Biden navigating tough political waters as anger over Israel’s actions in Gaza grow

Israel’s shocking killing of aid workers in Gaza has put President Biden in perhaps the most serious political bind of the war between Israel and Hamas.

With Democratic anger rising over the increasingly bloody war, Biden appears to be using the killings of seven World Central Kitchen “angels” as an opportunity to take a much harder line with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He told the Israeli leader Thursday that U.S. support will hinge on Israel’s next steps.

That approach could help Biden bolster support among young and progressive anti-war voters and consolidate the Democratic base as he heads towards the epic clash with former President Donald Trump, which polls say could be decided by a very thin margin in a few battleground states.

But Biden and his campaign need to balance those concerns against the chance of blowback from Jewish voters and pro-Israel donors.

President Joe Biden (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

And the president can also ill afford to risk alienating moderate and independent swing voters in battleground states, who may be more likely to back the Jewish state. After all, they are likely going to be the ultimate deciders in the November election.

“Biden is caught between a rock and a hard place,” Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political analyst, told The News. “The Democratic Party base has moved sharply toward the Palestinians, including young people who normally can be expected to vote Democratic by a wide margin.”

The latest burst of outrage erupted Sunday when Israel killed the workers in a targeted attack that took place as they traveled in a marked vehicle and had informed Israeli authorities of their planned movements. Israel has apologized for the deadly attack which Netanyahu defended as a mistake carried out in the fog of war.

Biden has used some of his harshest language of the war to criticize Israel over the killings. He called Netanyahu Thursday to warn him to make changes to avoid killing innocent Palestinian civilians and aid workers – or else.

So far, Biden has largely avoided any serious damage from the Democratic presidential primary contest although about 10% of voters in several states including Michigan, Minnesota and Washington voted for uncommitted slates of delegates to express opposition to his Gaza policy.

In New York, critics of Israel say 12% of voters cast blank ballots in a similar protest during Tuesday’s primary that Biden otherwise won in a walkover.

Now that Biden and Trump have wrapped up their parties’ nominations, the president in particular has turned his attention to marshaling key blocs of traditional Democratic voters.

That big-tent coalition include Blacks, Jews, Latinos and younger voters, all of whom polls say are not yet 100% in his corner in the overwhelming numbers he needs to beat Trump.

Anti-war activists say they are doing Biden a favor by mobilizing young people and others to urge him to change course on Gaza.

“Democrats are going to need each and every one of these voters if we are going to unify the coalition needed to defeat Trump in November,” said Ana Maria Archila, co-director of the New York Working Families Party.

Political analysts point out that the war in Gaza is virtually the only key policy issue – including hot button topics like abortion, the economy, and immigration – where a large majority of Democratic voters disagree with the White House’s position.

“This is the single biggest problem for him within the party … not just with Arab-Americans in Dearborn but with all Democrats,” Dave Weigel, a journalist with Semafor, said on CNN.

Progressive activists and lawmakers have been calling on Biden to rein in Netanyahu for months.

“Most Americans do not want to be complicit in this,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the most prominent critics of Israel in Congress. “Do I think it could hurt Biden? Yeah, I do.”

But more recently, even mainstream Democrats have signaled uneasiness with the course of the war.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the most-senior Jewish elected official in U.S. history, delivered a speech last month in which he criticized Netanyahu and called for fresh elections in Israel. The unprecedented speech may have given fellow Democrats the green light to speak more freely, especially after the aid workers’ killings.

Not all Democrats agree that Biden would be making a smart political move by bullying Israel. Pro-Israel activists say the level of Democratic criticism of Israel is overblown and Biden is handling the difficult relationship as well as can be expected.

Mark Mellman of the Democratic Majority for Israel warned any shift away from Israel could also cost Biden votes of Jews and supporters of Israel, which could also make a difference in a very tight election.

“Joe Biden’s policies on Israel are borne out of decades of deep involvement in the region,” Mellman said. “There’s no reason to think they will change and that’s one of the reasons he has so much support from voters who support Israel.”

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