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Biden on campus pro-Palestinian protests: ‘Dissent must never lead to disorder,’ but don’t call federal troops

“Throughout our history, we’ve often faced moments like this because we are a big, diverse, free-thinking and freedom-loving nation,” he said

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In his first address about the pro-Palestinian protests rocking campuses nationwide, President Joe Biden said “order must prevail” but rejected proposals to bring in federal troops.

“Dissent must never lead to disorder, or to denying the rights of others so students can finish the semester and their college education,” Biden said Thursday in the four-minute speech. “It’s basically a matter of fairness. It’s a matter of what’s right. There’s the right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos. ”

Biden did not announce concrete proposals to deal with the unrest. He rejected calls from Republicans to call in the National Guard, shouting “No!” at a reporter who asked whether such a step was appropriate.

Biden is under pressure from Republicans to address the turmoil after law enforcement agencies in multiple cities have moved in to disperse pro-Palestinian encampments, sometimes resulting in violence. Hundreds of students were arrested this week across several campuses including Columbia University, City College of New York and the University of California, Los Angeles.

A White House official said Thursay evening that Douglas Emhoff, the husband of Vice Presient Kamala Harris, had spoken with Jewish students at Columbia and Hillel leaders in Georgia and Texas. “During the calls, the students and Hillel leaders shared their experiences with antisemitism on their college campuses – including hate speech and threats of violence,” the official said in a background memo to reporters. “The Second Gentleman listened as the students shared their stories. Mr. Emhoff re-emphasized his commitment to fight hate” an talked about the administration’s antisemitism strategy and efforts to enhance security.

The first encampment, at Columbia, was formed to protest as the school’s president testified about campus antisemitism before a Republican-led congressional committee. This week, congressional Republicans announced plans to massively expand oversight of funding and tax exemptions for universities, among other measures, and accused Biden of not doing enough to make campuses safe for Jews. Biden alluded to those moves.

“Throughout our history, we’ve often faced moments like this because we are a big, diverse, free-thinking and freedom-loving nation,” he said. “In moments like this are always those who rush in to score political points. But this isn’t a moment for politics, it’s a moment for clarity. So let me be clear, peaceful protests in America — violent protest is not protected, peaceful protest is.”

Biden recited a litany of allegations that some Jewish students and other have described on campuses. He had previously condemned reports of antisemitism at the protests in multiple statements, including one this week that said calling for an “intifada” amounted to hate speech.

“Destroying property is not a peaceful protest,” he said in Thursday’s speech.

“It’s against the law. Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations. None of this is a peaceful protest” Biden said. “Threatening people, intimidating people. instilling fear in people is not peaceful protest. It’s against the law.”

He directly addressed alleged intimidation targeting Jewish students, some of whom have claimed to have been singled out and harassed for being visibly Jewish, or to have been interrogated by other students, unsolicited, on their views about Israel.

“There should be no place in any campus, no place in America for antisemitism, or threats of violence against Jewish students,” he said. “There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind, whether it’s antisemitism, Islamophobia, or discrimination against Arab Americans or Palestinian Americans.”

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