The Democrats' Split Over the War Is Mostly Generational

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

The split in the Democratic Party between those who support Israel and those who want to acknowledge Palestinian rights has never been wider than this past week after massacres by Hamas and Israel’s dramatic and escalating response.


The young, more radical wing of the Democratic Party has shifted significantly toward the Palestinians. Not even the news and images from the Gaza border, where hundreds of Israeli civilians were butchered, could illicit much revulsion from the young radicals.

It’s Israel’s fault, they claim.

In an Economist/YouGov poll conducted Sunday through Tuesday, 42 percent of Americans said they sympathized more with Israelis in the war, while only 9 percent picked Palestinians. Another 22 percent said their sympathies were about equal, and about 25% said they weren’t sure.

But looking at the cross tabs, it immediately becomes clear that the Democratic Party is divided on the issue and that those divisions cleave the party along generational lines.


But some liberal activists, including on college campuses, have argued that the killings are Israel’s fault for its government’s support of settlement expansion in the West Bank and the economic and security restrictions it has applied to Gaza. Some Democratic lawmakers have called for stronger recognition of Palestinian sovereignty in the aftermath of the war’s launch. More have urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to avoid escalation in his response. Biden himself said on Wednesday that he told Netanyahu in one of their several calls that Israel must “operate by the rules of war” going forward.

The Democratic divisions exist among the electorate, too, underscoring the extent to which last week’s attack and the subsequent war that has erupted threatens to split the party’s leaders and loyal voters from the youngest and most liberal parts of its voter base. In the new Economist/YouGov poll, 28 percent of self-identified Democrats said they sympathized with both groups equally, 26 percent said they sympathized more with Israel and 15 percent said the Palestinians.

Age and ideology appear to be driving the split among Democrats.


Trying to find a dividing line between the older and younger generations is difficult. To my mind, I believe the farther away we get from the Holocaust, the more distant the memories become, the less emotional attachment there is to Israel.

Israel has always been surrounded by enemies, but as the decades have rolled by, the perception of Israel as a weak but scrappy underdog has faded. Israel is a regional powerhouse now — nuclear-armed with a well-trained, professional army. No doubt this has contributed, at least in part, to the loss of sympathy for Israel — until the Jewish state is attacked. Then, as the polls show, with the exception of a small cadre of Democrats, Americans united to stand behind Israel.

Another poll, a Fox News survey conducted Saturday through Monday, also found similar divisions by party and age. The poll showed greater support for Israel — it did not offer respondents the option of saying they sided with both groups equally — but majorities or near-majorities of Democrats (59 percent) and voters under 35 (49 percent) said they sided more with the Israelis in “the Middle East conflict,” far fewer than Republicans (79 percent) or voters 65 and older (82 percent).

And a Morning Consult poll conducted Tuesday through Thursday also found a wide party split, with Republicans about twice as likely to say they sympathize more with Israelis than Democrats.


“I think the sympathies of young people, and people on the left generally, rests with those who are seen as disadvantaged,” said  Sam Weinberg, the executive director of the liberal youth group Path to Progress. Weinberg thinks that younger people see “nuance” on the Israeli-Palestinian question.

In fact, the radical youth are unable to discern nuance and, because of that, have fallen hook, line, and sinker for Hamas and Arab propaganda. It’s a sad testament to the inability of higher education to establish patterns of critical thinking in the young, preferring instead ideological brainwashing.


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