The humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza is increasingly dividing the Democratic Party as more members of Congress and Democratic voters urge President Joe Biden to call for a ceasefire. The number of Palestinians killed in Gaza surpassed 9,000 on Thursday, and Democrats are asking tough questions about Biden’s supplemental funding request that human rights group say would finance ethnic cleansing in Gaza.
While Biden is losing support from voters of all faiths, as well as secular voters, over the U.S.’s backing of the mass destruction, displacement of 1.4 million people and incredible loss of life in Gaza, the National Muslim Democratic Council is warning that the war is undermining efforts to bring Muslim and Arab voters into the Democratic coalition.
Along with Democratic Party activists and swing-state voters, the National Muslim Democratic Council issued an ultimatum to the White House this week pledging to mobilize “Muslim, Arab, and allied voters” to withhold “endorsement, support, or votes” in upcoming elections from any candidate — including Biden — who does not call for a ceasefire.
“It has become evident that our voices are being ignored, but our votes will not be,” the group wrote to the White House. “Simply put, as Gaza turns red, so could crucial battleground states.”
According to its website, the National Muslim Democratic Council is an “is an effort to bridge the gap between American Muslims and the Democratic party,” but that gap only appears to be widening. The group is co-chaired by Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana and Keith Ellison, the attorney general of Minnesota.
The ultimatum was issued on Monday and implored Biden to take immediate action toward securing a ceasefire by Tuesday afternoon. That deadline came and went, and Israeli forces went on to bomb the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza for a second time in as many days, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians in what United Nations experts called a “brazen violation of international law.”
Speaking to CNN on Thursday, Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois became the first senator to call for a ceasefire along with negotiations to release more than 200 Israeli hostages held by Hamas’s military wing in Gaza since the deadly October 7 attack on southern Israel known as the “Al Aqsa Flood.” Hamas has previously said the Israeli airstrikes devastating Gaza have killed 50 hostages, but this claim could not be confirmed.
On Wednesday, Sen Bernie Sanders of Vermont and three top Democrats in the Senate — Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Peter Welch (Vermont) and Jeff Merkley (Oregon) — sent an urgent letter to Biden expressing “serious concerns” about Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza and its long-term plans for the embattled enclave.
Along with a long list of other questions, the senators want to know how many civilians are expected to die according to U.S. assessments, and how the “success” of the invasion would be measured. Congress is currently considering Biden’s emergency request for $106 billion for international aid and weapons exports, including $14 billion for Israel and roughly $61 billion to support Ukraine’s grinding war against Russian invaders. In an unusual move, the White House has requested to conduct arms deals with Israel in secrecy.
“We have serious concerns about what this invasion and potential occupation of Gaza will mean, both in terms of the long-term security of Israel and the well-being of the Palestinian residents of Gaza,” the four senators wrote in their letter to Biden.
In the House, at least 18 Democrats have signed onto a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, a word that’s so far been off limits for the Biden administration and lawmakers in both parties. However, the political tension is only growing as images of dead children and bodies being pulled from the rubble of bombed buildings in Gaza emerge on a daily basis.
Speaking at a White House press briefing on Thursday, Admiral John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the Biden administration remains committed to bringing aid into Gaza and working with Israel to prevent civilian casualties, including by advising the Israelis on urban warfare and providing sophisticated weapons.
Such a policy doesn’t sit well with voters who have articulated a politics of solidarity with Palestine — a sentiment expressed strongly by Palestinian American voters of all religious backgrounds of course, but also among younger voters, voters of color, Muslim and Arab voters, and voters concerned with human rights — who question why U.S. weapons are arriving in Israel at all. Across social media, many voters are pledging to withhold support for Biden in 2024 for fueling what many observers call a textbook case of genocide. The “massacre” of more than 9,000 Palestinians in Gaza is simply unacceptable, according to National Muslim Democratic Council.
“Your administration’s unconditional support, encompassing funding and
armaments, has played a significant role in perpetuating the violence that is causing civilian casualties and has eroded trust in voters who previously put their faith in you,” the group told the White House.
Biden is under pressure from anti-Zionist Jewish voters as well, with Jewish-led peace groups organizing protests and direct actions across the country. Rabbi Jessica Rosenberg, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, stood up and interrupted a fundraising speech Biden delivered in Minneapolis on Wednesday to demand that he call for a ceasefire.
“Mr. President, if you care about Jewish people then, as a Rabbi, I need you to call for a ceasefire now in Gaza,” Rosenberg said.
Like others in the Democratic Party, Biden and his team have attempted to thread the needle with the war on Gaza by asserting Israel’s “right to self-defense” while supporting diplomatic efforts to get aid into Gaza and bringing American citizens out. Kirby said a total of 220 aid trucks have crossed into Gaza from the southern Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt, but that is “not enough.” So far, 74 U.S. citizens and family members have escaped Gaza at Rafah, Kirby said, but hundreds more remain.
However, Kirby reiterated that the Biden administration opposes calls for a ceasefire. Instead, U.S. diplomats working with Israel are pushing for temporary, localized “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting that would allow aid into Gaza and people with U.S. passports to flee to Egypt.
“We’re really not just talking about one pause, what we’re trying to do is explore the idea of as many pauses that might be necessary in order to get aid in and get people out,” Kirby said.
The White House also announced this week its “first-ever National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia,” a strategy the Biden administration hopes to develop with members of Muslim and Sikh communities to address hate speech and the potential for targeted violence. The White House had planned on launching the program for months, but Muslim activists said the timing of the announcement is suspect.
“Anytime an effort is launched to combat Islamophobia, we would welcome it and appreciate it,” said Samina Sohail, vice chair of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in Ohio, in an interview with The National. “However, this time, with this administration, they need to first establish credibility with Muslim Americans.”
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