Biden condemns antisemitism at university demonstrations amid campus arrests

President Joe Biden has condemned antisemitic protests at campuses like Columbia University, while at the same time saying people should understand what is happening to the Palestinians.

The remarks came as Columbia held classes virtually after a wave of protests regarding the war in Gaza. Student-led protest encampments garnered national attention, which led to some Jewish students saying they felt unsafe.

“I condemn the antisemitic protests,” he said in response to questions from reporters on Monday. “That’s why I have set up a program to deal with that. I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

Last year, amid protests on campus in response to the October 7 attack in Israel, Mr Biden revealed a series of actions to combat antisemitism on college campuses.

Columbia University’s president Minouche Shafik denounced the tension after requesting help from the New York Police Department which saw officers arrest some 100 students last week.

“There is a terrible conflict raging in the Middle East with devastating human consequences. I understand that many are experiencing deep moral distress and want Columbia to help alleviate this by taking action. We should be having serious conversations about how Columbia can contribute,” she said.

Students protest in support of Palestinians on Columbia University campus, as protests continue inside and outside the university, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City on 22 April 2024 (REUTERS)

“But we cannot have one group dictate terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance their point of view. Let’s sit down and talk and argue and find ways to compromise on solutions.”

Protesters at Columbia are calling on the university to divest “all economic and academic stakes in Israel” amid its war in Gaza, which has led to 34,000 deaths. In the wake of the demonstrations, similar demonstrations began at Tulane University, Yale and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Tensions escalated when Ms Shafik asked NYPD to take action against the protesters, whom Chief of Patrol John Chell later described as “peaceful,”

However, the president did not remark on whether Ms Shafik should resign.

“I’ll have to find out more about it,” he said.

Mr Biden made the remarks while speaking at an event for Earth Day at Prince William Forest Park in Triangle, Virginia outside Washington, DC.

Mr Biden held the event with Senator Bernie Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, three major proponents of environmental action who also have vocally criticised Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez praised student demonstrators who pushed for environmental justice and compared them to ones demonstrating for Gaza.

“It is especially important that we remember the power of young people shaping this country today, of all days, as we once again witness the leadership of those peaceful, student-led protests on campuses like Columbia, Yale, Berkeley,” she said.

Mr Biden for his part praised Ms Ocasio-Cortez, a frequent critic and collaborator of his, though not on student protests but on the environment.

“I learned a long time ago, listen to that lady,” he said.

-Ariana Baio contributed reporting

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