With US sympathy for Palestinians at unprecedented levels, there is growing concern that Cornel West’s candidacy for the 2024 US presidential election could dent Joe Biden’s re-election bid. The philosopher and scholar launched his bid-for the White House recently saying that Americans need a third option, other than “neo-fascism” and “neoliberalism”. This was met with speculation that his vocal support for Palestine and other progressive causes could split the Democrat vote and hand victory to a Republican candidate.
Looking at a potential election match between Biden and Donald Trump, a poll conducted by Emerson College predicted a statistical tie. In that scenario, Biden will receive 44 per cent of the votes while Trump will get 43 per cent. If a third-party candidate, West for example, was to appear on the ballot paper with Trump and Biden, the latter’s support would fall to 40 per cent and Trump’s to 41 per cent, while West would get six per cent. Seven per cent would vote for someone else and the share of undecided voters would increase to six per cent.
West is likely to benefit from disgruntled Democrat voters. For the first time in US history, sympathy for Palestinians has overtaken sympathy for Israelis among Democrats, according to a March Gallup poll. Nearly half of Democrats — 49 per cent — have greater sympathy for Palestinians compared with only 38 per cent for Israel.
The attitudes reflect an 11-percentage point increase over the past year in Democrats’ sympathy with the Palestinians and a 29-percentage point increase for Palestine over the decade. With Israel the trend is the complete opposite. Democrats’ sympathy for Israel hovered between 50 and 60 percentage points for decades. The downward trend began in 2014 when Israel launched one of its bloodiest wars on Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip.
A combination of West’s strong support for the Palestinian cause and growing anti-Israel sentiments within the Democrats could spoil the 80-year-old Biden’s re-election bid. West was one of the first national figures to promote the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and has consistently attacked the Democratic Party establishment for treating the matter as a “taboo” and a “third rail”.
“BDS is not a homogenous movement,” West told Haaretz in 2017. “There are a lot of different voices, but it is the only nonviolent response I can see to the very ugly occupation, and I would do exactly the same if there was a Palestinian occupation of Jews. It’s a moral issue, a spiritual issue.” West’s strong solidarity with the Palestinians has made him a target of pro-Israel advocates. He cited support for the Palestinians as the reason why Harvard University denied him tenure.
While there is virtually no chance of West winning the White House in 2024, he said in a wide-ranging interview with The Bottom Line that the country’s political elites are not interested in a robust conversation on wealth and justice, and that he aims to force that conversation onto the national stage.