United States

President Biden Addresses College Protests Amid Israel-Hamas Conflict

President Biden addressed college protests related to the Israel-Hamas conflict, emphasizing the importance of upholding free speech and the rule of law while condemning violence and hate speech.

US President Joe Biden Photo: AP

President Joe Biden spoke from the White House on Thursday addressing the ongoing college protests across the nation, which have intensified in connection with the Israel-Hamas conflict. Speaking from the Roosevelt Room, Biden emphasized the importance of upholding two fundamental American principles amidst the protests.

"We've all seen images, and they put to the test two fundamental American principles," Biden stated. "The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld."

This marks the first direct response from Biden on the issue since his brief comments to reporters on April 22, before the escalation of suspensions and arrests at several campuses. At that time, he condemned both antisemitic actions and those who didn't understand the plight of Palestinians in Gaza.

However, Biden has faced criticism, particularly from Republicans, who have seized on the opportunity to challenge perceived liberal university leaders and portray themselves as staunch supporters of Israel. They have urged Biden to step up his response to the recent events.

"The president is well aware the protests present a real political liability for him," reported ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has criticized Biden's handling of the situation, stating on the campaign trail that Biden should speak out.

Responding to these criticisms, Biden emphasized the importance of clarity over political posturing. "In moments like this, there are always those who rush in to score political points. But this isn't a moment for politics. It's a moment for clarity," he stated firmly.

"Violent protest is not protected, peaceful protest is," Biden asserted, underlining his stance on the issue.

When pressed on the timing of his remarks and whether he felt pressure to speak out after Trump's comments, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated, "It has nothing to do with anybody following anyone's lead. The president, if anything, has been a leader on this."

Biden reiterated his stance on peaceful protest, condemning vandalism, trespassing, and intimidation. He emphasized the need for fairness and respect within protests, stating, "There is the right to protest but not the right to cause chaos."

Furthermore, Biden emphasized the administration's stance against hate speech or violence of any kind, including antisemitism, Islamophobia, or discrimination against Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans.

In response to questions from the press, Biden maintained his policies in the region and ruled out activating the National Guard.

Biden's approach aims to balance strong support for Israel with sympathy for Palestinians affected by the conflict. "In America, we respect the right to protest, the right for them to express that," Biden remarked. "But it doesn't mean anything goes. It needs to be done without violence, without destruction, without hate, and within the law."