WASHINGTON – The bloody conflict in the Middle East is turning into a heated campaign issue in the United States, further boosting Republican front runner Donald Trump’s chances in the 2024 presidential election while exposing a chasm in the Democratic Party to the disadvantage of President Joe Biden.
More Americans think of Israel as a like-minded nation, but they also worry whether the country is reacting with disproportionate force to an Oct 7 attack by Gaza-based Hamas that took around 1,400 Israeli lives.
One month after the attack, a new poll from The Associated Press-Norc Centre for Public Affairs Research shows that 44 per cent of Americans said Israel shares US interests and values, compared with only 32 per cent in August.
However, 40 per cent of them also say that Israel has gone too far in its response, killing more than 10,000 people with heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian estimates.
Among the Democrats, some 58 per cent believe Israel has reacted excessively, versus 18 per cent of Republicans in the poll of 1,239 adults, which was conducted from Nov 2 to 6.
Mr Biden’s stand on Israel has evolved since the war began, perhaps reflecting the sentiment within his party.
He first pledged “unwavering support” for Israel, travelled to Tel Aviv in October and embraced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Then he offered a cautionary note, saying that Israel should not occupy Gaza.
He also asked Israel for a “pause” to minimise civilian casualties, but has appeared reluctant to support calls for a ceasefire made by the United Nations and several countries.
Dissent within the Democratic Party came into public view this week when 22 Democrats joined nearly all Republicans in the House of Representatives to formally rebuke Michigan congresswoman Rashida Tlaib – the first Palestinian American to be elected to the chamber – for her rhetoric about Israel.
During a pro-Palestinian protest in Washington on Nov 4, Ms Tlaib had accused Mr Biden of supporting the “genocide” of Palestinians.
“Mr President, the American people are not with you on this one,” she had said. “We will remember in 2024.”
Last month, 15 House Democrats refused to vote for a bipartisan resolution that declared solidarity with Israel and condemned Hamas.
About 1 per cent of Americans identify as Jewish, with a similar proportion who identify as Muslim, and both communities tend to be largely Democratic supporters.
Within the party, the progressive wing – including the younger generation and non-whites – tends to be more liberal, anti-war and outraged at the rising death toll in Gaza and critical of Israel’s response.
Last week, nearly 20 per cent of the Democratic National Committee’s roughly 300 employees signed a letter asking the President to demand a ceasefire.
Such calls are seen as anti-Semitic by others in the party, who think a ceasefire would embolden Hamas.
In the Florida state legislature this week, for instance, a motion by a Democrat who tried to convince fellow House members to support de-escalation and a ceasefire mustered just two votes in favour.
The contrast with the Republican camp could not be sharper.
At Wednesday’s Republican Party primary debate, all five candidates backed Israel’s military operations and criticised rising anti-Semitic threats at home, particularly in college campuses.
Front runner Trump, who again skipped the debate, spoke at a rally in a Hispanic-dominated area of Florida, where he said the attack on Israel would not have happened had he been in office.
The former president’s pronounced hold on Republican voters is growing.
A recent poll of party voters by Quinnipiac University showed support for him grew from 42 per cent in February to 53 per cent in June, and stands at 64 per cent currently.
His legal troubles, with court appearances splashed across television screens this week, have stoked sympathy for him rather than concerns about his electability.
He is also finding a surprising surge in support from young voters, working-class Americans and the African-American community – the key constituents of Mr Biden’s voter coalition in the 2020 presidential election.
In a particularly worrying trend for the President one year before the Nov 5, 2024, election, a poll conducted by The New York Times and Siena College found that voters preferred Trump in five of the six most important battleground states.
The poll, conducted between Oct 22 and Nov 3, surveyed 3,662 registered voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
When asked who would “do a better job” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the poll showed that 50 per cent chose Trump, while 39 per cent picked Mr Biden.
For Mr Biden, the polls add to increasingly louder concerns about his re-election bid, which have centred on concerns about his handling of the economy and perceptions about his age – although at 80, he is just three years older than Trump.
In September, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius set tongues wagging when he said Mr Biden was not the “right candidate” for the next election and should consider withdrawing from the race.
This week, more damaging criticism followed, from influential Democratic strategist and Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod.
“If he continues to run, he will be the nominee of the Democratic Party. What he needs to decide is whether that is wise; whether it’s in his best interest or the country’s?” Mr Axelrod said in a recent tweet.
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