The White House on Thursday called out the “grotesque” and “antisemitic” actions of students protesting against Israel on American college campuses since the outbreak of the Gaza war.
“There is an extremely disturbing pattern of antisemitic messages being conveyed on college campuses,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates told The Times of Israel.
“Just over the past week, we’ve seen protests and statements on college campuses that call for the annihilation of the State of Israel; for genocide against the Jewish people. Jewish students have even had to barricade themselves inside buildings,” he said.
The comments appeared to be the furthest that the White House has gone yet to weigh in on campus debates about Israel. In the past, Biden officials stressed the importance of allowing peaceful protests while also emphasizing the importance of Arab, Jewish and Muslim Americans feeling safe.
However, the escalating incidents across the country appear to have led the White House to speak out more forcefully. On Tuesday night, messages including “Glory To Our Martyrs,” “Divestment From Zionist Genocide Now,” and “Free Palestine From The River To The Sea” were projected onto the exterior of a campus building at George Washington University.
At Cooper Union College in New York Wednesday night, Jewish students were locked in their school’s library for 20 minutes as pro-Palestinian demonstrators pounded on the doors and shouted anti-Israel slogans.
Bates said, “These grotesque sentiments and actions shock the conscience and turn the stomach. They also recall our commitment that can’t be forgotten: ‘never again.’”
These videos are circulating on WhatsApp of Jewish students saying they were locked up in the Cooper Union Library as pro-Palestinians were trying to get in. pic.twitter.com/MdNLW12WzI
— Jacob N. Kornbluh (@jacobkornbluh) October 25, 2023
“Delegitimizing the State of Israel while praising the Hamas terrorist murderers who burned innocent people alive, or targeting Jewish students, is the definition of unacceptable — and the definition of antisemitism. President Biden is proud to have been an enemy of antisemitism and hate his entire life, and he always will be,” the White House spokesperson added.
Also on Thursday, the Anti-Defamation League sent letters to the heads of nearly 200 universities asking them to investigate their chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine.
The letters claimed that SJP chapters could be guilty of “potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.” They call on universities to investigate the chapters for “whether they have improper funding sources, have violated the school code of conduct, have violated state or federal laws, and/or are providing material support to Hamas.”
The letter cites some chapters’ statements and messaging justifying or supporting the attack by Hamas, which killed and wounded thousands and took more than 200 captive, as well as other chapters’ calls for “‘dismantling’ Zionism on US college campuses.” It also cites literature from SJP’s national umbrella group about planned “Day of Resistance” events, which included strategies for how to reframe the Hamas attacks as acts of legitimate resistance.
An ADL spokesperson told JTA that it “has long tracked and exposed SJP’s antisemitism,” but that the group’s escalation of activities since the Hamas attacks “forced us to consider whether they have crossed a very serious legal line.”
SJP has come under increased scrutiny as its chapters have taken a leading role in anti-Israel campus activities. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, ordered on Tuesday that all chapters of the student group in his state’s university system be shut down — a move that could open up the state to free-speech lawsuits.