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Democrats fear Israel-Hamas war could cost them in November

Democrats are fearful that Israel’s war in Gaza is turning into a major political liability for President Biden and candidates down the ballot, and one that could get worse if it rages on into the summer and attention turns to his match-up with former President Trump.

Biden is under increasing pressure from Democratic lawmakers over the worsening conditions in Gaza, growing fatalities and Israel’s likely invasion of the southern city of Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Adding to those issues, Americans are increasingly disapproving of Israel’s actions. This has created a political headache for Democrats who are pushing the party to unite behind Biden and leading to concerns the issue could rear its head on the biggest stage in November.

“It’s massive. If this war keeps going on, then it will continue to be a major problem,” one House Democrat told The Hill. “The sooner Biden can break from [Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] in a major way, then the better off he will be politically. It’s not just the progressives who are angry about the U.S. support of the Gaza operation — it’s now broader than that.” 

“I fear what the DNC in Chicago could look like,” the House Democrat added, referring to the Democrats’ quadrennial convention in late August. 

The outrage toward Biden over his handling of the war has been visible through protests following him around the country, and through organized boycotts of him at the ballot box.

Last week, he was interrupted during two campaign stops: one in Raleigh, N.C., and one in New York City, when he was alongside former Presidents Obama and Clinton for a major donor event.

And groups such as Abandon Biden and Our Revolution have organized efforts in states with high concentrations of Arab Americans, Muslim Americans and young people — including Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota — to encourage people to write “uncommitted” or “Gaza” on their ballot to send a message to Biden ahead of November.

The administration has sought to keep the pressure on Israel to avoid civilian causalities, and Biden has called on Netanyahu to not launch his Rafah offensive without a clear plan. 

But that has not stopped Democrats from ratcheting up pressure on the administration over the current state of the conflict. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and others are urging the president and his team to push Netanyahu and his government to allow humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza, as more than 32,000 Palestinians have died in the war and many more have been displaced.

“Very anxious,” one Senate Democratic aide said about the party’s current mood. “The question is: When can you bring this conflict to an end? Democrats want to end this as soon as possible, because it’s the right thing to do and it’s a political necessity.”

And recent headlines are upping the stakes still more.

The administration is considering selling Israel up to 50 new F-15 fighter jets, 30 AIM-120 advanced medium range air-to-air missile, as well as Joint Direct Attack Munition kits, equipment that can alter dumb bombs into precision-guided weapons, The Hill confirmed. It would mark the largest U.S. military sale to Israel since Hamas launched its attack on Oct. 7 and likely outrage many within the party.

Democrats already criticized the first two arms sales to the Israeli military, which bypassed congressional approval, arguing the process undermines transparency and calling it a blank check for Netanyahu.

Additionally, seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen were killed Monday in a strike that Netanyahu took responsibility for, adding to anger about the situation.

“That’s not an accident,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote on X, noting that Israel has killed more than 200 aid workers in almost six months of war and reiterating his call for no more aid to be given to Netanyahu.

Sanders also echoed the concerns about what effect the war could have on the election.

“Yeah, I am [worried about November],” Sanders told MSNBC, noting that he will still continue to back the president despite the disagreement. “The polling is very clear: The Democratic base wants to stop funding Netanyahu’s war machine.”

“So if your question is: ‘Is it going to hurt the president unless he turns this around?’ Yeah, it will,” he told host Ana Cabrera.

​​The Biden campaign responded to the criticism by saying the president “shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East. He’s working tirelessly to that end.”

Polling shows falling approval levels for the Israel’s war in Gaza. A Gallup survey from March showed 18 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans approve of the war — down from 36 and 71 percent, respectively, in November.

A separate Gallup survey from February showed only 47 percent of Democrats and 27 percent of adults approved of Biden’s handling of the situation, his lowest rating of five categories surveyed.

One Democratic strategist said Biden’s campaign needs to emphasize the comparison between the president and how Trump would respond to the war. The source noted that Trump imposed a ban on citizens of Muslim-majority countries entering the U.S. during his presidency and has vowed to expand it if he is reelected.

“​​Everyone in the party should be concerned about every vote in every state, which is why you see Dems trying to expand the map. There are loud voices criticizing the president on Gaza, but it’s the campaign’s job to draw the contrast between what Biden’s policies are, and show that he is empathetic overall, and what Trump’s would be,” the Democratic strategist said. “A lot of the criticism about how Biden is handling Gaza is from young voters; if you’re 18, you were 11 when Trump instituted his Muslim ban. So, if you don’t like what Biden’s doing, you certainly aren’t going to like what Trump would do.”

Trump recently said in an interview with two Israeli reporters that Netanyahu should end the war soon and that Israel was bleeding public support for their efforts — comments that break sharply with most other top Republicans who have thrown their weight behind the prime minister.

Netanyahu recently addressed the Senate GOP conference shortly after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in U.S. history, called for new elections in the nation, directly rebuking the longtime prime minister in the process. 

A number of Republican lawmakers have also traveled to Israel as part of congressional delegations as part of the show of public support.

Despite the level of concern on the left, some Democratic operatives don’t believe it will be a determinative factor in November and that the voters who sit out the general election over the issue likely wouldn’t vote anyway for one reason or another.

“With young voters, I don’t see them voting for Trump. … I think where [the conflict] hurts us is that we get bogged down talking about it and it’s not an issue that sways swayable independents,” one Democratic strategist said. “If you’re staying home on this issue, you were probably staying home regardless.”

Source: The Hill

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