Biden breaks silence on university protests and condemns violence on campuses

President Biden broke days of silence Thursday to finally speak out about the wave of protests on American college campuses against Israel's war in Gaza that have inflamed much of the country, decrying violence and anti-Semitism while defending the right to peaceful dissent .

In a previously unscheduled televised statement from the White House, Biden strongly condemned students and other protesters who he said had taken their complaints about the war too far. But he has rejected Republican calls to deploy the National Guard to rein in the campuses.

“There is a right to protest, but not a right to cause chaos,” Biden said before cameras in his first personal speech on the campus melee in 10 days. “People have the right to receive an education, the right to earn a degree, the right to walk across campus safely without fear of attack.” Anti-Semitism, she added, “has no place” in America.

The president's comments came as universities across the nation continued to struggle to restore order. Police officers in riot gear arrested about 200 people as they cleared a protest encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles, while other officers cleared away protesters occupying a library at Portland State University in Oregon. Activists erected 30 tents at the University of Wisconsin-Madison a day after police removed the tents and arrested 34 people.

Thursday's clashes followed a tense 24 hours in which police officers made arrests at the Manhattan campus of Fordham University, the University of Texas at Dallas, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and Tulane University in New Orleans , among other places. By Thursday, campus unrest had led to nearly 2,000 arrests at dozens of academic institutions over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times tally.

Administrators at some colleges, including Brown University in Rhode Island and Northwestern University in Illinois, have decided to avoid conflict by making deals with pro-Palestinian protesters to peacefully end their encampments — deals that have drawn sharp criticism by some Jewish leaders.

Protests have erupted in response to Israel's war in Gaza since the Hamas-led terror attack on October 7 killed 1,200 people in Israel and resulted in more than 200 people being taken hostage. Since then, more than 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza, including Hamas fighters and civilians, according to local authorities. Protesters called for the Biden administration to cut off Israel's weapons and for their schools to divest themselves of Israel-linked companies, but in many cases the demonstrations included anti-Semitic rhetoric and harassment of Jewish students.

Some sympathizers of the protesters objected to the administrators for resorting to police action. Columbia University's chapter of the American Association of University Professors on Thursday called for the conviction of Nemat Shafik, the university's president, after a police operation that removed students occupying Hamilton Hall and resulted in more than 100 arrests.

“Armed counter-terrorism police on campus, student arrests and harsh discipline were not the only way to overcome this crisis,” the group said.

Images of arrests and clashes have come to dominate political debate in Washington in recent days, as Republicans seek to position themselves as defenders of Jewish students and paint Democrats and university leaders as weak on anti-Semitism.

A day after the House passed a bipartisan measure seeking to codify a broader definition of anti-Semitism in federal education policy, with 70 Democrats and 21 Republicans voting no, a group of 20 Senate Republicans unveiled their own version of the resolution.

“Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head on college campuses across our nation,” said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican and former President Donald J.'s possible vice presidential nominee Trump. “Jewish students are being targeted with violence and harassment, and university presidents and administrators who are supposed to defend them are caving in to the radical mob and allowing chaos to spread.”

Mr Trump took to social media. “This is a radical left revolution taking place in our country,” he wrote in block letters as the confrontation at UCLA intensified. “Where is crooked Joe Biden? Where is Governor Newscum? The danger for our country comes from the left, not from the right!!!”

Governor Gavin Newsom of California, a Democrat, released his own statement on Wednesday. “The right to free speech does not extend to inciting violence, vandalism, or lawlessness on campus,” she said.

That was the wording Biden put forward during his televised comments Thursday morning before leaving the White House for a day trip to North Carolina, where he met with relatives of four law enforcement officers killed in Charlotte on Monday and later gave a speech in Wilmington announcing plans to replace the lead pipes.

“The destruction of property is not a peaceful protest. It's against the law,” the president said. “Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, closing campuses, forcibly canceling classes and graduations – none of this is a peaceful protest. Threatening people, intimidating them, instilling fear in people is not a peaceful protest. It is against the law. Dissent is essential to democracy, but dissent must never lead to disorder or denial of the rights of others in order for students to finish the semester and their college education. ”.

Biden has pushed for a deal between Israel and Hamas that would end the conflict, at least temporarily, but a deal has remained elusive. Under a US-sponsored proposal on the table, Israel would enter a six-week ceasefire and release hundreds of Palestinians held in its prisons while Hamas would free 33 of the more than 100 hostages it still holds.

The president and his team hope that this first phase will lead to a longer cessation of hostilities and the release of more hostages, as well as more food, medicine and other aid to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. But American officials said that while Israel has accepted the plan, Hamas has so far refused.

The president's four-minute statement came after some Democrats, frustrated by his reluctance to speak out, pushed him to publicly address the campus riots. Until Thursday, Biden had offered only a couple of sentences in response to reporters' questions on April 22 that even Democrats considered too equivocal and otherwise left it to his spokesmen to express his views. Republicans have criticized him for having no weight in himself.

Biden implied that his critics were simply opportunists. “At times like this, there are always those who rush to score political points,” she said. «But this is not the time for politics. It's time to clarify. So let me be clear: peaceful protest in America. Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is.”

He stressed that he will always defend free speech, including for those who protest his support for Israel's war. But he made it clear that in his opinion too many demonstrations went beyond the limits of simple discourse.

“We want to be clear about this too,” he added. “There should be no place on any campus, anywhere in America, for anti-Semitism or threats of violence against Jewish students. There is no place for incitement to hatred or violence of any kind, whether anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or discrimination against Arab Americans or Palestinian Americans.”

In response to questions from reporters, Biden said he would not change his Middle East policy as a result of the protests. When asked if the National Guard should intervene, he simply replied, “No.”

Reporting contribution was provided by Jonathan Wolfe from Los Angeles, Ernesto Londono from St. Paul, Minnesota; Bob Chiarito from Madison, Wisconsin; AND Mike Baker from Seattle.

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