WASHINGTON — Activists at odds with President Joe Biden over his handling of Israel’s war with Hamas are planning to shift the focus of their pressure campaign from the ballot box to the Democratic Party platform at this summer’s nominating convention in Chicago.

The Biden campaign is anticipating the effort, which could extend a bruising, and divisive, political battle over several months to the Democratic National Convention, according to multiple activists and party insiders.

Progressive Democrats already have identified a list of issues where they hope to influence the party platform, including calling for filibuster reform in the Senate, declaring a national climate emergency and ending private funding of elections. But the war in the Gaza Strip and potential conditions on future U.S. military assistance to Israel is poised to be the most contentious as Democrats prepare for their convention this August. 

“We’re gearing up for a fight and we’re drawing a line in the sand, though we hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Joseph Geevarghese, the executive director of Our Revolution, which spun off from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ first presidential campaign. 

“We’ll negotiate out as much agreement as possible beforehand so that we can avoid large scale fights,” Geevarghese added. “That being said, if there needs to be a fight on important issues, we’ll do it.”

The Democratic National Committee has not yet publicly outlined its process for developing the 2024 platform. A DNC spokesperson said the party “will engage diverse voices from across the Democratic coalition.” 

“The Democratic Party platform will reflect President Biden’s vision for how we can move our nation forward,” Hannah Muldavin, the spokesperson, said in a statement to NBC News, citing domestic issues as well as “advancing safety and security at home and abroad.”

Biden’s vision for how to approach Israel’s war with Hamas dramatically differs from a growing number of Democrats, however, including some of the president’s close allies in Congress. Progressive activists want language in the platform that would link future U.S. military aid to a ceasefire in Gaza.

Biden has so far resisted putting conditions on or withholding military assistance to Israel to try to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change course. The president has called for a ceasefire in Gaza, but only as part of a deal to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas. Activists in his party, however, have called for a ceasefire even without the release of hostages. 

That divide could set up a clash at a Democratic convention that the party hasn’t seen in decades, according to Geevarghese, who noted that Chicago was the site of the Democrat’s infamous 1968 convention when left-wing antiwar protesters clashed with police. 

“It’s in the re-election campaign’s interest to minimize disruption and outside protests and the only way to do that is meaningful policy shifts” on Israel, he said.  

So far, a loosely organized coalition of progressive Democrats has largely aimed to voice their opposition to the president’s Israel policy by pressing Democratic primary voters to support “uncommitted” or other similar ballot options across the country.

These progressives made an initial splash in Michigan’s February primary, garnering more than 100,00 votes for “uncommitted,” or about 13.2% of the vote. It was enough to earn their movement a pair of convention delegates. A similar protest vote in Democratic primaries was sufficient enough for them to gain uncommitted delegates in Minnesota, Hawaii, Washington state, and Missouri.

NBC News projects so far there will be at least 26 uncommitted delegates at the convention, along with three delegates representing Jason Palmer, a relatively unknown candidate who won the primary in American Samoa. Those are a fraction of the more than 3,300 delegates Biden has so far won, however, which means the platform fight over Israel will be an uphill, two-step battle.

The activists aren’t even guaranteed a seat at the table, for instance. Positions on DNC standing committees like the one that writes the platform are appointed and the process will be entirely controlled by Biden’s team.

“The fix is in,” said Jim Zogby, a former longtime DNC member, leader of the Arab-American community and former Sanders strategist. “All the Platform Committee people are going to be picked by the campaign and the White House.”

Zogby, who has led what minor skirmishes have taken place previously over language on Israel in the platform, is not hopeful that activists  will be able to do much this year. Sanders had enough delegates to force a confrontation in 2016, and Zogby doubts the “Uncommitted” movement will hang onto the few delegate slots they’ve won.

But others on the left are more hopeful and think they can influence the platform by applying pressure from the outside, if not  the inside, in ways that will force the Biden team to avoid a public fight.

As the war situation in Gaza evolves, so too could any potential platform battle. Biden is currently pushing for the weeks-long ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages, and his administration hopes that would lead to a permanent end to the war.

But as the president struggles to achieve such a deal, pressure has grown within his party beyond the activist base. Just months ago, Sanders was a lone voice in the Senate calling on the administration to stop sending offensive weaponry to Israel for what he called its “illegal, immoral war against the Palestinian people.” In one private discussion at the White House in late February, he also pressed some of Biden’s top advisers, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, to take new steps to deliver humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

Now a growing chorus of congressional Democrats, including close allies of the president such as Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., have expressed openness to withholding some future military assistance if it proceeds with a major ground offensive into Rafah.

Party platforms are often a forcing mechanism for party officials to confront rifts between its presidential nominee — or in this case, the incumbent president — and party activists. 

In 2012, the DNC members debated taking steps toward including language endorsing same-sex marriage before President Obama had taken that position publicly, though he ultimately did that well before the convention. In 2016, Sanders leveraged his significant tranche of delegates to pressure Hillary Clinton on a wide range of progressive policy priorities, from climate change to student debt to international trade treaties, resulting in the most progressive platform in the parties’ history. 

Sanders’ forces had their most significant impact, though, on party rules, especially in a reform that largely disempowered so-called super delegates. Defending those reforms will also be a top issue for his allies this year. 

The biggest revision to Democrats’ 2020 platform from their 2016 language was to reflect former President Donald Trump’s decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

The final paragraphs of the 2020 Democratic platform on Israel in 2020 reiterated the party’s belief that “a strong, secure, and democratic Israel is vital to the interests of the United States.” It declared that the party’s “commitment to Israel’s security, its qualitative military edge, [and] its right to defend itself” is “ironclad,” but also called for a negotiated two-state solution “that ensures Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state with recognized borders and upholds the right of Palestinians to live in freedom and security in a viable state of their own.”

In 2020, the Biden team largely headed off a platform fight by creating so-called Unity Task Forces, composed of both Biden and Sanders surrogates, which produced draft language for the party platform signed off by both camps. Those recommendations ultimately telegraphed a more robust, progressive policy agenda that went beyond what Biden had proposed in his primary campaign. 

A source close to the White House noted that the 2020 platform process was built to reflect Biden’s desire then to bring the party together after a contentious primary. Now, Biden has overwhelmingly won renomination, and, the source noted, it is typical for the party platform to reflect the agenda of the incumbent president.

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