Democratic Voters Are Furious About US Support of Israel

Nearly 50,000 voters in Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary just cast ballots for nobody. In state after state, the voters Joe Biden needs are registering their fury about US support for Israel's war on Gaza by voting “uncommitted.”

People gather at an "uncommitted" watch party during the presidential primary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 5, 2024. (Stephen Maturen / AFP via Getty Images)

In the 2020 election, Joe Biden won Wisconsin’s electoral votes by a margin barely visible to the naked eye. In the small but crucial swing state, Biden received 1,630,866 votes to the 1,610,184 cast for Donald Trump. Four years earlier, Trump won by a nearly identical margin — 1,405,284 votes to the 1,382,536 for Hillary Clinton.

So when the campaign started for voters in the Badger State to register their outrage at Biden’s role in the genocide in Gaza by casting their Democratic primary votes for “uninstructed” — Wisconsin’s equivalent of what other states are calling “uncommitted” — the organizers were hoping for 23,000 votes. That would have been a couple of thousand more than the 20,682 votes Biden won by in 2020 and a few hundred more than the 22,748 that Trump won by in 2016. They calculated that this would be enough to send a loud and clear message that Biden is playing with fire by continuing to support a deeply unpopular policy of providing money, weapons, and diplomatic cover for the Israeli military as the corpses of Palestinian civilians pile up in Gaza.

They didn’t get 23,000 votes. They got 48,162. Simultaneously, uncommitted got an even higher percentage of the vote in solid blue Rhode Island — remarkable since there was very little organized effort there to campaign for that outcome. And uncommitted and similar campaigns are currently underway in a number of other states.

The only question is whether Biden will listen to these voters — who he might need to defeat Trump. Liberals and Democrats have been saying for years that a second Trump term would gravely threaten the future of American democracy. But if they really believe that, why are they willing to sacrifice Biden’s reelection to continue the carnage in Gaza?

Voters Around the Country Are Furious at Biden

The uncommitted movement first made its mark in Michigan, where 13 percent of Democratic voters cast their ballots for “uncommitted” in late February. In late March, I gave a public talk on Israel/Palestine sponsored by Metro Detroit Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Wayne State University Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA).

One of the main organizers of the uncommitted effort in Detroit, Ali Hallal, came up to chat with me after it was over. He has a very personal stake in the effort to get Biden to stop supplying Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bombs and diplomatic cover. Much of Hallal’s family is stuck in Lebanon — a country where there have already been a number of Israeli airstrikes, and which could be drawn into a wider war. A few months ago, Israel’s extreme right-wing defense minister issued a chilling threat: “What we can do in Gaza, we can also do in Beirut.”

In context, this is a threat of apocalyptic violence. Israel has displaced over 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million civilians from their homes. It’s been months since the International Court of Justice issued a preliminary ruling that South Africa’s charge of genocide against Israel was “plausible” and issued a series of binding orders for Israel to pull back from the brink — orders that have, of course, been flagrantly ignored.

Since then, the situation has gotten worse. Israel’s own codified rules of engagement have, in some cases, allowed for a ratio of hundreds of civilians to be killed in order to kill a single intended target. The goal of destroying the conditions for normal Palestinian life could hardly be clearer. Hospital after hospital, school after school, church after church, and mosque after mosque, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is broadcasting its intentions. The IDF blew up the last university standing in Gaza — not even by aerial bombardment, but by controlled demolition.

If the goal were really to destroy Hamas, as Israel claims, none of this would make any sense. Anyone familiar with how people tend to react to seeing their friends and family murdered would predict that these horrors are likely to supercharge support for and recruitment to Hamas and similar organizations. On the other hand, if the goal is to wipe out Palestinian society in Gaza and create conditions so desperate that many Gazans will accept “voluntary” transfer out of the country, Israel’s strategy makes perfect sense.

Most damningly of all, Israel has systematically made it impossible for Gazans to feed themselves — what industry or agriculture could go on in an environment where 85 percent of the population is driven from their homes? — and also blocked all but a token trickle of aid coming in from outside. According to data from the Global Nutrition Cluster, “approximately one in six children [in Gaza] under the age two are experiencing acute malnutrition, with three percent of those experiencing wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition.”

