Unlikely to Ease Gaza Protests: Biden's Call for "Order" | Vanity Fair

03 May 2024 2594
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Written by Eric Lutz

President Joe Biden recently addressed the antiwar demonstrations that have been taking place at universities nationwide. While asserting his support for free speech, he referred to the pro-Palestinian demonstrations as "chaos." During his address, Biden emphasized that violent protests are not protected by free speech rights but peaceful protests are. He further stressed the need for order in these situations.

His comments come at a time of escalating tension at schools in response to the Israeli conflict in Gaza, which resulted in the death of over 34,000 Palestinians in less than eight months. Biden has expressed his criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu’s management of the conflict and called for a ceasefire. Despite this, his stance on Israel remains largely unchanged even as Netanyahu disregards him.

The Democratic Party has shown increasing discontent in response to the administration's handling of the Gaza conflict which has escalated to a point of protests at various universities like Columbia and UCLA. Republicans have taken advantage of the situation, viewing the division among Democrats as a political opportunity. Many feel that Biden has allowed the situation to escalate.

As universities began to suppress the protests, ugly scenes have emerged, most notably at UCLA, where over 130 arrests were made as police forcefully broke up antiwar settlements. There were reports of flash grenades being used by the California Highway Patrol. Furthermore, videos surfaced of law enforcement firing rubber bullets at protesters. Tensions escalated further when counterprotesters attacked the pro-Palestinian groups with mace and fireworks.

In Biden's comments, he reiterated his condemnation of anti-semitism. However, he did not directly address the violence against activists (and student journalists) at UCLA, nor did he comment on the university and police's criticized response to the disruptions. He advised against using the National Guard to handle the protests, referencing the infamous 1970 Kent State incident where four students were killed during a Vietnam War protest.

Despite his comments, tensions on campuses remain high as Biden is slated to give commencement addresses at West Point and Morehouse College soon. There are also concerns of potential large-scale protests like those in 1968 at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Chicago. However, Biden shows no sign of changing his policies toward Israel despite potential negative consequences.

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