WASHINGTON — Layna Martinez, an alum of Biden’s 2020 election campaign, said that she’s having an identity crisis.

The 36-year-old considered herself a lifelong Democrat having worked on political campaigns for the party since before she could vote, but now, she finds herself planning to withhold her vote from the Democratic frontrunner when she heads to the polls in November.

Martinez was one of the more than 500 people who signed a letter from alumni of Biden’s 2020 campaign criticizing his handling of the Israel-Hamas war. She’s been involved with numerous Democratic candidates’ campaigns and briefly worked for the Democratic National Committee.

She said that she’s feeling ignored by a party she supported for so long.

“It’s such a large party that you want to feel like your voice is heard and right now it feels like [the Democratic party is] purposely not hearing our voice, especially for the people who fought to get [Democratic officials] elected,” Martinez said.

As of right now, Martinez will not be voting for Biden in November — and it’s because of the way his administration has handled the violence in the region following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel where about 1,200 people were killed and about 240 people were taken hostage.

The letter that Martinez signed was one of several public rebukes against the administration’s response to the Israel-Hamas war. Like Martinez, many people with ties to Biden and the White House or who work within federal agencies have expressed disappointment by sending letters or participating in demonstrations. The disapproval of Biden’s policy toward Israel and Gaza could cause him trouble in November in a few key states, according to some experts.

“Michigan and Georgia have relatively large populations of folks who might actually vote on this issue and this issue alone,” said Paul Musgrave, a professor of foreign policy and international relations at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “As we know, those are states that the Biden administration desperately needs to keep on its side to win reelection.”

The White House declined to comment on the actions from federal employees and people connected to the Biden administration who have been criticizing his approach.

More than half of the population — 54% — of Dearborn, Mich., is Arab American. Some members of this constituency in the state, including community leaders, have expressed disappointment in Biden and his administration, refusing to even meet with Democratic officials.

While the administration has not called for a ceasefire, President Biden issued an Executive Order Feb. 1 sanctioning settlers accused of “extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction” in the West Bank.

The death toll in Gaza has surpassed 28,000 Palestinians and more than 67,000 have been injured in the region, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza reported in January.

In the last month and a half, federal employees participated in two separate actions to raise awareness about the loss of lives in the region and to urge the Biden administration to call for a ceasefire.

The group of government workers, Feds United for Peace, observed a “day of mourning” on Jan. 16, where members took leave from work to “mourn the tremendous loss of lives.” Employees from 30 government agencies in Washington and across the nation participated.

The group’s second action on Feb. 1 was a “day of fasting” where employees participated in a traditional all-day fast, volunteered or donated to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the main agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees.

Starting Jan. 26, several countries, including the U.S., suspended their funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency after Israel alleged that a dozen of the agency’s employees were involved in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

After the “Day of Mourning,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on CNBC at the World Economic Forum on Jan. 16 that, speaking for the State Department, he wants to work in an institution where people feel comfortable raising concerns and criticisms. He added that federal employees ultimately “have to be on the job and do their jobs.”

In the open letter that Martinez signed, which was first reported by Vox in November, hundreds of former campaign workers urged Biden to call for a ceasefire immediately.

“As a person of conscience with enormous influence, you have a special responsibility to lead this call,” they wrote.

They referenced a poll from October that found that 66% of voters and 80% of Democrats agreed that the U.S. should call for a ceasefire in the region.

“It’s kind of like watching a car crash in slow motion because I feel like… we’re telling the Democratic Party what the problem is, and they don’t want to hear it,” Martinez said. “It’s really frustrating.”

In November and December, White House interns, Capitol Hill staffers and more than 500 political appointees from 40 government agencies signed other letters calling on the president for an immediate ceasefire. BBC reported Feb. 2 that more than 800 U.S. and European officials signed a “transatlantic statement” criticizing their respective governments’ policies.

Others however, like Alan Solow, a former outside advisor on Middle East issues for the Obama-Biden administration, rallied behind the president.

In a letter from November that was first reported by The New York Times, Solow along with more than 100 former staffers from the Obama and Biden administrations defended Biden’s approach and encouraged the administration to pursue a two-state solution after the war.

“I appreciate and continue to appreciate the thoughtful positions that President Biden’s taking with respect to the appropriate defense of Israel and its position in the Middle East,” said Solow, who was also the co-chair of the Obama-Biden campaign’s national leadership team in 2012.

The signatories of the letter added that they agreed that “a ceasefire is not possible at this time” and that they supported both the military aid that the administration sent to Israel and the humanitarian aid it provided for Palestinians.

By December, the U.S. promised to provide $121 million in total in humanitarian aid to Gaza and the West Bank, according to two separate announcements, one from Biden in October and another from USAID in December.

By November, the U.S. had delivered about 500,000 pounds of food to Gaza, according to USAID. By Dec. 5, the U.S. Defense Department had delivered 90,000 pounds of medical supplies, clothing and food over two separate trips to the region.

That same month, Biden said that Israel should “be more careful” as it pursues Hamas in Gaza and focus on trying to save more civilian lives.

But one former federal employee, Josh Paul, who worked for the government for more than 11 years before resigning 11 days after Hamas’s attack on Israel, told Medill News Service that he noticed a disconnect.

“[Israel] does not have to think about how it needs to be more discriminating [with its use of arms] because it knows that we (U.S.) have told them that we have an ironclad commitment, that we will continue to provide them unwavering and unconditional support,” said Paul, who was the former director of the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the department responsible for arms transfers.

In December, the same month that Biden warned Israel about its “indiscriminate bombing,” he used emergency authority on two separate occasions, bypassing congressional review to send more than $250 million combined in arms sales to Israel.

On Oct. 7, the day that Hamas attacked Israel, Biden said in a post on X that “the United States stands with Israel.”

Months later, in January, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller reaffirmed the U.S.’s commitment to Israel, saying in a press briefing that U.S. “support for Israel remains ironclad.”

On Sunday, Biden and Netanyahu discussed the possibility of a hostage deal. The White House said in a statement that “the President reaffirmed our shared goal to see Hamas defeated and to ensure the long-term security of Israel and its people” and that “urgent and specific steps to increase the throughput and consistency of humanitarian assistance to innocent Palestinian civilians.”

But for some people like Martinez, who said that she will not be voting for Biden in the general election this November, Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war has already influenced some voters’ opinions of the president.

Robert Strong, an expert in U.S. foreign policy at the University of Virginia, said that the main way he sees the dissent impacting the party primarily falls on voters in swing states.

“The mechanism by which [the dissent] does affect the party isn’t internal debate in the administration, or even debate within the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill, it’s the extent to which it peels off voters that the Democratic party needs in [the 2024 general election],” Strong said.

Youssef Chouhoud, an assistant political science professor at Christopher Newport University, agreed, saying that some polls have shown that support for Biden among Arab and Muslim Americans seems bleak. A nationwide poll showed that support for Biden among Arab American voters dropped from 59% in 2020 to 17% in October 2023. It also found that two-thirds of Arab Americans have a negative view of Biden’s response to the violence in the region following Hamas’s attack.

“Arabs and Muslims are a really important constituency that the Democratic party in general, but Biden in particular, need in order to secure victory in that state (Michigan),” Chouhoud said.

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