Gazans have described “the agony of trying to keep their children alive on animal feed, or facing impossibly high prices for basic staples.” And all this was before aid organizations started withdrawing from Gaza this week after the IDF repeatedly struck an aid convoy, killing several workers and later claiming it was a “mistake” despite the fact that the convoy’s precise route had been shared with them in advance.

Hallal told me that the uncommitted vote in Michigan wasn’t monocausal. The Biden administration has been generally uninspiring on domestic issues, and he mentioned Biden’s failures on issues like student loan debt. But he told me that Biden’s role in the “genocide in Gaza” was the “catalyst” for it all and that outrage about it was by no means limited to “progressives” or Arab American voters. “Ordinary people around Michigan were outraged about the horrors playing out in Gaza,” he said.

Many liberals seem inclined to wag their fingers at these voters. Hallal drew a different conclusion. “It’s up to the Democratic Party to earn those votes back.”

How Much Do Democrats Want to Stop Trump?

The message sent in Michigan in February wasn’t entirely lost on the Biden administration. In early March, Kamala Harris used the phrase “immediate cease-fire” in a speech in Alabama. She was interrupted by enthusiastic applause from voters who thought the administration had finally come around before, in a perfect bit of darkly comic timing, she completed the thought — “for six weeks.”

And there’s been a steady drip, drip, drip of leaks about how “frustrated” Biden is with his close ally Netanyahu. Most recently, he actually said in public that he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the triple-tap “mistake” killing aid workers. But this is just a globalized version of the old cliché about Israeli soldiers “shooting and crying.” Biden is “frustrated.” Biden is “heartbroken.” Every once in a while, he’s even “outraged.” But one thing he isn’t willing to do is stop supplying the guns and bombs and money and diplomatic cover that Israel needs to ethnically cleanse Gaza — or even to threaten to cut these things off as a pressure tactic to get Israel to agree to a real, permanent cease-fire.

In fact, the weekend before the Wisconsin primary, there was a new shipment of US weapons to Israel. This one includes “more than 1,800 Mark 84 (MK84) 2,000-pound bombs and approximately 500 Mark 82 (MK82) 500-pound bombs” — in other words, some of the most indiscriminate conventional weapons in the two countries’ increasingly shared arsenals.

All of this is to say that the administration seems to think that Democratic voters are idiots who can’t tell the difference between rhetorically repackaging a policy and stopping the policy. Between being “heartbroken” while sending more 2,000-pound bombs and no longer sending the bombs. Between a six-week pause in a genocide and ending that genocide.

The 48,162 uninstructed votes in Wisconsin strongly suggest that an awful lot of the voters Biden will need to win in November aren’t idiots. To really put those 48,162 votes in perspective, in the previous four presidential election cycles, the highest vote for uninstructed in a Democratic primary was 5,092 votes in 2012. Almost ten times that many couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Biden in 2024 — in an environment where the entire Democratic establishment lined up behind the president long before a single primary vote was cast, and Democratic voters have been barraged with the message that democracy itself is at stake.

There’s room for reasonable people to argue about how much truth there is in that message. There’s a raging debate among scholars and commentators who despise Trump about whether his authoritarian tendencies make him something qualitatively different from previous Republicans — perhaps a “fascist” or a “protofascist”— or simply a natural continuation of decades of conservative politics. The latter, one could argue, is bad enough. Even if Trump didn’t ban opposition parties or fill concentration camps with his political opponents, he certainly filled the National Labor Relations Board with hardcore union-busters and appointed conservative Supreme Court justices who took away women’s right to choose.

Whatever you make of that debate, though, let’s put it aside for now to focus on a very simple and inarguable point. If Biden and his supporters themselves believe that Trump represents a profoundly authoritarian threat, why are they willing to risk a second Trump term for the sake of helping a foreign ethnostate prosecute a genocidal war against its rightless non-citizen subjects?

After the Wisconsin results came in, I spoke to Natalia Latif, the communications director for the uncommitted National Movement. She struck similar notes, telling me that the campaign is “descriptive” rather than “prescriptive.” They aren’t telling anyone how to vote in November but they are giving voters a chance to make their feelings clear to Biden in time for him to correct course.

The problem is that, as things stand, the administration hasn’t truly listened. As Latif told me, using the same rhetoric that Biden loyalists use when describing what’s at stake in the election, they’re faced with a choice between “the future of our democracy” and Benjamin Netanyahu. So far, they’re choosing Netanyahu.