On Thursday night, President Joe Biden delivered a nationally televised address making the case for an unprecedented military aid package for Israel as well as for Ukraine. Biden is requesting a whopping $74 billion to send to Israel and Ukraine, even amid scenes of mass death, humanitarian crisis, and relentless violence in the besieged Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank.
So where does the US public stand on the crisis in Palestine and Israel? Contrary to the impression one might get listening to the leadership of the Democratic and Republican parties, there appears to be a breakdown in consensus. According to a CBS/YouGov poll released yesterday, over 55 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the conflict thus far (though 62 percent of Democrats say Biden is showing the right amount of support for Israel).
Most notably, roughly 53 percent of Democrats believe the United States should not send additional weapons and supplies to Israeli. If the numbers are accurate — and looking into the weeds of the polling data seems to bolster the takeaway — we appear to be witnessing a significant shift in public opinion.
What can we glean from these results? Two things.
One, the age divide. The CBS poll and a Quinnipiac survey released on October 17 both lay bare the substantial generational split on the issue. In each survey, those under fifty years old are more likely to be critical of the president’s approach and of unconditional support for Israel. Even in the Quinnipiac poll, which frames the question in a way that would depress support for the sentiment, 51 percent of voters aged eighteen to thirty-four say they oppose the United States “sending weapons and military equipment to Israel in response to the Hamas terrorist attack.”
Additionally, the CBS poll finds that 70 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of voters overall, including a perhaps surprising 41 percent of Republicans, believe the United States should directly ferry humanitarian aid into Gaza. All of this lines up with polling from earlier this year and previous years that indicate an uptick in support for Palestinians, particularly from younger Americans.
Two, the malleability of public opinion on this issue is stronger than one might have initially anticipated after the horrific October 7 attacks in Israel. Americans still sympathize deeply with Israel, but there are also worries that the bombardment of Gaza will expand into a regional war. Also, the presence of a larger, louder, and more aggressive pro-Palestinian bloc on the left flank of Congress, in tandem with the brutal stories coming out of the siege of Gaza, seems to have dragged down public support for a full-throated endorsement of Israel’s behavior.
Prominent figures like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman have called for a cease-fire. The sole Palestinian American in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, has said that she has one goal in calling for a cease-fire: “save lives.” A new Data for Progress poll finds that “66% of likely voters agree that the U.S. should call for a ceasefire and de-escalation of violence in Gaza to prevent civilian deaths.”
Progressive and socialist groups have also been active. IfNotNow, an organization made up of Jewish anti-occupation and racial justice activists, staged a sit-in at the United States Capitol this week. The Democratic Socialists of America have made a remarkable 103,000 calls to members of Congress in the last five days, seeking to press key officeholders to demand a cease-fire. Already, the progressive congressman from Texas Greg Casar has signed onto the cease-fire resolution sponsored by Cori Bush.
In other flash points of public discontent, a senior State Department official has resigned from his position, and the Huffington Post is reporting “extremely low morale” at Foggy Bottom. Yesterday, a letter signed by over four hundred Jewish and Muslim staffers on Capitol Hill was released calling for cease-fire. It is clear that, like in May 2021, there is a much stronger and more organized pushback against a uniformly pro-Israel position than in previous decades.
The US left has an opportunity to press on the generational divide in public opinion and use it to advance the struggle for Palestinian liberation and democracy for all those who live between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. The public is not immovable and neither are those in power. This struggle for democracy and equality will require Palestinians, Jews, and people of all backgrounds to insist that the United States end its military aid and call for an immediate cease-fire and for unmitigated humanitarian aid to Gaza and the rest of the land.
Perhaps in the solidarities formed in this moment, we may at last build the movement needed to bring justice and peace to Israel and Palestine. As the historian Rashid Khalidi writes in the conclusion to his The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine: “Overcoming the resistance of those who benefit from the status quo, in order to ensure equal rights for all in this small country between the Jordan River and the sea — this is a test of the political ingenuity of all concerned.”