Israel’s brutality driving Democratic Party voters and some lawmakers to support Palestine
A Palestinian child is taken away after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during a protest against an Israeli parade through Jerusalem's Old City, along the frontier with Israel east of Gaza City, Thursday, May 18, 2023. The so-called 'flag march' parade in Jerusalem marked 'Jerusalem Day,' an Israeli holiday celebrating the capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their capital and see the march as a provocation. | Adel Hana / AP

Though the government of the United States remains a strong supporter of Israel, there are some indications that the supposed “unbreakable bond” with Tel Aviv is faltering, though more in language than in deeds.

Following the provocative “Flag March” on May 18, which is carried out annually by Israeli Jewish extremists in the Occupied Palestinian city of East Jerusalem, the U.S. joined other countries around the world in condemning the racism displayed at the event.

The language used by the U.S. State Department was firm, but also guarded. Spokesman Matthew Miller did not condemn the racist, provocative march—which involved leading Israeli officials—but rather the language used by the large crowds, most of whom are strong supporters of the far-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The United States unequivocally opposes racist language of any form,” Miller tweeted. “We condemn the hateful chants such as ‘Death to Arabs’ during today’s marches in Jerusalem.”

Carefully articulated not to appear as a condemnation of the Israeli state itself, the U.S. position is still more “balanced” than previous positions, where Palestinians were often the ones associated with the U.S. use of words such as “condemnation,” “incitement,” and the like.

On the other hand, during Israel’s bloody five-day war on Gaza that started on May 9, Washington had resorted to the same old script, that of Israel having the “right to defend itself,” thus entirely misrepresenting the events which led to the war in the first place.

This U.S. position on Israel’s war on Gaza suggests that Netanyahu is the “defender” of Israel against supposed Palestinian violence and “terrorism.” But this purported champion of Israeli rights is yet to be invited to the White House five months after he returned to power at the helm of Israel’s most right-wing government in history.

Some want to believe that the decision by the Biden administration to distance itself from Netanyahu was entirely altruistic. But that cannot be the case, as the U.S. continues to back Israel militarily, financially, politically, and in every other way.

The answer lies in Netanyahu’s major miscalculations of the past, when he crossed a dangerous line, by turning against the Democratic Party and allying his country entirely with Republicans. His tactics paid dividends during the term of Republican President Donald Trump but backfired when Trump left the White House.

Biden is unquestionably pro-Israel. Per his own repeated remarks, his support for Israel is not only political but ideological as well. “I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” he has repeated, and proudly so, on several occasions.

But the U.S. president is also anti-Netanyahu, a dislike that even preceded the Trump-Netanyahu love affair. It mostly dates back to Barack Obama’s two terms in office, when Biden was the vice president.

Netanyahu’s political shenanigans and relentless attacks on the Obama administration at the time taught Biden that Netanyahu simply cannot be trusted.

Yet, Biden, with historically low ratings among ordinary Americans, cannot possibly, on his own, challenge Netanyahu and Israel’s stronghold on Washington through its influential lobby.

Something else is at work, namely, the fact that substantial sections of the Democratic Party’s voting base has begun to shift allegiances, from Israel to Palestine.

This assertion would have been unthinkable in the past, but the change is real, confirmed time and again by credible polling companies. The latest was in March.

“After a decade in which Democrats have shown increasing affinity toward the Palestinians, their sympathies…now lie more with the Palestinians than the Israelis, 49% versus 38%,” the Gallup poll concluded.

The fact that such growing “affinity” with Palestine has been registering in surveys for at least a decade suggests that the position of Democratic voters was a generational one, not an outcome of a single event.

Indeed, numerous organizations and countless individuals are working on a daily basis to create a link between “affinity” and policy.

Buoyed by the growing sympathies for Palestine, long-time advocate of Palestinians’ rights in the U.S. Congress Rep. Betty McCollum reintroduced, on May 5, the “Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act.”

Co-sponsored by 16 other members of Congress, the legislation demands that Israel must be prohibited from using “U.S. taxpayer dollars in the Occupied West Bank for the military detention, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.”

Two years earlier, The Intercept had reported that McCollum and her supporters were pushing towards barring U.S. aid to Israel from “subsidizing a wider array of Israeli occupation tactics.”

Alex Kane wrote this is “an indication of just how far the debate over the U.S. aid to Israel has come in the past six years,” a reference to 2015, when McCollum introduced the first legislation on the matter.

Since then, things have moved forward at an even more accelerated speed. The effort to hold Israel accountable has now reached the New York State Assembly.

On May 16, The New York Post reported that legislation was introduced by several Democratic lawmakers aimed at blocking registered U.S. charities from funneling money to fund illegal Israeli Jewish settlements.

The legislation, “Not on Our Dime!: Ending New York Funding of Israeli Settler Violence Act,” dares to challenge Israel on multiple fronts: the traditional power of the pro-Israel lobby, questioning U.S. funding of Israel, and confronting the channeling of funds to illegal settlements in the name of charity work.

Several reasons compel us to believe that the shift in U.S. policy on Palestine and Israel, though slow, nuanced and, at times, symbolic, will likely continue.

One is the fact that Israel is turning towards far-right nationalism, which is increasingly difficult to defend by U.S. liberal government and media.

Two, the steadfastness of Palestinians and their ability to overcome mainstream media restrictions and censorship that had prevented them from having any fair representation.

And, finally, the dedication of numerous civil society organizations and the widening network of support for Palestinians throughout the U.S., which allowed courageous lawmakers to push for substantive change in policy.

Time will tell what direction Washington will take in the future. But, considering the current evidence, support for Israel is dwindling at rates that are unprecedented.

For those advocating a just peace in Palestine, this is a good thing.

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Ramzy Baroud
Ramzy Baroud

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about Palestine, the Middle East, and global issues for over 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, an editor, an author of several books, and the founder of The Palestine Chronicle. His books include 'The Second Palestinian Intifada', 'My Father Was a Freedom Fighter' and 'The Last Earth.' His latest book is 'These Chains Will Be Broken'. Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter. He is currently a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University.