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‘This must stop’: Biden denounces anti-Semitism on college campuses

‘This must stop’: Biden denounces anti-Semitism on college campuses

President Mike Johnson and Republicans have sought to claim the moral high ground regarding the recent pro-Palestinian campus protests that have swept the country, leveling barbs at President Joe Biden and highlighting sharp divisions within of the Democratic Party on Israel and Palestine.

But at Tuesday’s Holocaust Remembrance ceremony at the Capitol, Biden and Johnson were mostly unanimous in their unambiguous rebukes of campus protests that critics say have devolved into anti-Semitism.

“I understand that people have strong and deep beliefs about the world. In America, we respect and protect the fundamental right to free speech. Debate and disagree. Protest peacefully and make our voices heard. … But there is no place on any campus in America, anywhere in America, for anti-Semitism and hate speech, or for threats of violence of any kind,” Biden said to applause at the event hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at the Capitol. Emancipation room of the reception center.

“Violent attacks and destruction of property do not constitute peaceful protest. It’s against the law. And we are not a lawless country, we are a civil society. We defend the rule of law,” Biden continued.

The event featured congressional leaders, Holocaust survivors and their descendants. Biden hugged survivors and dabbed his eyes with a tissue as he spoke to them.

His opening speech amounted to an unequivocal declaration of support for Israel, delivered at a politically tense moment. Biden has tried to strike a delicate balance in recent weeks, sometimes criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Israel’s counteroffensive after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

This attack killed around 1,200 people, according to the Israeli government. Meanwhile, Gaza officials say the Israeli military campaign has killed more than 34,000 people. On Monday, Israel appeared ready to invade Rafah, a town in southern Gaza where more than a million people are believed to have taken refuge, despite concerns from the international community and opposition from Biden.

Nonetheless, Biden rallied support for Israel by denouncing anti-Semitism in all its forms in his remarks, calling on people to remember the horrors of the Holocaust and October 7.

“Here we are, not 75 years later, but only seven and a half months later, and people are already forgetting … that Hamas started this terror,” Biden said. “It was Hamas that brutalized the Israelis. It is Hamas which took and continues to hold hostages. I haven’t forgotten it and neither have you. And we won’t forget.

“We have seen a fierce rise in anti-Semitism in America and around the world,” the president said. “On college campuses, Jewish students were blocked, harassed, and attacked on their way to class. … This is absolutely despicable and it must stop.”

But Biden’s unwavering support for Israel, even as he parts ways with Netanyahu, has angered progressive Democrats and done little to appease Republicans, who have capitalized on the chaos and sometimes called it lukewarm Biden’s response to reports of anti-Semitism on campus.

Without naming names, Johnson on Tuesday took aim at those who tried to “minimize and justify what happened on October 7.”

“Some would rather criticize Israel and lecture it about its military tactics – they would rather do that than punish the terrorists who carried out these horrific crimes,” Johnson said.

But Johnson also went further, attempting to draw a straight line between Nazism and American college campuses. He recalled the rise of anti-Semitism among academics and students during the Third Reich and the Nazi takeover of the University of Strasbourg during World War II.

“We remember what happened then, and today we see American universities rapidly becoming hostile places for Jewish students and faculty. The very campuses that were once the envy of the international academy have succumbed to an anti-Semitic virus,” Johnson said.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries offered a slightly more nuanced view, calling for an end not only to anti-Semitism, but also to “racism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia and all other forms of hatred combined.” It’s the American way.

Anti-Semitic incidents have been documented at colleges across the country. In a report released last week, the Anti-Defamation League and Tel Aviv University found a “sharp” increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Western countries since October 7.

But supporters of the protests say those engaging in anti-Semitism are few in number and not representative of a broader effort. They also point out that progressive Jewish students, professors and activists have played an active role in the pro-Palestinian movement on campus.

These protesters, along with some progressive members of Congress, sought to highlight how the Israeli military response has created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Congressional Staff for a Ceasefire Now, an anonymous group of aides calling for an end to the war, urged U.S. leaders to intervene in a statement released Monday. The group said congressional staff had received numerous messages “from constituents demanding an immediate ceasefire, increased humanitarian aid and the release of all hostages.”

“As more than 1.5 million Palestinian civilians await a brutal invasion of Rafah, as children in Gaza starve to death due to man-made famine, and as more than 100 missing Israeli hostages could be find ourselves in the line of fire, we call on President Biden and our congressional bosses must listen to their constituents as we did: demanding an immediate end to the Israeli attack on Gaza civilians before it is too late,” the group wrote.