Will the Squad break away from the Democrats over Israel?

Greg Nash

With the ousting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as the GOP conference chair, social media has been buzzing with chatter on the Republican party splitting into two factions — one supporting Trump and the other espousing values of old school conservatism. However, with the events unfolding in the Middle East it would be the Democrats who would have to be concerned over a divided party. 

Starting with Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign in 2016, there has been a slowly but steadily growing support for progressive proposals such as increasing the minimum wage, Medicare for all, abolishing ICE, a green new deal and a foreign policy that prioritizes human rights, diplomacy and peace over support for military engagement. Of the aforementioned proposals, President Biden, in his first 100 days in office showed an inkling to meet the progressives half way if not further on most of them. A foreign policy that prioritizes human rights, diplomacy and peace over military engagement is unfortunately not one of them, especially in the Middle East. 

Progressives within the Democratic party have not shied away from expressing their disagreement over America’s quiescent policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Over the past two decades, the United States policy toward the conflict has been to support Israel, overtly with pride under Republican governments and with less advertisement under Democratic governments — both consistently voting against any resolution in the United Nations Security Council and remaining unwavering in their support through financial and military aid. The Biden administration has been no different, and progressives that make up the “Squad” group of Representatives in Congress – Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) have voiced their aversion to the administration’s silence on Israel’s actions and have gone on to question the United States’ friendly aid, defense and trade policies toward Israel. 

In particular, Reps. Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez have had the harshest of words for the Biden administration and the Netanyahu administration of Israel respectively. Speaking on the House floor, Tlaib, Congress’ only Palestinian-American, said “To read the statements from President Biden, Secretary [Anthony] Blinken, General [Lloyd] Austin and leaders of both parties, you’d hardly know Palestinians existed at all. There has been no recognition of the attack on Palestinian families being ripped from their homes in East Jerusalem right now. No mention of children being detained or murdered. No recognition of a sustained campaign of harassment and terror by Israeli police against worshippers kneeling down and praying and celebrating the holiest days in one of their holiest places …”

Ocasio-Cortez went a step further and labeled Israel an apartheid state. 

Clearly, the progressive wing of the Democratic party is at odds with most moderate Democrats in the administration and as an extension, the voters who brought them to power. 

Based on the findings of the Harris-Hill poll on Biden’s handling of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it is evident that the majority of Democrats approve the administration’s handling of the conflict. However, the results would be different if the progressives of the party capitalize on the current situation by galvanizing their voters to push their agenda on foreign policy. 

According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2020, only 26 percent of Americans identified themselves as liberal, compared with conservative (34 percent) and moderate (40 percent). Furthermore, among the registered Democratic voters, 47 percent of Democrats described themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal” while the majority of Democrats identified as either “moderate” (45 percent) or “conservative” (14 percent).  The progressive wing of the Democratic party champions many issues that are viewed by most Americans to be out of the norm — the Green New Deal, abolishing ICE, or a human rights and peace centered Middle East policy over Israel’s security concerns centered Middle East policy, to name a few. However, with 47 percent of Democrats identifying as progressive, it would be in Biden’s best interest to lend an ear to the concerns expressed by the Squad and find middle ground like he has with other policy proposals. With progressives gaining more seats in the Houses every election, of all the issues predicted to create fissures within the Democratic party, the foreign policy issue of Israel-Palestine conflict could be the straw that breaks the party’s back. 

In the days and weeks to come, the Biden administration’s concrete actions toward addressing the conflict between Israel-Palestine will prove to be a true litmus test of its ability to cater to the diverse needs of the modern Democratic voter and Biden’s ability to unite Democrats with diverse viewpoints.  

Akhil Ramesh is a non-resident Vasey fellow at the Pacific Forum. He has worked with risk consulting firms, think tanks and in the blockchain industry in the United States, India and in the Philippines. His analysis has been published in The South China Morning Post, The Diplomat, Asia Times and the Jerusalem Post. Follow him on Twitter @akhil_oldsoul

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ayanna Pressley Bernie Sanders Democratic Party Green New Deal Ilhan Omar Ilhan Omar Joe Biden Joe Biden Liz Cheney Members of the United States Congress Politics of the United States Progressivism in the United States Rashida Tlaib Rashida Tlaib the squad

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