Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 26 February 2024


Will Dearborn, Mich., Determine U.S. Israel Policy?

The pro-Palestinian Democratic left wants to force Biden to stop the war in Gaza against Hamas.

Feb. 26, 2024 6:34 pm ET

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) speaks alongside Shawn Fain, President of the United Automobile Workers, at a press conference calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East outside of the U.S. Capitol in December. PHOTO: KEVIN DIETSCH/GETTY IMAGES

Voters go to the polls in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, and the result to watch isn’t only Nikki Haley vs. Donald Trump. The Democratic left is trying to send President Biden a message about the war in Gaza, and the effort already seems to be changing U.S. policy toward Israel and Hamas.

Mr. Biden’s name is on the primary ballot, but his only significant opponent, Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, hasn’t caught on so far. The main challenge on Tuesday is coming from the Democratic Party’s anti-Israel left and Rep. Rashida Tlaib. She’s leading a campaign against Mr. Biden’s support for Israel and she and others are asking Democrats to vote “uncommitted.”

“It is also important to create a voting bloc,” Ms. Tlaib said in a video posted on X, formerly Twitter, “something that is a bullhorn, to say, ‘Enough is enough. We don’t want a country that supports wars and bombs and destruction. We want to support life. We want to stand up for every single life killed in Gaza.’” She and others on the left are demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Michigan will be a contested state in November, and Mr. Biden prevailed over Donald Trump by only three percentage points in 2020. The hope on the left is that if enough Democrats vote “uncommitted,” it will scare the White House into changing its Israel policy lest tens of thousands of Democrats stay home or vote for a third-party candidate. Several polls show Mr. Trump is currently leading Mr. Biden in Michigan.

It’s far from clear that the Tlaib-left-wing threat is real if the choice comes down to Biden vs. Trump in November. Will Democrats really risk re-electing the Republican? But the primary threat is tangible enough that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer felt the need to speak up against the “uncommitted” campaign. So have other Wolverine State Democrats.

It’s clear that the left’s threats are already influencing Mr. Biden’s foreign policy. After the Oct. 7 massacre, the President’s pro-Israel instincts kicked in and he backed Jerusalem’s right to destroy Hamas. As the war has evolved and domestic criticism of Mr. Biden’s support for Israel has increased, however, Mr. Biden has become much more critical of Israel.

Mr. Biden has called Israeli military tactics “over the top” and he opposes Israeli plans to move on the city of Rafah, the last Hamas urban stronghold in Gaza. Last week the U.S. formally reversed the Trump Administration policy on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, declaring them illegal. The Administration hasn’t joined the calls for a cease-fire, but it is trying to negotiate a pause in the fighting that could become a cease-fire after several weeks.

All of this seems intended to send a message to Mr. Biden’s critics on the left that he is sympathetic to their complaints. The problem is that if the Arab-Americans in and around Dearborn begin to set U.S. policy, Hamas and Iran will be the beneficiaries. Ms. Tlaib and others claim not to support Hamas or the Oct. 7 massacre, but the cease-fire they want would have the effect of leaving its fighters alive and free to rebuild their terror state. The suffering in Gaza is terrible, but the main cause is Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields.

This is another test of how much Mr. Biden is willing to bend to the left. Most Americans still support Israel’s ground invasion to root out Hamas—63% in the Harvard CAPS Harris survey out this week. The elimination of Hamas, like ISIS, is in the U.S. and Israeli national interest. If Mr. Biden bends to the left on Israel, he’ll send another signal of weakness that Donald Trump can exploit.

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