Biden denounces violence on campus, breaking silence after series of arrests

President Biden broke days of silence on Thursday to finally speak out about the wave of anti-Israel protests on American college campuses that have inflamed much of the country, denouncing violence and anti-Semitism while defending the right to peaceful dissent.

In an unscheduled televised statement from the White House, Biden strongly condemned students and other protesters who he said had taken their complaints about Israel's war against Hamas too far. But he has rejected Republican calls to deploy the National Guard to rein in the campuses.

“The destruction of property is not a peaceful protest. It's against the law,” Biden said. “Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, closing campuses, forcibly canceling classes and graduations – none of this is a peaceful protest. Threatening people, intimidating them, instilling fear in people is not a peaceful protest. It is against the law. Dissent is essential for democracy, but dissent must never lead to disorder or the denial of the rights of others so that students can finish the semester and their university education.” .

The president's statement came after some Democrats, frustrated by his reticence to speak out, pushed him to publicly address the campus riots. Until now, Biden had offered only a couple of sentences in response to reporters' questions 10 days ago that even Democrats considered too equivocal and otherwise left it up to his spokesmen to express his views. Republicans have criticized him for having no weight in himself.

Biden implied that his critics were simply opportunists. “In moments like this there are always those who rush to score political points. But this is not the time for politics. It's time to clarify. So let me be clear: peaceful protest in America. Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is.”

He stressed that he will always defend free speech, including for those who protest his support for Israel's war. But he made it clear that in his opinion too many demonstrations went beyond the limits of simple discourse.

“There is a right to protest but not a right to cause chaos,” he said. “People have the right to receive an education, the right to earn a degree, the right to walk across campus safely without fear of attack.”

“We want to be clear about this too,” he added. “There should be no place on any campus, anywhere in America, for anti-Semitism or threats of violence against Jewish students. There is no room for hate speech or violence of any kind.”

Answering questions from reporters, Biden said he would not change his Middle East policy in response to the protests. When asked if the National Guard should intervene, he simply replied, “No.”

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