President Biden is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, Wednesday in Tel Aviv.

President Biden is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, Wednesday in Tel Aviv. / AP

President Biden is fully wrapping his arms around Israel.


President Biden got off Air Force One during his high-stakes trip to the Middle East Wednesday and greeted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a big hug.

President Biden hugs Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, Wednesday in Tel Aviv.

President Biden hugs Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, Wednesday in Tel Aviv. / AP

The message was clear — the United States stands with Israel. Biden is taking his message to the American people Thursday night in an Oval Office address.

He is expected to discuss Hamas' attack, Israel's response and the war in Ukraine, which has been largely out of American news since the latest Mideast violence. Biden is looking to procure significant funding for both conflicts. He needs to go through Congress, which holds the power of the purse, but that's made more difficult by the fact that the U.S. House is currently non funziona.

Republicans failed again Wednesday to pick a speaker. That leaves the U.S. unable to respond to, well, pretty much anything in a strong and substantive way.

For Biden, he's left in a difficult and politically risky position – and the risk crosses political lines. He's not benefiting in the polls from his strong, pro-Israeli stance despite Americans saying they want that. Republicans are looking to pounce on any misstep. And, the longer Israel's campaign on Gaza marches on and civilian deaths mount, the more pressure Biden will likely face from many in the world — and even in some quarters within his own party — to lean on Israel to pull back.

After the hospital explosion in Gaza Tuesday, further divides were being exposed on the left.

Biden has to thread a very fine needle — showing support for Israel to maintain influence, looking strong enough domestically for an audience that is questioning his age and facility, and keeping his reliable voting base intact and energized ahead of his re-election bid next year.

Old vs. new

Biden has taken a forceful, pro-Israeli position in its war with Hamas. He did so immediately after the group's killing spree in southern Israel Oct. 7, the deadliest single day for Jews since the Holocaust.

"In this moment, we must be crystal clear," Biden said after the attack. "We stand with Israel. We stand with Israel."

And he did so again during his trip to Israel Wednesday.

Invoking the Holocaust, Biden said, "The world watched then — it knew — and the world did nothing. We will not stand by and do nothing again – not today, not tomorrow, not ever."

In backing Israel, Biden is taking a familiar — and popular — stance. It's one long-held by political leaders in both parties, because Israel is the U.S.'s strongest ally in the Middle East.

But that long-held sentiment appears to be changing.

Ahead of his reelection bid next year, Biden has to balance his own world view – one that is in line with that deeply ingrained American, pro-Israeli position – and that of younger voters and voters of color, who don't share the same depth of support for Israel.

For the first time this year, Gallup found this year that Democrats' sympathies lie more with Palestinians than Israelis. And that is driven by young voters.

The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll reflects that. Despite two-thirds of respondents in the survey saying they want a public show of support for Israel, those younger than 45, were 30 points less likely to say they wanted that than respondents 45 or older. Non-whites were 20 points less likely than whites to say so as well.

That is something Biden's campaign is likely sensitive to, especially considering Biden has never been a favorite of the young, progressive left.

Cracks started showing in the aftermath of the Gaza hospital bombing. Before the United States weighed in, Democrats Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — the first two Muslim women elected to Congress — joined a pro-Palestinian chorus blaming Israel.

"Israel just bombed the Baptist Hospital killing 500 Palestinians (doctors, children, patients) just like that," Tlaib tweeted.

She called for a ceasefire and in comments directed at Biden, labeled this "your war."

"Bombing a hospital is among the gravest of war crimes," Omar tweeted. "The IDF reportedly blowing up one of the few places the injured and wounded can seek medical treatment and shelter during a war is horrific."

After the U.S. intelligence assessment, Omar called for "an independent investigation to determine conclusively who is responsible for this war crime."

Israel blamed the terror group Islamic Jihad, saying it was an errant rocket fired from Gaza. During his stop in Israel, Biden concurred.

The National Security Council said, in part, "Our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion."

A bipartisan statement from the Senate Intelligence Committee also said after reviewing available intelligence, it feels "confident that the explosion was the result of a failed rocket launch by militant terrorists."

The U.S. did not release evidence beyond the statements.

But a lot of damage had already been done. People weren't waiting for confirmations, and protests erupted in countries like Jordan, where Biden was originally supposed to meet with Jordanian, Egyptian and Palestinian leaders.

That summit was canceled as a result of the hospital explosion and the hundreds who were killed there.

Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, didn't walk back her remarks.

"As an American, not just as a member of the United States Congress, I am ashamed," she said, per ABC News. "I am ashamed that they're saying, 'not yet. Maybe next week.' ... How many more have to die?"

She added, "To my president, to our president ... I want him to know, as a Palestinian American and somebody in Muslim faith, I'm not going to forget this. And I think a lot of people are not going to forget this."

Many Democrats, even fellow progressives,pushed back on their colleagues — and don't want any equivocation.

"It's truly disturbing that Members of Congress rushed to blame Israel for the hospital tragedy in Gaza," Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, for example, tweeted. "Who would take the word of a group that just massacred innocent Israeli civilians over our key ally?"

He added, "Now is not the time to talk about a ceasefire. ... Hamas does not want peace, they want to destroy Israel. We can talk about a ceasefire after Hamas is neutralized."

All risk, no reward

When anything happens in the world, especially something of this magnitude, the president is expected to respond, to take a position, to show leadership.

A president has to often balance his own world view with domestic politics. In this case, at least initially, both appeared to be in line with each other.

Two-thirds of respondents in the NPR poll — taken days after Hamas' attack and after Biden's initial remarks — said the United States should publicly support Israel.

President Biden pauses during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv Wednesday.

President Biden pauses during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv Wednesday. / AP

And yet Biden didn't appear to get any benefit politically — 52% in the survey said they disapproved of his handling of the Israel-Hamas situation.

If that's a head-scratcher, consider that in the same poll, an equal number also disapproved of the job Biden is doing overall.

So, it's pretty clear that partisan armor is just incredibly difficult to pierce in this intense age of hyperpolarization.

Is it really possible, though, that the most volatile issue on the planet right now might have zero effect on electoral politics?

It's certainly possible, if not likely.

Partisanship is entrenched, and foreign policy often ranks very low on the list of priorities for voters — despite it being one of the areas a president has the most control over.

As is often the case with the politics of foreign policy, there is often little upside and lots of risk.

Certainly, if Biden stumbles, freezes or can't clearly articulate his position, conservatives will pounce and Democrats will lose confidence.

But the reality is, Biden isn't likely consumed with the domestic politics of this. Before serving as president, he spent a good portion of his life — as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and vice president — intimately involved in the U.S.'s role in the world.

Many in this country have taken a turn inward after two decades of war and become weary of U.S. involvement in international conflicts. Biden acknowledged that Americans relate to the pain Israel is facing. Still, he had some potential lessons from the U.S. response to 9/11 Wednesday.

"I understand," Biden said Wednesday. "Many Americans understand. You can't look at what has happened here and not scream out for justice, but I caution this — while you feel that rage, don't be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States, and while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes."

It was quite the admission for a U.S. president. But it's also the kind of subtle warning Biden can only deliver if he maintains influence — and part of that is keeping Netanyahu in a close embrace.

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