Biden faces difficult balancing act as campus protests over Gaza escalate

WASHINGTON – The escalation of campus protests is forcing US President Joe Biden to walk a careful line in denouncing anti-Semitism, while supporting the right of young Americans to protest and trying to limit political damage to long term.

As violent police repression and counter-protests greet demonstrations sweeping across US universities, Biden faces harsh criticism of his Israel policy from both the left and the right.

Students from dozens of schools have demonstrated or camped out in recent days to oppose Israel’s war in Gaza, demanding that institutions stop doing business with companies that support the war.

Protests over the war and Biden’s strong support for Israel have dogged the president since late 2023 and divided his Democratic Party. On May 1, 57 Democrats in Congress called on Biden to withhold aid to Israel in an attempt to stop a planned attack on Rafah.

Biden’s top advisers privately dismiss the idea that the protests or their supporters could cost Biden the White House in November’s presidential election. They point to the relatively small number of participants, compared to about 41 million eligible Gen Z voters in 2024.

The White House has rolled out a series of policies friendly to young voters in recent days, issuing new student loan relief announcements, long-planned measures to reduce criminal penalties for marijuana and condemning a new six-year abortion ban. weeks that came into effect on May 1. in Florida.

Biden has spoken rarely and carefully about campus protests.

“I condemn anti-Semitic protests,” he said on April 22. “I also condemn those who do not understand what is happening to the Palestinians.”

But, at least as long as the school year lasts, the protests are not going to disappear. Republicans and conservative media have seized on the issue to criticize Biden.

Some rank-and-file Democrats warn that young voters, already bored with Biden, could abandon him for Israel.

More than 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza, local officials say, after Israeli strikes in retaliation for the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that Israel says killed 1,200.

The United States is a major provider of military aid to Israel and has shielded the country from critical United Nations votes.

Biden campaign research shows that most 2024 voters, including young people, will choose a president based on issues like the economy, not Gaza.

Its youth-friendly policies are not enough to guarantee support, said Elise Joshi, executive director of Gen-Z for Change, a group of young online political activists.

“I welcome policies on marijuana reform and student debt, but the president has not intervened in these protests, which are a priority for young voters across the country,” Joshi said. “The White House is condemning student protesters, but we haven’t heard anything about those attacking protesters.”

‘Furious lunatics’

Meanwhile, Republicans have used the protests to brand some Democrats as merchants of chaos and anti-Semites.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on May 1 praised New York police officers who raided a Columbia University building occupied by pro-Palestinian students and called protesters “raging lunatics.”

Biden, Trump added, “is nowhere to be found.”

Republican campaigns are accusing Democrats of supporting “anti-Semitism” and “pro-terrorist protesters,” while promoting vulnerable incumbents like Reps. Mike Lawler and Anthony D’Esposito, who represent swing districts in New York with large numbers. of Jewish voters.