Biden Denounces Violence on Campus, Breaking Silence After Rash of Arrests

President Biden broke days of silence on Thursday to finally speak out on the wave of anti-Israel protests on American college campuses that have inflamed much of the country, denouncing violence and antisemitism even as he defended the right to peaceful dissent.

In an unscheduled televised statement from the White House, Mr. Biden offered a forceful condemnation of students and other protesters who in his view have taken their grievances over Israel’s war against Hamas too far. But he rejected Republican calls to deploy the National Guard to rein in the campuses.

“Destroying property is not a peaceful protest. It’s against the law,” Mr. Biden said. “Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations — none of this is a peaceful protest. Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not peaceful protest. It’s against the law. Dissent is essential to democracy, but dissent must never lead to disorder or to denying the rights of others so students can finish the semester and their college education.”

The president’s statement came after some Democrats frustrated by his reluctance to speak out pressed him to publicly address the campus uprisings. Until now, Mr. Biden had offered only a couple of sentences in response to reporter questions 10 days ago that even Democrats considered too equivocal and otherwise left it to his spokespeople to express his views. Republicans have castigated him for not weighing in himself.

Mr. Biden implied that his critics were simply being opportunistic. “In moments like this, there 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 protest in America. Violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is.”

He emphasized that he would always defend free speech, even for those protesting his own support for Israel’s war. But he made clear that he thought too many of the demonstrations had gone beyond the bounds of simple speech.

“There’s the right to protest but not the right to cause chaos,” he said. “People have the right to get an education, the right to get a degree, the right to walk across the campus safely without fear of being attacked.”

“Let’s be clear about this as well,” he added. “There should be no place on any campus, no place in America, for antisemitism or threats of violence against Jewish students. There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind.”

Answering questions by reporters, Mr. Biden said he would not change his Middle East policy in response to the protests. Asked as he left the room if the National Guard should intervene, he said simply, “No.”

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