The next U.S. presidential election remains a year away, but Sarah Leah Whitson has already decided her vote. So has Adam Shapiro, a Michigan activist whose wife sought a Democratic U.S. Congress seat in 2022. So has Lara Bilemjian, a California teacher.
They aren’t yet certain whose name they will check on the ballot next November. But they are sure it won’t be Joe Biden, whose support for Israel has so enraged some progressive voters that they say they cannot bear the thought of voting for him again – even if that means tilting the balance in favour of Donald Trump.
For Ms. Whitson, the executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, an advocacy group, it would mark a rupture from a lifetime of voting for a Democratic Party whose conduct she now condemns.
“They’re ready to throw away the Geneva Convention if it means not criticizing Israel. They’re willing to burn down the International Court, if it means protecting Israel. They’re willing to silence Americans and violate our constitutional rights to free speech if it means protecting Israel,” she said. “And now Biden is willing to risk his own re-election if it means protecting Israel. It’s crazy.”
Israel’s war has convulsed the Democratic Party. Earlier this week, 22 Democrats joined with Republicans to vote for the censure of one of their own, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American who has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s military response to the Oct. 7 massacre by Palestinian militants. More than 11,000 Palestinians have now been killed by Israeli attacks, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
On Thursday, more than 500 alumni of Mr. Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign released an open letter warning that “silence in the face of human rights violations is tantamount to complicity.”
Earlier in the week, a poll released by the Arab American Institute found that when asked how they would vote in 2024, only 17 per cent of Arab American voters polled said they would vote for Mr. Biden, compared with 59 per cent in the 2020 election. Arab Americans make up just over 1 per cent of the U.S. population.
In many decades of working with the Democratic Party, “I’ve never seen such a dramatic transformation of the public debate,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.
“It’s, ‘you come after our people and there’s going to be a price to pay. And the price will be, don’t count on us in November,’ ” he said. “It’s something that Democrats need to take seriously.”
The U.S. presidency is won and lost in the margins of a small number of states. “If you take 10,000 or 20,000 votes off the table in some states and 100,000 in other states, you can lose an election,” said Mr. Zogby, who has occupied a variety of positions within the Democratic National Committee and currently chairs its ethnic council.
Even in the Democratic stronghold of California, a poll released this week found a majority of voters now disapprove of Mr. Biden’s performance for the first time in his presidency – although support there remains far stronger for Mr. Biden than for Mr. Trump.
“Politically, there is no question that this is good for the Republicans and bad for the Democrats,” said Peter Beinart, a professor at City University of New York who is a fellow at the Foundation for Middle East Peace.
Progressives may be loath to help Mr. Trump. But disillusionment over Mr. Biden’s support for Israel is so profound “it could lead some people to stay home, given the fact that there’s not a lot of enthusiasm about Biden to begin with,” he said.
What’s not clear is how durable such concern will prove.
“Imagine next summer, and imagine Trump coming back – and imagine anyone who is a progressive not doing anything they can to stop that,” said Larry Cohen, the former president of the Communications Workers of America who is now board chair of Our Revolution, a political-action organization with ties to progressive senator Bernie Sanders. That concern will motivate organizers across the country, he said.
“I will do everything I know how to defeat Trump and to elect Biden,” he said.
Those considerations are already troubling some voters.
“I’m going to have to weigh whether or not I can in good conscience cast a vote for someone who was complicit in horrifying war crimes, or whether I need to make another decision,” said Monica Tarazi, a Florida lawyer.
Others have already made up their minds.
“I’m tired of wars. I don’t want my tax money to go and just kill people randomly,” said Lara Bilemjian, a high school teacher in Los Angeles. She has roots in Jordan. Her husband is from Armenia. Their daughter will vote for the first time next year. None will vote for Mr. Biden, she said.
Adam Shapiro has spent more than two decades as an activist on Palestinian issues. His wife, Huwaida Arraf, is a Palestinian American who sought the 2022 Democratic nomination for Michigan’s 10th congressional district. She has now withdrawn from Democratic Party commitments. Neither she nor Mr. Shapiro intend to vote for Mr. Biden.
What is happening in Gaza has crystallized a broader displeasure with Mr. Biden, including over his approach to the southern border and the Supreme Court, Mr. Shapiro said.
“At some point there has to be a pushback, and unfortunately it’s taken 10,000 or more dead Palestinians dead in Gaza. But it seems to have woken up a consciousness in the country that I think Democrats are wrong to ignore,” he said.
As for Mr. Biden, “if it costs him the election, then it’s going to cost him the election.”