campus concern

Biden condemns violence, antisemitism at campus protests

In a surprise White House address, the president offered his first major remarks on the campus protests, which he said have not changed his thinking on Mideast policy

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House on May 02, 2024, in Washington, D.C.

In a surprise White House address on Thursday morning, President Joe Biden condemned the violent protests that have swept American college campuses and decried the antisemitism that has taken place at many of the demonstrations.

“We’ve all seen the images and they put to the test two fundamental American principles,” Biden said in his first major remarks on the campus protests. “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.”

In a brief speech lasting just over three minutes, Biden drew a clear differentiation between lawful protests and the violence that has occurred on some campuses.

“Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is. It’s against the law when violence occurs,” the president said. “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 graduation — none of this is a peaceful protest. Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not a peaceful protest. It’s against the law.” 

Biden specifically called out the hate experienced by Jewish students on many campuses. “Let’s be clear about this as well: There should be no place on any campus, no place in America, for antisemitism or threats of violence against Jewish students,” said Biden.

“There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind, whether it’s antisemitism, Islamophobia or discrimination against Arab Americans or Palestinian Americans. It’s simply wrong,” added Biden. “There’s no place for racism in America. It’s all wrong. It’s un-American.” 

The president did not mention Israel or anti-Zionist rhetoric, nor did he make any reference to the content of the protests or the protesters’ demands. But Biden said “no” when asked by a reporter if the protests will lead him to reconsider his policy in the Middle East. He also responded with a “no” when asked if the National Guard should intervene.

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

Earlier this week, after student protesters violently occupied a Columbia University administrative building, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates condemned their actions.

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