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Biden says supports 'peaceful' Gaza protests

Biden says supports 'peaceful' Gaza protests, hears their voices
4 min read
19 May, 2024
Biden's comments come following major pro-Palestinian demonstrations at US universities which in some campuses saw students suspended, and arrested by police.
Some graduates took part in silent protest during Biden's speech [Getty]

US President Joe Biden said Sunday he heard the voice of Gaza war protesters as some students turned their backs on his graduation ceremony speech at the former university of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

A small number of graduates carried out the silent protest, with some holding Palestinian flags and one holding up a fist as Biden spoke at Morehouse College, a historically Black university in Atlanta, Georgia.

Others wore keffiyeh scarves over their gowns in a sign of solidarity with the protests that have roiled campuses across the United States over Israel's offensive on Gaza after the Hamas 7 October attacks.

"I support peaceful, non-violent protest. Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them," said Biden, who wore a maroon and black gown in the colors of the historically Black university.

The speech was Biden's most direct encounter with US students since the Gaza protests engulfed campuses nationwide, causing him political troubles with an election rematch against Donald Trump just over six months away.

"This is one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world. There's nothing easy about it," added Biden about Gaza.

"I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family, but most of all, I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well."

He did not elaborate, but First Lady Jill Biden reportedly urged the president in April to "stop it now" as the toll of Palestinian civilians mounted from Israel's offensive.

A number of Morehouse students had called for Biden's speech to be canceled over the Gaza war but the ceremony went ahead without disruption.

Biden told the students that Gaza was enduring a "humanitarian crisis" and that he was working for an "immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting, bring the hostages home."

The 81-year-old Democrat added that he was pushing for a "lasting, durable peace" in the wider Middle East that would lead to an independent Palestinian state, which he called the "only solution."

The president's National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is in Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend trying to push for a ceasefire as well as a normalization deal between the two countries.

Biden had earlier applauded as the college's valedictorian, DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher, also called for an immediate ceasefire in his own speech.

"It is important to recognize both sides have suffered heavy casualties since October 7," said Fletcher.

Morehouse College president David Thomas - who had earlier this week threatened to shut down the ceremony if it was disrupted - told Biden after the speech that "you've been listening."

"You spoke to the hard issues confronting our nation and the world at this moment," said Thomas.

The speech at the alma mater of rights hero King was part of a series of Biden events this week aimed at winning over Black voters, amid polls showing that their support for him is flagging.

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Biden did not specifically mention his rival Trump but leaned heavily into themes of democracy and racism that he has previously invoked while talking about the twice-impeached Republican former president.

"This is what we're up against - extremist forces aligned against the meaning and message of Morehouse," said Biden.

His outreach efforts to Black voters and Gaza protesters were two sides of the same coin as Biden courts the groups that helped him beat Trump in 2020.

He will need to keep those strands in his coalition to have a hope of winning a second term and preventing Trump from making a sensational comeback to the White House despite multiple criminal indictments.

A New York Times/Siena poll last week showed that, in addition to trailing Trump in several key battleground states, Biden is also losing ground with African Americans.

Trump is winning more than 20 percent of Black voters in the poll - which would be the highest level of Black support for a Republican presidential candidate since the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964, The New York Times said.

Several other polls have also shown Biden's support lagging among Black voters.