Biden Says ‘No Place’ for Antisemitism at Campus Protests

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden said there is “no place” for antisemitism at campus protests against Israel during an annual Holocaust commemoration, directly taking on the demonstrations that have threatened to fracture his political coalition.

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Biden criticized anti-Jewish rhetoric at the protests as unacceptable in an address Tuesday and urged Americans to speak out against antisemitism and other forms of hate. Protests demanding that universities cut financial ties with Israel have spread to campuses across the country, leading to confrontations with police.

“There is no place on any campus in America, any place in America, for antisemitism or hate speech, threats of violence of any kind,” Biden said at the US Capitol marking the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s annual Days of Remembrance. “We’re not a lawless country. We’re a civil society. We uphold the rule of law and no one should have to hide or to be brave just to be themselves.”

Biden said antisemitism required “continued vigilance and outspokenness,” recounting the atrocities of Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault on Israel as the deadliest attack on Jews since the Nazi campaign to exterminate the Jewish people of Europe. He said too many Americans were ignoring the rise in anti-Jewish hate.

“It’s absolutely despicable, and it must stop,” Biden said. “Silence and denial can hide much, but it can erase nothing.”

Biden’s embrace of the Jewish community comes as he is navigating the difficult politics of Israel’s war in Gaza, with critics decrying the humanitarian crisis facing Palestinians after seven months of bombardment. The conflict has exposed divisions within the Democratic Party that could hurt Biden’s chances of winning the November election.

Many of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators are the type of voters — young, progressive and educated — Biden’s campaign must attract in order to win reelection.

Biden’s campaign aides have downplayed the notion the protests carry major risks for the president, saying polling data shows that while young people support an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, they do not rank the conflict high on lists of issues important to them.

The Biden administration has intensified pressure on Israel and Hamas to agree to a temporary cease-fire, with the goal of releasing hostages and rushing humanitarian aid to the territory. A cessation of hostilities could also deflate the campus protests.

Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, on Monday said it agreed to a cease-fire proposal but Israel’s war cabinet rejected it as “far” from meeting its demands, dashing hopes for an immediate pause in fighting.

Biden’s public comments about the protests have sought to balance free-speech rights with condemnation of violence and antisemitic statements. Yet some Democrats, as well as Republicans, have urged Biden to be more forceful in rebuking the protesters.

House Republicans aimed to pressure Democrats last week by voting on a resolution codifying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which includes anti-Zionism, in federal anti-discrimination law. The resolution passed 320-91, with 70 Democrats and 21 Republicans voting against it.

House Speaker Mike Johnson denounced critics of Israel’s military campaign in remarks before Biden spoke.

“There are some who would prefer to criticize Israel and lecture them on their military tactics. They would rather do that than punish the terrorists who perpetrated these horrific crimes,” Johnson said.

(Updates throughout with Biden remarks)

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