U.S. President Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House on May 2, 2024 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Biden Condemned for Ahistorical and 'Politically Suicidal' Attack on Campus Protests

"Biden's claim that 'dissent must never lead to disorder' defies American history, from the Boston Tea Party to the tactics that civil rights activists, Vietnam War protesters, and anti-apartheid activists used to confront injustice."

President Joe Biden faced immediate backlash Thursday for characterizing pro-Palestinian demonstrations that have erupted on university campuses across the country as lawless and violent, a narrative likely to further alienate the thousands of students who have joined peaceful protests against Israel's U.S.-backed war on Gaza in recent weeks.

In brief, unscheduled remarks delivered from the White House, Biden acknowledged that "peaceful protest is in the best tradition of how Americans respond to consequential issues."

But he then proceeded to cast recent campus demonstrations as abhorrent, using instances of property damage to broadly paint student protesters as out of control—giving a pass to police forces and pro-Israel mobs that have brutally attacked peaceful encampments.

Biden, who has armed Israel's military to the hilt, also conflated trespassing and disruptions of day-to-day campus activities—including classes and graduations—with violence, saying, "None of this is a peaceful protest."

"Dissent must never lead to disorder," the president said, ignoring the long history of disruptive civil rights and anti-war protests in the U.S. "There's the right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos."

Watch Biden's remarks in full:

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, a civil rights attorney and national deputy director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said Thursday that "President Biden's claim that 'dissent must never lead to disorder' defies American history, from the Boston Tea Party to the tactics that civil rights activists, Vietnam War protesters, and anti-apartheid activists used to confront injustice."

"And if President Biden is truly concerned about the conflict on college campuses, he should specifically condemn law enforcement and pro-Israel mobs for attacking students, and stop enabling the genocide in Gaza that has triggered the protests," Mitchell added.

Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy and a former foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), wrote following the president's remarks that "the best speech of Biden's campaign was in June 2020, amid the nationwide protests against the murder of George Floyd."

"He could've given a very similar speech today, if only he thought the same rights and principles applied to Palestinians," Duss added. "In June 2020, Biden criticized violence but also refused to paint the protests with that broad brush. He acknowledged the root causes, the pain driving them. He could've made some effort to do the same today, instead he chose to amplify a right-wing caricature."

Countering suggestions that criticism of Biden could harm his reelection chances against former President Donald Trump, Duss pointed to an old social media post in which he explained: "One of my concerns here is that Biden is undermining his re-election. In addition to being morally and strategically awful, I think his Gaza policy is alienating and demobilizing constituencies he will need."

At the end of his speech, a reporter asked Biden whether the mass demonstrations on college campuses have led him to reconsider his approach to Israel's assault on Gaza, which to date has been unconditionally supportive even in the face of horrific Israeli war crimes.

"No," Biden said in response to the reporter's question.

"Apparently Biden is not swayed by the mass killing of children, international law, or an election as a growing number of Americans are appalled by his policies," Assal Rad, an author and Middle East analyst, wrote in reply to the president.

Justice Democrats called Biden's speech "shameful," writing that "as campuses have unleashed police on students—he blames protesters as the problem and ignores the violence they've faced."

"If dissent was crucial to our democracy," the progressive group added, "you would spend more time listening to their demands than lying about their tactics."

Biden's address came hours after Los Angeles police launched a violent attack on pro-Palestinian demonstrators at UCLA, where a pro-Israel mob brutally assaulted student protesters just a day earlier.

In a statement earlier this week, College Democrats of America endorsed the Gaza solidarity protests that have swept the nation and warned Democratic leaders that each day they "fail to stand united for a permanent cease-fire, two-state solution, and recognition of a Palestinian state, more and more youth find themselves disillusioned with the party."

"We condemn those politicians, like MAGA Republicans and many other lawmakers, for smearing all protesters as hateful when, according to reports, the overwhelming majority of protests are peaceful," said the College Democrats.

In a floor speech on Wednesday, Sanders called out his colleagues who "are spending their time attacking the protesters rather than the Netanyahu government, which has caused and has created this horrific situation."

Sanders noted that the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) "was arrested 45 times for sit-ins and protests, 45 times for protesting segregation and racism."

"Protesting injustice and expressing our opinions is part of our American tradition," said the Vermont senator. "And when you talk about America being a free country, well, you know what, whether you like it or not, the right to protest is what American freedom is all about."

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