Whatever the American Left may want, Biden will continue his support for Israel. For him, it is an electoral necessity

A digital billboard in Tel Aviv welcoming US President Joe Biden to Israel (Leon Neal/Getty Images)


Iran’s brazen attack on Israel was thwarted, but it remains unclear if Israel will retaliate.

President Joe Biden purportedly warned Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu not to, telling him to “take the win” instead. This has raised the hopes of some in his party that Biden can prevail on Israel to restrain its response, and that he might even break with Netanyahu if his request goes unheeded.

That is extremely unlikely. Biden is a very unpopular president and needs all the support he can muster. It’s clear that both within his own Democratic Party and among voters at large, Biden ultimately will have to back Israel even if it launches an attack that Biden doesn’t like.

It’s easy to see why when one looks at polls. A recent New York Times/Siena College poll taken right before Iran’s attack found that American likely voters backed Israel over the Palestinians in their ongoing dispute by a nearly 2-1 margin.

That result is heavily tilted by Trump backers’ heavy support for Israel, but roughly a quarter of Biden’s voters and 23 per cent of those who currently back other candidates also favour Israel over the Palestinians.

Cutting off aid or backing away from Israel after it has been assaulted by Iran – a nation widely viewed unfavourably across the American political spectrum – would risk alienating people he needs to beat Trump.

That’s particular true among the Jewish population. Much has been made of the influence Arab voters can wield in marginal Michigan.

But Jewish voters wield greater influence in many more swing states. They comprised 3 per cent of Arizona’s, Nevada’s, and Pennsylvania’s 2020 voters, and 2 per cent of Georgia’s.

Jews even outnumbered Muslims in Arab-heavy Michigan. Biden will not risk losing Jewish votes in five key states to placate Arabs in one.

This is a political explanation for why Biden has continued to provide military aid to Israel during the Gaza war despite his regular statements and insinuations that he wants the war to stop.

Jewish Democrats in America tend to be anti-Netanyahu and would prefer to see Israel prevail over Hamas without causing the civilian casualties its current effort have produced.

But they will not countenance cutting off supply to the Jewish state, even if that means sustaining the invasion they largely deplore. Cutting Israel’s lifeline is simply not something they will countenance, and Biden knows it.

Biden thus faces the opposite domestic political situation of nearly every major European leader. YouGov polled seven Western European countries about citizens’ views regarding Israel and the Palestinians.

Prior to Hamas’s October 7 attack, respondents in every country either marginally favoured the Palestinians or were roughly neutral. Support for Israel soared in the wake of the massacres, but started to wane as Israel launched its invasion. Six months into a war with little end in sight, it’s doubtful pro-Israel attitudes have remained as high.

European leaders also have to deal with much larger Muslim populations than does the United States.

The Pew Research Center estimated in 2017 that Muslims comprised between 5 and 9 per cent of the population in Britain, Germany, France, and other rich Northern European nations. That share is surely higher today given migration and differentials in birthrates and mortality.

By contrast, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research estimated in 2020 that Jews did not comprise even as much as 1 per cent of the population in any of these European nations.

Biden’s political sweet spot lies in convincing Israel to unilaterally halt conflicts that threaten to embroil the U.S. in broader, more public and potentially controversial support.

He has largely failed thus far in Gaza, although one could say his pressure has slowed down an Israeli invasion of Rafah. It’s even less likely he will succeed on Iran, especially when the normally hawkish Israeli public opinion is taken into account.

Indeed, Biden is not the only national leader leaking to the media. Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz, who joined Netanyahu’s war cabinet in a show of national unity soon after October 7, reportedly wanted to strike Iran immediately after its attack ceased. When Netanyahu is the dove in the war cabinet, it’s clear Biden will not get his wish.

And that brings us back to Biden’s dilemma. He’s between the rock of Arab and progressive opinion, which wants to move America away from Israel, and the hard place of Jewish and moderate opinion which wants America to stand behind its ally.

When push comes to shove, Biden will have to go along with the majority, no matter how much he wishes he did not have to make that choice. The alternative – endangering an already uphill re-election battle – is not an option he’ll entertain.