Mon, Jul

Support for Israel is No Longer Broadly Bipartisan


THE BOTTOM LINE - Since the Hamas-led attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 and the ensuing war in Gaza, Americans have become more divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than they have been in decades. The most prominent shift can be found among Democrats, where sympathy and support for Palestinians has risen at the expense of those who support Israel. 

The shift toward sympathizing with Palestinians more than Israelis has been especially notable in the young, liberal wing of the party. Recent polls show Democrats and younger Americans are less likely than Republicans and seniors to be supportive of Israel and to convey that helping the Jewish state is an important American imperative. 

Liberal activists, notably on college campuses, have argued that the civilian suffering being witnessed during this war is Israel’s fault for its government’s support of settlement expansion in the West Bank and the economic and security restrictions it has applied to Gaza. Some Democratic lawmakers have called for stronger recognition of Palestinian sovereignty in the aftermath of the war’s launch. More have urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid escalation the war’s intensity. President Biden himself has conveyed to Netanyahu in one of their several recent calls that Israel must “operate by the rules of war” going forward. 

The Democratic divisions exist among the electorate too, underscoring the extent to which the October 7 attack and the subsequent war threatens to split the party’s leaders and loyal voters from the youngest and most liberal parts of its voter base. A new Economist/YouGov poll finds 28 percent of self-identified Democrats said they sympathized with both groups equally, 26 percent said they sympathized more with Israel and 15 percent said their sympathies lie with the Palestinians. 

Age and ideology appear to be driving the split among Democrats. 

The picture is dramatically different among Republican Congressional candidates. Fully 50% of the candidates (91% of those who mentioned the issue) and a large majority of those who won their primaries expressed unconditional support for Israel. A handful of Republicans advocated for an end to U.S. support for the war — this position was usually coupled with opposition to Ukraine aid and support for broader isolationist policies. Almost no Republican candidates took a more nuanced position in the middle. 

U.S. policy toward the Middle East has long divided Democrats, but those disputes have become only more pronounced in recent years with the arrival of an outspoken group of liberal lawmakers — many of them women, most of them minorities — who have been fiercely critical of the Israeli government, particularly when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians. 

With that diversity has come new experiences, new perspectives — and new clashes when the topic of Israel comes up in Congress. 

What can we make of these findings? On the Democratic side, the winning candidates in the primaries are primarily pro-Israel with some who would like to see the U.S. try to enforce a ceasefire. However, the extreme left-wing position, the one most often heard in the demonstrations on college campuses, is neither well-represented in the field of candidates nor popular with Democratic primary voters. This is demonstrated by the low rates of electoral success for anti-Israel candidates and punctuated by Rep. Bowman’s defeat in the Democratic Party primary last month in NY16. There is a divide in the Democratic Party, but the anti-Israel candidates comprise for now only 2% of the primary winners this cycle. Outside of the most extreme position, the party is split fairly evenly, with most candidates displaying sympathy for Israel, but hesitancy to voice full-throated, unconditional support. On the Republican side, there is no such ambiguity, with more than half expressing support for unconditional aid to Israel. What is clear, however, is that Democratic congressional candidates and Democratic primary voters, while their views are more nuanced, skew older than the US population average, and as such are not as far left on this issue as was Jamaal Bowman and a handful of others who supported him. However, as young progressives and college students age and enter their prime voting age, the situation could worsen for Israel if the situation in the Middle East does not shift toward an effort to broaden the Abraham Accords approach to building a new Middle East. 

(Mihran Kalaydjian has over twenty years of public affairs, government relations, legislative affairs, public policy, community relations and strategic communications experience. He is a leading member of the community and a devoted civic engagement activist for education spearheading numerous academic initiatives in local political forums.)