'No place' for antisemitism, threats against Jewish students

Biden slams anti-Israel campus protests, says Mideast policies unchanged

US president says right to free speech must not come at expense of law and order, adds he won’t send National Guard to disperse encampments at universities

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks about student protests over the war in Gaza, from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 2, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks about student protests over the war in Gaza, from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, May 2, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

United States President Joe Biden condemned on Thursday the anti-Israel protests that have been wreaking havoc on college campuses across the country.

“There’s a right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos,” Biden said in his first prepared remarks on the topic, which he gave from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

“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 graduations — none of this is a peaceful protest,” he asserted, referring to the range of actions taken by anti-Israel protesters at Columbia University, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Los Angeles, and other schools.

“Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not peaceful protest — it’s against the law,” Biden added.

“There should be no place on any campus — no place in America — for antisemitism or threats of violence against Jewish students,” he said, referring to widespread documentation of antisemitic and pro-terror expressions during the protests, before subsequently condemning all forms of discrimination.

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

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators continue their encampment at Library Mall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, May 1, 2024. (Samantha Madar/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

“Make no mistake, as president I will always defend free speech, but I will always be just as strong in standing up for the rule of law,” he asserted.

“We’ve all seen images, and they put to the test two fundamental American principles: The first is the right to free speech — for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld. We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent. The American people are heard.”

“In fact, peaceful protest is the best tradition of how Americans respond to consequential issues. But neither are we a lawless country. We are a civil society, and order must prevail,” he insisted.

“Throughout our history, we’ve often faced moments like this because we are a big, diverse, free-thinking and freedom-loving nation,” the US president continued. “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.”

“So let me be clear, violent protest is not protected, peaceful protest is,” Biden added.

Upon finishing his remarks, a reporter asked Biden whether the demonstrations have led him to reconsider any of his policies regarding the Middle East, to which he responded: “No.”

Asked whether he was thinking of deploying the National Guard to restore order on college campuses, Biden also responded: “No.”

University protests have mushroomed across the country, with organizers pledging to remain in tents on campus quads until their schools sever all academic and financial links to Israel. Administrators have been forced to decide between calling in the police to rein in violators, which risks calling more attention to the cause, and cutting deals with them, infuriating US lawmakers and Jewish organizations.

Anti-Israel protests have been commonplace on US campuses since Hamas’s October 7 attack against Israel, which saw nearly 1,200 people killed, mostly civilians, and 253 kidnapped. The demonstrations escalated, turning into encampments across the country, after Columbia students created a “liberated zone” inside their campus, preventing students they considered to be Zionists from entering.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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