In the hallowed halls of the United Nations, where decisions shape the destiny of nations, the US veto of an Arab-backed resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict has ignited a storm of controversy.
Israel is losing the widespread public support it had among Americans after the 7 October Hamas terror attack. If this trend intensifies, it will likely lead to a moderation of the uncritical backing hitherto provided by Washington to Tel Aviv, which in turn could upend the precarious power balance in West Asia. Respondents in the latest iteration of the University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll have clearly expressed their discomfort with Israeli policies. Asked if they want the USA to lean towards Israel, towards the Palestinians, or towards neither side, there was measurable change in the two weeks between the last poll and the latest one which found that the number of respondents wanting the USA to take Israel’s side had dropped across the Republican-Democrat divide. This was coupled with an increase in the number of people wanting America to back the Palestinians.
According to Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institute, among Democrats, support for Israel dropped from 30.9 per cent in the third week of October to 20.5 per cent in early November, while support for the Palestinians rose from 9.2 to 12.9 per cent. During the same two-week period, the gap between Republicans wanting the USA to lean towards Israel and those wanting America to lean towards the Palestinians shrank from 70.7 to 60.8 per cent; it likewise fell from 32.2 to 27.7 per cent among those respondents classified as independent. For respondents overall, the gap decreased from 36.8 to 29.1 per cent. At the same time, there was a rise across the board in the percentage of respondents who want the US to take neither side ~ 53.5 per cent overall, including 65.5 per cent of Democrats, 31.6 per cent of Republicans, and 57.5 per cent of independents.
Americans under 35, across the partisan divide were less likely to want the country to take Israel’s side compared with October, but the change among young Democrats was especially striking. In the October poll, polling found no change in the attitudes of young Democrats between June and two weeks after the Hamas attack; those who wanted the USA to back each side were roughly equal. In the latest poll, there is a significant change favouring the Palestinians. Their percentage increased from 16.2 per cent in October to 23.2 per cent in November, while those who wanted to take Israel’s side rose from 14.7 to 15.9 per cent.
Most young Democrats wanted the USA to take neither side. Of vital political import in the findings of the opinion poll is the fact that there has been a marked increase in the number of Democrats who say US President Joe Biden is “too pro-Israeli,” rising from 24.4 in October to 34.4 per cent in November, while Democrats who said Biden was “too pro-Palestinian” remained constant at 1.2 per cent. The change among young Democrats has been particularly stark, with their percentage having doubled. To put this in perspective, if one excludes those who said they did not know where Mr Biden stood on this issue, the percentage of young Democrats saying the US President was too pro-Israeli comes to 72.3 per cent. That will surely impact US policy towards West Asia in the weeks and months ahead.