Student Protests in the US: A Political Balancing Act for President Biden

Pro-Palestinian protests in American colleges are escalating. But what is the right approach? In view of the presidential election in November, the protests are forcing Joe Biden to perform a balancing act.

In the U.S., student protests against the Gaza war are threatening to get out of control. Radicals on all sides are trying to whip up a frenzy instead of calming things down.

In New York, at the center of the demonstrations, protesters violently broke into an academic building at the elite Columbia University. A vocal minority sought to use the occupation to impose its will on the college. It turned out that there was no alternative but for the police to evacuate Hamilton Hall. The violent occupation had nothing to do with freedom of speech.

In Texas, Donald Trump’s right-leaning buddy in the governor’s office, Greg Abbott, is trying to set an example. He sent armed police in riot gear to the University of Texas’ Austin campus to prevent a peaceful protest. The excessive reaction was an attack on basic democratic rights.

Both responses are incorrect. There needs to be space for dissent in a democracy. Level-headed minds should do all they can to reduce the tension, including the clear rejection of agitators on all sides.

There is no justification for antisemitic hate speech, and it is completely unacceptable for students to need to fear for their safety because of their backgrounds. At the same time, it sends a dangerous signal to oppose peaceful protests with excessive state violence.

The whole situation is pushing friend-of-Israel Joe Biden to strike a political balancing act. With the election in November, he urgently needs votes from the younger college students and Muslim voters in swing states such as Michigan. However, he must also not alienate American Jews who are among the most loyal of Democratic voters.

But many things are out of his control. The subject of the protests is the situation in Gaza, whether or not Israel agrees to a cease-fire and exchange of hostages and exercises restraint in Rafah and improves the humanitarian situation for the Palestinians.

This explains why the president is being cautious. He is not adding fuel to the fire in order to prevent a political conflagration that could cost him the White House in November.

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