The Discussion on Biden’s Support for Israel Needs More Nuance

As a Gen Z college student, I keep hearing the same confusion and anger from my peers regarding Joe Biden’s inaction in calling out Israel for their humanitarian rights abuses in Gaza. After the recent attack on humanitarian aid workers in Gaza, President Biden issued an ultimatum to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stating that the United States will only continue to support Israel if Netanyahu implements new initiatives to protect civilians and aid workers in Gaza. Despite Biden’s firm words, he has yet to take any actionable steps toward calling for a permanent cease-fire in the region. 

As of late February, Palestinian deaths surpassed 30,000 and the devastation has only worsened as the war progresses. Coming from a generation that has never known a world with a weak Israel, it seems illogical and unfathomable to continue supporting Israel as the death tolls increase. Despite protests, pressure from leftist democratic colleagues and international efforts advocating for more severe policies toward Israel, President Biden has barely budged on his stance. Furthermore, all of his statements toward Israel have come in the form of a written statement, phone calls or a statement read by a member of his staff. The only exception was during his State of the Union address where he stated, “Israel also has a fundamental responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Gaza.” However, many are still pushing Biden to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire and to stop sending military aid to Israel. In the eyes of many young democratic voters, President Biden is not doing nearly enough to stop Israel, and it’s difficult to understand why. 

While ending military aid to Israel and insisting on a permanent ceasefire may seem like a no-brainer for my generation, the reality is much more nuanced. Joe Biden’s stance toward Israel is not necessarily out of a lack of compassion or cowardice, but pure history and politics. Crediting his pro-Israel perspective to his father, Biden recalls that his father emphasized the undeniable justice of establishing Israel as a Jewish homeland in 1948 following the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust. His historic view of Israel is as a small country fighting for democracy in a region of instability, not the powerful, right-leaning and domineering country many people my age see today. Throughout his Senate career Biden also received $5 million from pro-Israeli groups, the chamber’s biggest recipient in history. This should not be surprising nor, arguably, worrying. For most of American history since the end of WWII, support for Israel has persisted, especially for democrats. Due to the historical context surrounding Biden’s tenure in the Senate, this is not abnormal. The United States was the first country to recognize Israel as an independent state in 1949 and the country has been, and remains, America’s greatest ally in the Middle East and is praised as a symbol of democracy in the region. 

However, it is not 1949 anymore, and the gravity of the situation is becoming increasingly apparent. If Joe Biden does not reassess his pattern of nonconfrontation and passive diplomacy with Netanyahu, it may be too late to help the situation in Gaza and protect his base. President Biden won Michigan in the 2020 election but the results of the February Michigan primary, with a substantial number of undecided votes, suggest that his unwavering support for Israel could potentially be a deciding factor against him in a close general election. Key swing states like Michigan and young voters won Biden the 2020 election, but his support for Israel may jeopardize his 2024 chances, as young voters are less likely to vote in 2024 than in 2020. With such a close race, Biden cannot afford a low young voter turnout. 

That all being said, there is also the very real possibility that if President Biden takes back his support for Israel, Republicans may be quick to portray the president as anti-Israel. Republicans on the House Armed Service Committee have criticized initiatives to direct more aid into the region. Missouri Congressman Mark Alford said, “90 percent of [humanitarian]funding” ends up in the hands of Hamas. While the social media and political circles of my peers and I are skewed in favor of Palestinians, it can be easy to forget that the general public lacks a consensus on the level of support the United States should provide to Israel. Joe Biden is not the only one whose historical and personal experience with Israel deeply influences their political views. Older generations tend to view Israel as a refuge for the Jews after the painful, visceral memories of the Holocaust. One report shows that less than half (48%) of Gen Z and millennials believe the United States should publicly voice support of Israel compared with 63% of Gen Xers and 83% of baby boomers. 30 years ago, support for Israel was more associated with Democrats than Republicans. Today, many democratic Gen Z voters find it very difficult to wrap their heads around a world that sees Israel’s actions as justified and fair. Recognizing these generational divides is essential for navigating the broader discourse surrounding Israeli-Palestinian relations.

It is also valuable for my age group to understand the historical relevance of congressional and presidential support for Israel. There has never been a U.S. president to actively oppose Israel. Throughout Joe Biden’s long career, it has never been an option to withdraw support for Israel. It is also important to note that Biden’s stance is not unique nor should it be surprising: the mainstream political discourse has always skewed in Israel’s favor. As Jimmy Carter once put it, “It’s absolutely crucial that no one in our country or around the world ever doubt that our number one commitment in the Middle East is to protect the right of Israel to exist, to exist permanently, and to exist in peace.” In summary, it is unrealistic to expect Joe Biden and other politicians to completely shift their worldview that has been shaped over decades of precedent. 

This does not mean that the American people should wait around for Joe Biden to change his mind while thousands of Palestinians die every day. The world is not the same as it was 80 years ago and neither are international dynamics. While these historical precedents should not be ignored, there needs to be some acknowledgment of the Israeli government’s role in Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. In a conflict that is so rooted in history, it is imperative to keep in mind the long history that the president and the country have had with Israel if there is any hope of ending the suffering, death and destruction in Gaza.

The views expressed in opinion pieces do not represent the views of Glimpse from the Globe.