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Democratic divide over Israel-Hamas war looms over Biden’s reelection 

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The growing divide within the Democratic Party over President Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war is becoming a serious political problem for the 81-year-old president, who has trouble appealing to young voters and energizing his party’s base. 

Democratic strategists and progressive activists say growing disenchantment among liberals, especially younger Democrats and minority voters, over the war and graphic images of Palestinian civilian casualties could hurt Democratic turnout in the 2024 election.  

“I think it’s a real issue because whenever an important part of the base of your support is upset with you substantively, which I think is happening with young people and what’s going on in Israel and the Middle East, that’s an issue,” said Tad Devine, a longtime Democratic strategist who has worked on several presidential and vice presidential campaigns.

“How big of a problem is it? If the election were in two weeks, it would be a really big problem. Fortunately, the election is in 11 months. I do think there’s a lot of room for the president and his administration to improve on a lot of these issues, not just the issue of the moment in Israel,” he said.

Biden scored a victory Tuesday, when after weeks of pressure from his administration, Israel accepted a deal with Hamas to pause the fighting for four days to allow for the exchange of 50 hostages and 150 Palestinian prisoners. Israel says the truce could be extended if more hostages are released.

But an NBC News poll of 1,000 registered voters conducted by Hart Research Associates and Public Opinion Strategies found that 70 percent of voters ages 18 to 34 disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war. The poll found that only 51 percent of Democratic voters of all ages approve of how he’s navigated the issue.

The divisions within the party over the conflict have grown steadily worse as it’s dragged on. 

That was laid bare last week, when 22 House Democrats joined Republicans in voting to censure Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), who is Palestinian American, for “promoting fake narratives” about the war after she accused Israel of practicing “apartheid” and repeated the pro-Palestinian slogan “from the river to the sea.”  

Another ugly scene played out last week in front of the Democratic National Committee headquarters when pro-Palestinian protestors clashed violently with Capitol police.  
And a massive crowd protest of protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza forced the California Democratic Convention to shut down for several hours Saturday.

Biden pointedly refused to call for a cease-fire in a Nov. 18 Washington Post op-ed and insisted Israel has a right to defend itself. 

“As long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, a cease-fire is not peace. To Hamas’s members, every cease-fire is time they exploit to rebuild their stockpile of rockets, reposition fighters and restart the killing by attacking innocents again,” he wrote.  

Strategists say the conflict poses several significant problems for the president.  

On one hand, Biden’s refusal to call for a cease-fire is becoming a point of significant tension with many progressives.  

Two Senate Democrats have broken with Biden on that point, including Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

In a CNN interview earlier this month, Durbin called for pausing hostilities to free hostages, urging: “An effort should be made to engage in conversations between Israelis and Palestinians.” 

On Monday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called for “a cessation of hostilities on both sides.” He said a cease-fire should be followed by negotiations to release hostages and allow humanitarian aid into Israel.  

More than 40 House Democrats have called for a cease-fire. Among the latest to do so is Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), whose office was occupied by a group of activists after he initially refused to sign onto a cease-fire resolution.  

On the other hand, Biden’s calls for restraint, which have been largely ignored by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, risk making him look weak if they fail to curb the violence.

The longer the conflict drags on, the more it threatens to pull the United States into a broader regional conflict, which would force Biden to confront a variety of other political complications.  

The Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility this week for a rocket attack on an Israeli military base, heightening concerns that Iran and its proxies will get more involved in the fighting.  

The United States launched a second round of airstrikes early Wednesday on Iranian proxies operating in Iraq in retaliation for those militants targeting American and coalition troops.

“If it drags on and Israel continues the course they’re on, the outcry here will grow, the divisions here will grow, particularly in the Democratic Party. The outcry across the world will grow and the war could quietly likely spread, so I think it’s a big problem for the administration,” said Bob Borosage, a leading progressive activist and co-director of Campaign for America’s Future. 

He said that while Biden has urged the Israeli military to show restraint to minimize civilian casualties and called for the Palestinian Authority to ultimately govern the West Bank and Gaza, those requests have had little impact on Netanyahu and his allies. 

“What’s happened is Netanyahu’s basically blown Biden off,” Borosage said. “Netanyahu has said Israel will govern Gaza after the war. So the disconnect between what Biden is saying … and the reality that is going where Israel is taking [U.S.] money and doing what it wants is very damaging for Biden.”

He said Biden needs the conflict and the streaming images of bombed-out neighborhoods and injured civilians to abate quickly to avoid lasting political damage.

“The policy of the administration to hug Netanyahu and talk both first privately and now publicly [about restraint] but without any pressure is a mistake,” he added. 

Darrell West, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, acknowledged “Biden has problems with progressives and young people, who do not share all of his policy objectives.”

But he predicted they will rally to vote for him next year if former President Trump is the Republican nominee.

“Trump will mobilize the Democratic base for Biden. Seeing the stark contrasts between Trump and Biden will bring progressives and young people back to Biden,” he said. “The possibility will scare most Democrats back to the Biden option.”

Devine said Biden has reason to hope the situation in Israel and Gaza will improve before next year’s general election, given Israel’s military superiority and the prospect that its forces could wrap up their campaign within a few weeks or months. 

“I don’t think, for example, that people will disagree with him about some aspect of Middle East policy, like whether Palestinians have been treated fairly for the last 30, 40 years, will be nearly as important about whether or not he’s seen as a guy who’s making progress on issues they care most about,” he said.

Source: The Hill

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