Biden Condemns Campus Protests Over Israel-Hamas War

In his first public remarks on this week’s campus protests, President Joe Biden criticized much of the unrest over the Israel-Hamas war erupting at colleges across the country, saying “none of this is a peaceful protest.”

“Destroying property is not a peaceful protest,” Biden said Thursday. “It is against the law. Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations, none of this is a peaceful protest.”

Asked by a reporter if the protests have caused him to reconsider his policy in the Middle East, Biden replied, "No.” He also said he would not send the National Guard to intervene in the campus activism.

Biden had been facing increasing pressure in recent days from both Republicans and progressives to address the surge of campus protests across the nation in response to Israel’s war with Hamas. The demonstrations, which have roiled universities such as Columbia and UCLA, have become a focal point for political debate, highlighting the delicate balance Biden must strike as he navigates the complexities of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Read More: Pro-Palestinian Campus Protests Highlight Divisions Among Democrats

Republicans have seized upon the unrest as an opportunity to criticize Biden's handling of the crisis, accusing him of weakness on Israel. Meanwhile, some prominent progressives have called on Biden to show solidarity with the pro-Palestinian student demonstrators and take a more assertive stance against Israel's military operations in Gaza.

“I can understand why [Biden] doesn't want to comment on this,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and chair of the progressive caucus, told TIME on Wednesday. “I think it would be great if he lifted up [the history of student protests], while making sure that people understand that antisemitism is wrong.”

Biden had refrained from public remarks on the protests for over a week before his comments on Thursday. While his Administration has reiterated its commitment to Israel's security and called for diplomacy in the region, it has also expressed concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and emphasized the need for humanitarian assistance. Biden has continued to provide military aid to Israel despite concerns from pro-Palestinian groups and some other nations that its actions in Gaza do not comply with U.S. and international humanitarian law. The Gaza ministry has said that over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes since Oct. 7, after Hamas attacked Israel.

“We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent,” Biden said. “The American people are heard. In fact, peaceful protest is in the best tradition of how people respond to consequential issues. But neither are we a lawless country. We are a civil society and order must prevail.”

The tensions came to a head at Columbia University and UCLA this week, where clashes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators resulted in numerous arrests and injuries. Reports of antisemitic chants and messages at the protests have raised concerns about the safety of Jewish students on campus.

“Let’s be clear about this as well, there should be no place on any campus, no place in America, for antisemitism or threats of violence against Jewish students,” Biden said. “There is no place for hate speech, or violence of any kind, whether it’s anti-semitism, Islamophobia, or discrimination against Arab Americans or Palestinian Americans. It’s simply wrong. There’s no place for racism in America.”

At Columbia University and at City College of New York on Tuesday night, the NYPD was seen entering a window into a building occupied by the anti-war group, which had been demanding that the university condemn Israel's actions and divest from Israeli-linked companies. At UCLA, dueling groups of protesters had beat each other with sticks after pro-Israel demonstrators tried to pull down barricades surrounding a pro-Palestinian encampment. Fifteen people were injured and one was hospitalized during the clash, university administration said, leading the school to cancel classes.

“In moments like this, there are always those who rush in to score political points,” Biden said. “But this isn’t a moment for politics. It’s a moment for clarity. So let me be clear… Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is."

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