined with policies toward the Israel-Hamas war. Coons claims that the president is too supportive of Israel even while acknowledging that the IDF is fighting a war of self-defense.

Like “New York Times” columnist Tom Friedman, Coons advocates a more “even-handed” approach. Progressives insist upon massively increasing humanitarian shipments to Gaza — whether or not Hamas siphons off food and fuel for their own needs. Progressives demand that the IDF’s military action cease even if it leaves Hamas in a place to conduct perpetual war. Coons also envisions “regional reconciliation,” seeking “normalization” by the Saudis with Israel in exchange for an “irreversible” pathway to an independent Palestinian state.

For Coons and his allies, each element in this “grand bargain” is seen as a building block toward success for Biden’s 2024 campaign. “If that’s not possible, if that doesn’t happen over the next couple of months,” Coons said, “I do think that there’s segments of the Democratic base that will be more and more concerned and disenchanted.”

The “Times of Israel” reports that “some Democrats, particularly Vice President Kamala Harris, have begun to realize that the administration’s support for Israel in the war could cost them key support…among young voters, some of whom may vote for a third party.”

Coons and Harris and other like-minded commentators might be correct. Effective politics does include the art of appeasing alienated supporters. But it also requires not sacrificing current allies, such as the pro-Israel folks in the Biden camp. Furthermore, it means attracting additional voters from among the ranks of the Independent/Undecided.

Recent poll data indicate the peril inherent in the Coons/Harris approach: It’s reported that 50% of Americans are content with the Biden administration’s Mideast policy. Yes, one-fifth of American voters-at-large regard Biden as too pro-Israel, but an equal number consider him not pro-Israel enough.

In terms of Biden’s base of support, not all Democratic voters are dissatisfied with the administration’s Israel policy. The mid-December Democratic Majority for Israel poll surveyed registered Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and Undecided. Among Democrats in the survey, only 11% held favorable views of Hamas, compared to 50% who viewed Israel favorably; 63% of Democrats favored support for Israel over Hamas, in contrast to only 6% favoring Hamas over Israel.

Of the survey’s Democrats, 53% certainly would support a “ceasefire” agreement if a ceasefire requires disarming and dismantling Hamas, plus releasing the Israeli hostages. This majority far outnumbers the 22% who advocate an unconditional ceasefire that would leave Hamas in control of Gaza. Why? Most Democrats realize that Hamas’s goal is not merely statehood for the Palestinians; it is “to destroy Israel and remove the Jewish people from Israel.” This is not an acceptable path toward a two-state solution!

Pro-Israel sentiments are reflected in January’s Harvard-Harris national poll. Support for Israel and Biden’s pro-Israel policies remains very strong. Pro-Hamas voters are vocal but comprise a distinct minority.

* 83% of American voters affirm that Hamas’s October 7 attack was an act of terrorism.

* 74% view Hamas’s October 7 massacre of Israelis as genocidal in nature.

* 5% do not agree that Palestinian grievances justified these monstrous assaults.

* 80% support Israel in the conflict.

* 69% agree that Israel makes efforts to avoid civilian casualties.

* 66% concur that Israel is just trying to defend itself and to eliminate Hamas [and is not committing genocide against the Palestinian people].

* 67% would applaud a ceasefire but only if the hostages are released and Hamas is removed from power.

Persuaded by pro-Israel poll results, Jonah Blank, a former long-time foreign policy adviser to then Sen. Biden, offered a caution with regard to attracting Undecided voters. “I think the president would be vulnerable politically to some conservative Democrats and certainly to the Republicans [and Independents],” said Blank, “if in fact he allowed them to paint him as someone who is not sympathetic enough to what the Israelis have suffered.”

Of most concern to pro-Israel Biden supporters is that Secretary of State Antony Blinken has ordered the State Department to review the prospects of American and global recognition of a Palestinian state following the conclusion of Israel’s war against Hamas. Axios reported that this would possibly include allowing the UN to admit “Palestine” as a full member state and encouraging recognition of a Palestinian state by other countries.

The plan envisions unifying of the West Bank and Gaza, then conducting elections for its governance. What would that mean? In a January 26 interview on Saudi television, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, made clear what “reform” governance would mean. Rudeineh stated that after the war, the PA “is ready to hold general elections, and if Hamas wins, the president [Abbas] will hand over the Authority.”

This is consequential for folks who seek long-term peace. After all, Hamas has an excellent chance of electoral success. Its popularity among Palestinians has been enhanced since October 7. They stand to gain the release of many Palestinian security prisoners. They stand to succeed in bypassing bilateral negotiations with Israel. They stand to be rewarded with a rapid pathway to statehood. Finally, they would have set a precedent of the mass murder of Jews while victoriously remaining in power.

Hamas is not embarrassed by its brutality on October 7. They vow to rearm and then repeat October 7 again and again until all Israelis have been murdered or expelled. They plan to do so not only on the southern border of Israel. Speaking to Hizbullah TV, Hamas official Ali Baraka bragged: “We can repeat October 7 many times. The Mujahideen stormed the Gaza Envelope, and tomorrow they will storm the Galilee, they will storm Israel from wherever they can.”

Democratic strategists ought to fear the manner in which voters would react to the prospect of Hamas’s control over not only Gaza but also over the West Bank. That prospect might be pleasing to the anti-Israel wing of the Democratic Party — but swing voters in key states might not be so pleased.

The electoral risk of anti-Israel policies is becoming evident. For example, in Missouri, bitter Israel critic Cori Bush trails moderate Wesley Bell, her Democratic primary challenger, 50% to 22%. Similarly in his surprisingly tight congressional race on Long Island, former Democratic congressman Tom Suozzi tries hard not to be identified with the left wing of his party. He has commented, “I think that the progressive left of the Democratic Party is hurting Democrats throughout the country.”

Overwhelming support for Israel among American voters is evidenced by the polls; in the latest monthly Harvard-Harris poll, 80% are shown to favor Israel versus 20% for Hamas.

Democratic moderates may well be correct. Tilting the Biden administration’s support away from the Jewish state might not assist in reversing his sagging electoral support; in fact, it might have the opposite effect.

About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”
Related Topics
Related Posts