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Biden makes 'chilling' warning to pro-Gaza student protests

US President Biden issues 'chilling' warning to pro-Gaza student protesters
3 min read
03 May, 2024
US President Joe Biden made a 'chilling' speech on Thursday night about student protests for Gaza that have erupted at colleges across the country.
Biden's speech has been slammed by student protesters [Getty]

US President Joe Biden warned on Thursday that "order must be restored" on college campuses after a series of pro-Gaza encampments were established across the country.

Biden stressed that the rule of law "must be upheld" hours after police violently dispersed peaceful protests at universities in Los Angeles and New York, arresting hundreds of students.

Across the US, notably at Columbia and UCLA, students have occupied university lawns and squares in support of Gaza, demanding that authorities sever ties with Israeli colleges and divest from companies linked to Israel.

This week, police at Columbia and UCLA tore down tents and dismantled barricades that students had erected to protect themselves from attacks by counter-protesters.

"We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent, but neither are we a lawless country," Biden said in a televised speech from the White House. "We're a civil society, and order must prevail."

All week, Biden's team has contended with the rhetoric and slogans of student protesters, accusing some of antisemitism while seemingly misinterpreting their words.

"President Biden has stood against repugnant, antisemitic smears and violent rhetoric his entire life," Andrew Bates, a White House assistant press secretary, said in a statement.

"He condemns the use of the term 'intifada,' as he has the other tragic and dangerous hate speech displayed in recent days."

The Arabic word 'intifada', meaning "shake-off", refers to popular and usually peaceful uprisings in the Arab world against oppression.

Biden said that while he respected free speech, he would not tolerate 'unlawful' activities by student protesters.

"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," said Biden.

"Dissent is essential to democracy, but dissent must never lead to disorder or to denying the rights of others so students can finish the semester and their college education,” Biden continued. "There’s a right to protest but not the right to cause chaos."

Observers at the camps have almost universally agreed the college protests have been peaceful, while student leaders insist pro-Israel opponents are defaming their popular movement with false accusations of violence and antisemitism.

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Meanwhile, counter-protesters, often waving Israeli flags, have attacked the encampments with fireworks, mace, and other weapons, with one video even showing activists releasing dozens of mice on students' tents.

Americans took to social media to slam the president's speech, some comparing his rhetoric to the chilling threats made to authoritarian leaders during the early days of the Arab Spring.

"Joe Biden lies. There is NO violence, NO hate speech NO anti-Semitism fr student protesters. There IS violence, hate speech, Islamophobia & racism against protesters. Joe Biden, police, university administrators, and pro Israel thugs are guilty," wrote Richard Silverstein on X, author of the Tikun Olam blog.

Others accused Biden of giving police and others a greenlight to crackdown on student protesters, following a week of violence that has seen elderly lecturers slammed to the floor for refusing to leave the encampment.