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“Paradigm-Changing Moment”: Public Opinion Shifts on Palestine. Will Gaza War Hurt Biden Reelection?

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As the Palestinian death toll in Gaza nears 10,000, calls for ceasefire are growing around the world. “This is a paradigm-changing moment,” says Shibley Telhami, who discusses the shifting public opinion on conflict in Israel and Palestine and its potential impact on Joe Biden’s reelection campaign. Telhami is a professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland and senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy.

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AMY GOODMAN: The heads of 18 United Nations agencies and NGOs have issued a rare joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, expressing shock and horror at Israel’s monthlong bombardment. The statement read in part, quote, “We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It’s been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now,” unquote. But Israel is rejecting all calls for a ceasefire or even a humanitarian pause as the Palestinian death toll in Gaza and the West Bank nears 10,000 over this past month.

U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken is continuing a trip throughout the Middle East. Blinken is in Turkey today after stops in Tel Aviv, Ramallah, Jordan and Iraq. This comes as fears grow of a broader regional war. On Sunday, an Israeli strike on a car in southern Lebanon killed three children and their grandmother. The strike came two days after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a major address.

We begin today’s show looking at diplomatic efforts to halt Israel’s bombardment, which began October 7th after Hamas launched a surprise attack that Israel says killed over 1,400 people. Israel says about 240 hostages were taken during the attack.

We’re joined by Shibley Telhami, professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland, also a senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy. He’s co-editor of the book The One State Reality: What Is Israel/Palestine?

Professor Telhami, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you start off by talking about this horrifying landmark moment? Nearly 10,000 Palestinians have been killed; mass protests around the world; Secretary of State Blinken going to Tel Aviv, then surprising people by going to Ramallah, went to Jordan, met with Arab leaders, then on to Iraq — the significance of that? Now in Turkey. What you feel needs to happen now?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, first of all, in terms of this moment, which you asked about, obviously, anyone with a heart — that doesn’t matter whether you are Jewish or Arab or Christian or whatever — the scale of horror is just unbearable. And we haven’t seen that in, certainly, years, but perhaps decades, in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. But I think it’s even bigger than that. It’s beyond the humanitarian heartache that we all witness every day, and we have witnessed also in the attack on Israel. I think it is — you know, those people who think this is just another cycle of violence are really not capturing the moment.

This is a paradigm-changing moment. This is a moment that’s likely to really shift the way we think about the conflict. It is likely to shift the way people in the region think about the United States, because of its role. And I think, therefore, even people who are thinking about “Let’s think about the morning after,” are not coming to grips with what a morning after might look like, if there is a morning after. So I think it’s a moment that is bigger than most of us realize, because those moments in history usually are evaluated after the fact, not while you’re going through it. We know it’s horrendous, but we’re not grasping the implications.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about President Biden right now. Polls show that before all of this took place, I mean, when he was elected, he had something like 59% of the Arab American vote. We’re now talking about something like 17%. And we’re talking about key states like Michigan — Dearborn, for example. Can you talk about the significance of this nationally, and then globally, where he stands in the Arab world?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Yeah, I think nationally, obviously, we already see implications of this. We see it in various polling that has been taken. His popularity has dropped among Democrats, coincidentally around the same time that this war started and is going on, and we don’t know that that’s directly related to it, but perhaps it is. But I have conducted a poll through our University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll two weeks after the war, and there was a bump in the sympathy for Israel, but when it comes to the Biden administration’s evaluation, more people said he was too pro-Israel than said he is too pro-Palestinian. And obviously, in terms of the implications for voting nationally, more likely to vote for President Biden because of his stance on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, we have far more people saying they’re less likely to vote for him than more likely to vote for him. So it has implications way beyond Arab and Muslim Americans, because our poll cannot possibly capture Arab and Muslim Americans in the sample. But we do know that in the sample, based on, you know, reporting and other polls that have been done, Arab and Muslim Americans are extremely frustrated. I know definitely that some of the Arab American leaders have conveyed to the secretary of state directly that the president is likely to lose Michigan because of his stance. So, I think the president — my own view is this war is going to hurt him.

But globally, it’s also going to hurt him a lot, because I think people can’t — people understood his support for Israel after the horrific Hamas attack; what they can’t understand is his inability to condemn the actions that have resulted in such mass destruction and killing in Gaza, and his seeming complicity in that. And that’s really something that goes against the — you know, after the Soviet — sorry, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we know that he tried to defend a liberal — the notion of a liberal international order, and certainly a rules-based international order, and opposed, in principle, targeting civilians or recklessly endangering them and war crimes. And what we see, he’s not able to do that with regard to Gaza. I think this is going to undermine his standing globally, not just in the Middle East, not just in the Global South, but beyond.

AMY GOODMAN: You also said in a recent interview there’s a level of shock you haven’t seen even during the Iraq War, that you’d bet Biden today might even supersede Benjamin Netanyahu as the most disliked leader in the Arab world, Professor Telhami.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Yes. And as you know, I took a position against the Iraq War in 2002, when people were talking about it, to the point that I helped organize an ad for international relations scholars in The New York Times September 2002, saying the Iraq War is not in America’s national interest. It was hard for us to break through an antiwar message through the regular media. And at that time, I also conducted a poll in the Arab world that showed that George W. Bush had become even less popular in the Arab world than then-hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

And I bet the same is taking place at the moment. This is a moment — as I said, it’s a paradigm-shifting moment. And I think that it’s going to be very hard for Biden to recover from it. It’s very hard for people to listen to him when he is speaking about a promise of peace or a promise of two states. They had not trusted him before this in the Arab world — the public opinion, I’m talking about. And I think after this stance, it’s going to be impossible.

AMY GOODMAN: Shibley Telhami, we want to thank you so much for being with us, professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland, also senior fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy, co-editor of the book The One State Reality: What Is Israel/Palestine?

Coming up, a massive crowd rallies in Washington, D.C., for the largest pro-Palestinian march in U.S. history, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Stay with us.

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