Reid J. Epstein and Anjali Huynh, New York Times, October 27, 2023
The Democratic Party’s yearslong unity behind President Biden is beginning to erode over his steadfast support of Israel in its escalating war with the Palestinians, with a left-leaning coalition of young voters and people of color showing more discontent toward him than at any point since he was elected.
From Capitol Hill to Hollywood, in labor unions and liberal activist groups, and on college campuses and in high school cafeterias, a raw emotional divide over the conflict is convulsing liberal America.
While moderate Democrats and critics on the right have applauded Mr. Biden’s backing of Israel, he faces new resistance from an energized faction of his party that views the Palestinian cause as an extension of the racial and social justice movements that dominated American politics in the summer of 2020.
In protests, open letters, staff revolts and walkouts, liberal Democrats are demanding that Mr. Biden break with decades-long American policy and call for a cease-fire, even as Israel steps up its military operations in Gaza.
The political power of the Israel skeptics within the party is untested, with more than a year remaining until the 2024 presidential election. Their efforts have been fractious and disorganized, and they have little agreement on how much blame to lay at Mr. Biden’s feet or whether to punish him next November if he ignores their pleas.
And yet Mr. Biden is already struggling with low Democratic enthusiasm, and it would not take much of a slip in support from voters who backed him in 2020 to throw his re-election bid into question. His margin of victory in key battleground states was just a few thousand votes — hardly enough to spare a significant drop-off from young voters alienated by his loyalty to a right-wing Israeli government they see as hostile to their values.
At its heart, the turbulence over Israel is a fundamental disagreement over policy, setting it apart from challenges like voters’ dissatisfaction with the economy, which Mr. Biden’s allies believe can be solved with better messaging. The president, who has for decades positioned himself in the middle of his party and has navigated Democrats’ ideological and generational divide for the first half of his term, now confronts an issue that has no easy middle ground.
Perhaps most concerning for Mr. Biden is that in the halls of Congress, the most critical Democratic voices are Black and Hispanic Democrats who helped fuel his 2020 victory. As of Thursday, all 18 House members who had signed onto a resolution calling for an “immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine” were people of color.
“We process pain, deprivation and cruelty personally, having either encountered it in our current lives or having had historical connections to it with our ancestors,” said Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, one of the cease-fire resolution’s co-sponsors. “So we understand that cruelty and war and violence do not have positive outcomes.”
For Democrats in Congress and in liberal groups in Washington, pressure to oppose Mr. Biden’s Israel policy is bubbling up from younger, more progressive staff members who have grown up in an environment more doubtful about Israel.
For many on the left, sympathy for the Palestinian cause stems from the same feelings of powerlessness that fueled the protests after George Floyd’s murder three years ago.
“There’s definitely a direct correlation,” said DaMareo Cooper, a co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, a collective of progressive community groups. “When we say Black Lives Matter, what’s really being said inside of that statement is a history of oppression.”
Demonstrations against U.S. policy in Israel have spread from the Capitol and college campuses — Cornel West, the left-wing independent presidential candidate, appeared at a rally on Wednesday at the University of California, Los Angeles — to high schools across the country. Students at several high schools in Northern Virginia walked out of classes this week in a “Humanitarian Walkout Week.” The presidents of George Washington and Emory Universities, among others, condemned anti-Israel slogans chanted at rallies and projected on buildings.
An array of liberal groups have adopted the Palestinian cause. This week in New York, one protest sign read, “Reproductive justice means justice for Palestine.” At another demonstration in Manhattan, hundreds marched under the banner of “Queers for Liberation in Palestine.”
The United States’ support for Israel is unpopular with voters under 35, polling has shown, and students at dozens of colleges on Wednesday afternoon walked out of class as part of a nationwide mobilization effort by the group Students for Justice in Palestine.