Joe Biden criticised for 'double standards' after remarks on Columbia University protests, arrests

Joe Biden criticised for 'double standards' after remarks on Columbia University protests, arrests
Biden highlighted alleged 'antisemitism' at Columbia University in New York while failing to address the arrest of over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters.
4 min read
22 April, 2024
Pro-Palestinian students at Columbia University demanded that it cut its ties with Israel [Getty/file photo]

Pro-Palestinian activists and journalists have criticised US President Joe Biden’s recent remarks concerning Gaza solidarity protests at New York’s Columbia University, which intensified over the weekend.

Student demonstrators on Sunday were protesting in support of Gaza and Palestinians have for a fifth day in a row, demanding that the prestigious university severs ties with Israel over its deadly and indiscriminate war on the Gaza Strip. Israel has killed at least 34,151 Palestinians – mostly women and children – since October 7.

The educational institution offers an exchange programme with Tel Aviv University.

Columbia University also recently opened a new facility in Tel Aviv, as part of its Global Centres programme, intended to "serve as a hub for developing partnerships beyond the host city, seeking to engage individuals from every background across Israel".

In an official statement, Biden focused on allegations of antisemitic incidents, and said: "Even in recent days, we've seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous - and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country."

Activists slammed Biden for failing to speak up or mention the ongoing suppression of pro-Palestinian activism at the university, and choosing to focus on isolated incidents.

On Thursday, over 100 pro-Palestinian student protesters were arrested for "trespassing", after they had formed a Gaza Solidarity Encampment on the university’s grounds, in a bid to protest Columbia’s links with Israel.

The daughter of Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, Isra Hirsi, was among those detained.

The activists urged that Biden's allegations should be independently verified before being repeated, as those behind such incidents often appear masked or unidentifiable in video clips.

Imraan Siddiqui, the executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), pointed out the double standards in both Biden’s statement and US coverage of the hysteria surrounding the protests, saying that "no media" talks about "Muslim or Palestinian safety".

Since the outbreak of Israel’s war on Gaza, several anti-Palestinian incidents have taken place in the US, including the stabbing of six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, who was stabbed to death in his family home by a 71-year-old man in Chicago.

British-American journalist Mehdi Hasan, who parted ways from broadcaster MSNBC reportedly over the war in Gaza, also slammed Biden for failing to issue statements condemning racist and genocidal language aimed at Palestinians by multiple US politicians.

Sophie Ellman-Golan, a member of the Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) group criticised the Biden administration for only expressing "concern over Jewish students’ discomfort" amid protests, and never for "Palestinian, Muslim or Arab-American students".

Amid the protests and surrounding controversies, one professor, Dr. Tao Leigh Goffe, resigned from her position as Artist-in-Residence at Columbia University in solidity with the protesters.

"I cannot in good conscience be affiliated with an institution that arrests, intimates, endangers and censors its students."

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Following tensions on Columbia's campus, classes were moved online as a result, the university's president announced.

Israel has waged an indiscriminate war on Gaza for over six months, with the US providing military aid and diplomatic support.

Hospitals, residential buildings, schools and other infrastructure have been targeted by missiles and bombs, and the Palestinian territory has been left in ruins.

Israel has been accused of war crimes and genocide by rights groups, with South Africa taking a case to the International Court of Justice.

The arrests of Columbia students came after the university’s president, Egyptian-born Nemat Minouche Shafik, had requested the New York Police Department (NYPD) to "remove the individuals" from the premises.

Shafik had given a testimony on Capitol Hill about allegations of antisemitism at the university the previous day.

Students, activists and journalists criticised her for this, amid what has been described as a new wave of "McCarthyism" concerning pro-Palestinian protests.