President Biden Addresses Growing Student Protests, Calls For Order

In brief, previously unscheduled remarks Thursday morning, President Joe Biden addressed the growing pro-Palestinian protests at college campuses across the country that have at times been marred by violence and vandalism.

“There’s the right to protest but not the right to cause chaos,” he said.

Speaking from the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Biden praised both the right to free speech and the rule of law as “fundamental American principles” and urged both be upheld and respected.

“We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent,” he said, describing peaceful protest as “in the best tradition” of American democracy. “But neither are we a lawless country. We’re a civil society and order must prevail.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters have set up encampments at college campuses from New York to California, prompting some institutions, including Columbia University and UCLA, to dismantle them by force. Counter-protesters have also attacked at least one camp, instigating violence.

Protesters are calling on universities to divest from, and stop doing business with, Israeli companies and companies they say support the war in Gaza.

Biden continued:

“Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is. It’s against the law when violence occurs. Destroying property is not a peaceful protest. It’s against the law. Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduation: none of this is a peaceful protest. Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not peaceful protest. It’s against the law.”

“There’s no place in America for antisemitism or threats of violence against Jewish students,” Biden added. “There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind — whether it’s antisemitism, Islamophobia or discrimination against Arab-Americans or Palestinian-Americans.

“I understand people have strong feelings and deep convictions,” he continued. “In America we respect and protect the right for them to express that. But it doesn’t mean anything goes. It needs to be done without violence, without destruction, without hate, and within the law.”

Asked afterward by a reporter if the protests have forced him to reconsider his polices in the region, where Israel has carried out an unrelenting assault since an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, Biden answered, “No.”

He also stated he didn’t believe the National Guard should intervene in any of the protests.

The president headed to North Carolina after the remarks. He’s scheduled to pay respects to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in Charlotte earlier this week.