Accessibility links

Breaking News

Biden Faces Competing Pressure from Arab, Muslim and Jewish Voters on War in Gaza

FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden talks to reporters aboard Air Force One during a refueling stop at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Oct. 18, 2023, as he travels back from Israel to Washington.
FILE - U.S. President Joe Biden talks to reporters aboard Air Force One during a refueling stop at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Oct. 18, 2023, as he travels back from Israel to Washington.

President Joe Biden is facing internal revolt from some members of his Democratic Party over his unwavering support for Israel as it expands ground operations in Gaza and Palestinian civilian casualties increase.

The National Muslim Democratic Council (NMDC) sent an open letter demanding that Biden use his influence with Israel to broker a cease-fire by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Without a cease-fire, the advocacy group threatened to mobilize millions of Muslim voters to withhold donations and votes toward Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign.

NMDC includes party leaders from hotly contested states likely to decide the election, such as Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“We know for a fact that our community will make a difference in the battleground states,” said council chair Basim Elkarra to VOA. “Democratic Party leaders are paying attention, and they are afraid of what's happening, and they are sending messages to the White House that this is going to hurt our chances in 2024.”

Administration officials have advocated for “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid to reach civilians in Gaza but say a cease-fire now will only benefit Hamas.

Nearly 1.1 million Muslim voters cast ballots in the 2020 election, turning out in numbers large enough to swing the presidential race in key battleground states. Muslim Americans and Arab Americans have traditionally voted for Democratic candidates, but with thousands of Palestinians killed in Israeli retaliatory airstrikes and ground operations in Gaza, a shift may be coming.

Biden Faces Competing Pressure from Arab, Muslim, Jewish Voters on War in Gaza
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:02:55 0:00

A new poll released Tuesday by the Arab American Institute showed support for Biden has dropped among Arab American voters, from 59% in the 2020 election to 17% ahead of 2024.

According to the poll, two-thirds of Arab Americans have a negative view of Biden’s handling of the Israeli-Hamas war. The majority believe the U.S. should not send weapons and military equipment to Israel and should call for a cease-fire.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House will continue to engage with the Arab American and Muslim community.

“We certainly want to continue to keep those lines of communication open,” she told VOA during her briefing Tuesday.

However, while the White House provided an extensive readout of Biden’s Oct. 11 meeting with Jewish leaders, they did not announce the president’s meeting with Muslim leaders on Oct. 25.

An administration official told VOA that not every participant wanted this meeting to be made public, an assessment disputed by three Muslim community leaders with direct knowledge of the meeting. The leaders, who spoke with VOA and asked not to be identified, said that it was the White House that made confidentiality a requirement of the meeting.

People wave Flags of Israel as a “Shabbat Dinner” table is prepared with 200 empty seats representing the Israeli hostages and missing people, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on Oct. 27, 2023.
People wave Flags of Israel as a “Shabbat Dinner” table is prepared with 200 empty seats representing the Israeli hostages and missing people, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, on Oct. 27, 2023.

Jewish voters ‘deeply appreciative’

In contrast, Jewish Americans are “deeply appreciative” of Biden’s full-throated support of Israel, said Halie Soifer, who leads the Jewish Democratic Council of America. About 41% of Jews worldwide - about 7 million people - live in the U.S., according to Pew Research, the same number as in Israel.

Jews make up 2% of the U.S. population but about 3% of the electorate. In the 2020 election, the total number of eligible voters was 158.4 million, according to a Pew Research tabulation.

“The turnout for Jewish voters is on average 10% higher than the average American voter, in some states we've seen as high as 15% to 20% higher depending on the election,” Sofier told VOA, adding that Jewish voters tend to live in swing districts or states.

Biden is also widely praised in Israel, where his words and actions, including his brief wartime visit to Tel Aviv, made Israelis feel they are not alone, said Jonathan Rynhold, head of the Department of Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

Even those who were extremely critical of Biden and more sympathetic to former President Donald Trump, have publicly said, “I was wrong. This guy is a true friend of Israel,” Rynhold told VOA.

Since the Hamas attack, Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been in close communication, with Biden urging Netanyahu to conduct the offensive against Hamas in Gaza “in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritizes the protection of civilians,” the White House said Sunday, following the Israeli military’s expansion of its ground operations into Gaza late Friday.

“What he's saying to Israel – to help me to help you,” Rynhold said. “If you give maximum effort to fight in the right way, according to the laws of war, then it makes it easier for me to support you, and get support for you in the international community, and home in America and in the Democratic Party.”

There's growing pressure worldwide for a humanitarian cease-fire as casualties mount.

More than 8,000 Palestinians, including at least 3,300 children, have been killed in Israeli retaliatory attacks, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza.

The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which the U.S. and EU have designated a terrorist group, killed at least 1,400 people in Israel and took more than 200 hostages. The militant group that controls the Gaza Strip cited Israel’s decadeslong occupation of the West Bank among its motivations for attacking Israeli civilians and soldiers.

Republican support

Support for Israel is also strong among Republicans. Rejecting Biden’s call for a $106 billion international aid package with funding for Ukraine, Israel and other needs, newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, has put forward a $14.3 billion package that only includes money for Israel.

Meanwhile Trump, the leading contender for his party’s 2024 presidential nomination, faced an intense backlash over his criticism of Netanyahu just days after the Hamas attack. He said Netanyahu was unprepared and described Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group backing Hamas, as “very smart.”

At the Republican Jewish Coalition leadership summit over the weekend, Trump returned his focus on Biden.

“Four straight years, I kept America safe. I kept Israel safe, and I kept the world safe,” he said at the gathering of influential Republican donors. “If I were president, the attack on Israel would never, ever have happened.”

Trump’s argument is unlikely to change voters’ perception of Biden’s handling of the war, said Norman Ornstein, senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute.

“There isn't a lot of room for Republicans here, whether it's Trump or the Republicans in Congress to outflank Biden on support for Israel,” he told VOA.

While foreign policy is not usually a key driver of the American electorate unless U.S. troops are deployed, the war in Gaza has elicited highly emotional responses from Americans. Demonstrations both for and against Israel have spread in various cities, while incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia are on the rise.

Overall, a majority of voters – 84% Republicans, 76% Democrats and 74% independents – think supporting Israel is in the national interest of the United States, according to an Oct. 17 Quinnipiac University national poll of registered voters. Most voters – 79% Republicans, 59% Democrats, 61% independents – approve of sending weapons and military equipment to Israel.

An overwhelming majority of voters (85%) are concerned that the conflict will escalate into a wider war in the Middle East.

Anita Powell contributed to this report.