Updated May 2, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden on campus protesters: No “right to cause chaos”

 President Joe Biden departs the White House on April 30, 2024 in Washington, DC.

President Biden departs the White House on April 30. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

President Biden defended students' right to protest peacefully during a speech Thursday, but condemned the "chaos" that has broken out on campuses nationwide amid protests against the Israel-Hamas war.

Why it matters: Biden is under tremendous political pressure as young Democrats and primary voters across key swing states have signaled opposition to his stance on Israel's war in Gaza.

  • When asked by a reporter, the president said he is not reconsidering U.S. policy.
  • Biden's Thursday remarks were his first public statements this week since the protests against the Israel-Hamas war have escalated dramatically, with hundreds of arrests across the country.
  • "There's the right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos," Biden said from the Roosevelt Room of the White House, adding that "order must prevail."

Driving the news: "Let me be clear ... violent protest is not protected. Peaceful protest is. It's against the law when violence occurs, destroying property is not a peaceful protest. It's against the law," Biden said.

  • "Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduation, none of this is a peaceful protest," he said.
  • In response to a reporter's question, Biden said that he does not think the National Guard should intervene in the protests.
  • Biden also forcefully condemned any antisemitism or "threats of violence against Jewish students."
  • "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. It's simply wrong," Biden said.

State of play: Biden had not weighed in publicly on the protests this week as protesters clashed with police on campuses across the country. His Thursday remarks were previously unplanned.

  • The president last week condemned the "antisemitic protests" and "those who don't understand what's going on with the Palestinians."
  • The White House on Tuesday denounced the move by some pro-Palestinian protesters to take over a building at Columbia University, calling such takeovers "wrong" and "not peaceful."
  • The Columbia University protest has drawn bipartisan attention, with almost a dozen members of Congress visiting the campus.

The big picture: Tensions continue to flare at campuses nationwide as colleges begin to crack down on the demonstrations amid a rise in reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia, Axios' Sareen Habeshian and Rebecca Falconer report.

  • New York police arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University, the epicenter of the protests, earlier this week and a heavy police presence remains on campus.

Go deeper: Hundreds of protesters arrested at college campuses across the U.S.

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional remarks from Biden's address.

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