Biden says protests will not cause him to change his policy
Students peacefully demonstrating for a ceasefire at Columbia University had their encampment broken up by police after two weeks. | Taryn Fivek/PW

WASHINGTON—Burgeoning protests against U.S. policy in Gaza that have spread to college campuses across the country and are marked now by hundreds of sometimes violent arrests of peaceful protesters will not cause President Biden to change his policy of pumping unending military aid into the Israeli war machine.

When a reporter asked him at a press conference Thursday whether protests could result in a change in any of his policies, he answered with an emphatic “No,” closed his notebook, and walked out of the Roosevelt Room of the White House where the presser was held.

Biden claimed he supported the right to protest, a right that is granted not by him, by the universities, or the police, but by the U.S. constitution. However, he came down heavily on the side of “law and order” when it came to suppressing U.S. students but not so much when it came to suppressing U.S.-backed activities of Israel in Gaza, the West Bank, and elsewhere.

Biden condemned students for shutting down campuses when, in fact, none of the student actions required shutdowns that were ordered by many university administrations. As the president spoke, every single university in Gaza had already been totally destroyed by Israeli forces.

As he condemned alleged trespassing by students who are paying many thousands of dollars in tuition and often going into debt for life after the universities take their money, he has said nothing about the trespassing carried out by Israeli settlers in the West Bank and elsewhere. In the last few months, there have been at least 800 violent attacks on Palestinians as Israeli settlers break into their homes, evict them, and steal their property. Many Palestinians have been killed in that process.

Biden spoke also about young people being denied the right to an education by allegedly “chaotic” demonstrators. Nothing they have done has necessitated the cancelling of classes by college administrators. Biden said nothing at all about the 14,000 children killed in Gaza who will never again attend any type of class in any type of school.

Kareem Samra, an 11-year-old boy interviewed by Al Jazeera, said, “I miss my crayons. I miss my friends and school books. I wish my house was not destroyed. That way, I would not have to look every day for food and water.”

When asked if the National Guard should intervene to clear the protesters out, as House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., demanded in a standup for the cameras in New York earlier in the week, the president said he had no such intentions. The memory of the National Guard having shot and killed four students protesting the war in Vietnam at Kent State University is still burned in the minds of millions.

The protesters demand an immediate ceasefire but also an end to U.S. military aid to Israel and university investments in that country. Israel’s military has used U.S.-made and U.S.-bought arms, bombs, and planes to devastate Gaza and its civilian population. Congress, at Biden’s behest, approved at least $14 billion more in military aid to Israel days ago.

The Israeli war on Gaza has killed more than 35,000 civilians, and counting, 70% of them women and children. It has also damaged or destroyed 85% of Gazan homes and apartments and created 1.4 million refugees and stopped humanitarian aid, leading to widespread famine.

Those actions sent protesters first onto the Columbia campus in New York and then into the streets worldwide. Police broke up the demonstrations at Columbia after two weeks of peaceful protest there.

The attack by the NYPD involved a policeman firing his gun inside Hamilton Hall on the campus. The policeman’s firing of his gun is being investigated as are numerous other claims, including one that police threw a student down a flight of stairs. The violent police attacks underline the folly involved in campus administrators using an approach of cracking down violently on peaceful protests. The NYPD itself had previously noted that Columbia demonstrators were peaceful.

Many Jewish supporters

At Columbia, many of the pro-Palestine demonstrators are Jewish. Nevertheless, the Biden administration, with the help of much of the media, has tried to stir up stories of anti-Semitism, which they generally do not verify or document.

The police attacks on students have also resulted in dangerous disruption of activities in the community surrounding Columbia. Mount Sinai Hospital is in the area, and the police activity disrupted the normal avenues of traffic in and out of the hospital, endangering the health and safety of both patients and hospital workers.

Despite worldwide condemnation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he still plans an attack on Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have been living as refugees.

Police officers in riot gear arrested 200 when they cleared an encampment at the University of California in Los Angeles.

A day after police removed tents at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, other students erected 30 more tents.

Cops arrested students at many places Thursday, including Fordham University in New York, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and Tulane University in New Orleans.

At some colleges, including Northwestern University in Illinois, the University of Chicago, and Brown University in Rhode Island, the administrations opted for peaceful talks with demonstrators rather than calling in police. At those places, the more sensible approach by administrators looked like it was yielding much better results, unlike the places where administrators opted for police and violent attacks on students instead.

The college labor movements seem to be siding with the protesting students. At Columbia, the American Association of University Professors condemned the actions of Minouche Shafik, the university’s president who called in the police.

The AAUP described her actions and the actions of the police as “armed terrorism.”

Right-wing Republicans are trying to use the protests so that they can appear to be defending people against anti-Semitism. They want to portray Democrats as soft on anti-Semitism. Trump chimed in on social media, calling the protests a “radical left revolution happening in our country.” He tried to deflect attention from the fact that growing numbers of voters see the extreme right as a threat to democracy. “The threat to democracy is from the left, not the right,” Trump declared.

No one connected with the protests anywhere in the country has voiced any support for Trump or his MAGA movement. There is a high level of understanding that Trump has nothing to offer when it comes to ending U.S. support for Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights. If anything, the fight for a just and humane foreign policy would be a far more difficult fight under Trump than it is now.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

Benjamin Bath
Benjamin Bath

Ben Bath writes from New York City.

John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.