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Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

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Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses
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Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

2024-04-24 20:17 Last Updated At:20:30

NEW YORK (AP) — Student protests over the war in Gaza have created a new and unpredictable challenge for President Joe Biden as he resists calls to cut off U.S. support for Israel while trying to hold together the coalition of voters he'll need for reelection.

The protests at Columbia University in New York and other campuses have captured global media attention and resurfaced questions about Biden’s lagging support from young voters. His handling of the Middle East conflict is also being closely watched by both Jewish and Arab American voters in key swing states.

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President Joe Biden waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, after returning from a trip to Florida where he blamed Donald Trump for Florida's upcoming abortion ban. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

NEW YORK (AP) — Student protests over the war in Gaza have created a new and unpredictable challenge for President Joe Biden as he resists calls to cut off U.S. support for Israel while trying to hold together the coalition of voters he'll need for reelection.

President Joe Biden waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, after returning from a trip to Florida where he blamed Donald Trump for Florida's upcoming abortion ban. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, after returning from a trip to Florida where he blamed Donald Trump for Florida's upcoming abortion ban. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Columbia University professors rally in solidarity with their students rights to protest free from arrest at the Columbia University campus in New York on Monday April 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Columbia University professors rally in solidarity with their students rights to protest free from arrest at the Columbia University campus in New York on Monday April 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather in front of Sproul Hall during a planned protest on the campus of UC Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., on Monday, April 22, 2024. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters staged a demonstration in front of Sproul Hall where they set up a tent encampment and are demanding a permanent cease-fire in the war between Israel and Gaza. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group via AP)

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather in front of Sproul Hall during a planned protest on the campus of UC Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., on Monday, April 22, 2024. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters staged a demonstration in front of Sproul Hall where they set up a tent encampment and are demanding a permanent cease-fire in the war between Israel and Gaza. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group via AP)

Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

FILE - Police in Riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York. U.S. colleges and universities are preparing for end-of-year commencement ceremonies with a unique challenge: providing safety for graduates while honoring the free speech rights of students involved in protests over the Israel-Hamas war. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

FILE - Police in Riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York. U.S. colleges and universities are preparing for end-of-year commencement ceremonies with a unique challenge: providing safety for graduates while honoring the free speech rights of students involved in protests over the Israel-Hamas war. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

At best for Biden, the protests are a passing distraction while the White House presses forward with negotiations over a cease-fire and the release of hostages held by Hamas while pushing Israel to limit casualties with more than 34,000 Palestinians dead. At worst, they build momentum toward the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in August, potentially triggering scenes of violence that could recall the unrest of protests against the Vietnam War during the party’s convention there in 1968.

“If it ends with Columbia, that’s one thing,” said Angus Johnston, a historian focused on campus activism. “If this sends the national student movement to a new place, that’s a very different situation.”

Already, Biden's aides have had to work to minimize disruptions from antiwar protesters, holding smaller campaign events and tightly controlling access. Demonstrators forced his motorcade to change routes to the Capitol on his way to deliver the State of the Union, and they've thrown a red substance intended to symbolize blood near his home in Delaware.

The president could face more confrontations with students this spring. Morehouse College said Tuesday that Biden would appear at the iconic historically Black campus in May to deliver a commencement address that could draw protests.

More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators camped out at Columbia were arrested Thursday, with dozens more people arrested at other campuses. Many now face charges of trespassing or disorderly conduct. The protesters have demanded that their universities condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and divest from companies that do business with Israel.

Some people have reported antisemitic chants and messages at and around the Columbia campus, and similar concerns have been reported at other universities. Some Jewish students say they’ve felt unsafe on campus. The White House, in a message Sunday to mark the Passover holiday, denounced what it called an “alarming surge” of antisemitism, saying it "has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country."

Four Jewish Democratic members of Congress toured Columbia’s locked-down campus on Monday with members of the school’s Jewish Law Students Association. They condemned that things had escalated to where Jewish students felt unsafe and the university canceled in-person classes Monday. Columbia said it would use hybrid remote and in-person learning through the end of the spring term.

Rep. Kathy Manning of North Carolina called on the Education Department and Justice Department to work with the White House “to ensure that all universities take steps necessary to keep Jewish students and faculty safe.”

“This discrimination is simply unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue,” she said.

Biden on Monday sought the same middle ground that he's staked out for months as he backs Israel's military operations with weapons shipments while also pushing Israel to limit civilian casualties and get more humanitarian aid into Gaza, where the United Nations has said there is a looming famine.

“I condemn the antisemitic protests," the president said at an Earth Day event. He then added, "I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a high-profile progressive who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, spoke before Biden at the same event. She said it was “important that we remember the power of young people shaping this country” and praised “the leadership of those peaceful student-led protests.”

Former President Donald Trump, Biden's presumptive Republican opponent in November, pointed to the headlines and images coming out of Columbia to redirect focus from his criminal hush money trial in New York, telling reporters in the courthouse Tuesday that Biden bears the blame for the unrest.

“If this were me, you’d be after me. You’d be after me so much,” he said. “But they’re trying to give him a pass. But what’s going on is a disgrace to our country, and it’s all Biden’s fault and everybody knows it.”

In a sign of the political potency of the situation at Columbia, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson of Louisiana planned to visit the school Wednesday and meet with Jewish students.

Joel Rubin, a former State Department official and Democratic strategist who has worked in Jewish politics for years, rejected critics blaming Biden “for everything that's gone wrong” but said the president would have to "make the argument for why the policy is the right one and let the chips fall where they may.”

“If it were purely politics and polling, it would be a very hard one,” Rubin said. “But I think Biden is making these decisions based on national security.”

Biden graduated from Syracuse’s law school in 1968, bypassing the campus convulsions over the Vietnam War. He distanced himself from that protest movement two decades later during his first run for president.

“I was married, I was in law school, I wore sports coats,” Biden said in 1987. “You’re looking at a middle-class guy. I am who I am. I’m not big on flak jackets and tie-dyed shirts. You know, that’s not me.″

Biden has been endorsed this year by many leading youth activist organizations and built his campaign around key social issues — such as defending abortion rights, combating climate change and canceling student debt for millions — that they believe can energize voters under 30 who are more likely to be concerned about his approach to Gaza.

He was in Florida on Tuesday to capitalize on the momentum against nationwide abortion restrictions and criticize a state law soon to go into effect that will ban abortions after six weeks, before many women know they're pregnant. A day earlier, Vice President Kamala Harris held an event promoting abortion rights in swing state Wisconsin.

Safia Southey, a 25-year-old law student at Columbia who is Jewish, has been participating in the protest and sleeping at the encampment on the university’s quad since Thursday. She believes outrage over the war will deflate Biden’s chances against Trump because staunch supporters of Israel are more likely to support the presumptive Republican nominee.

"I think Biden has tried to be very strategic and it’s backfired in a lot of ways,” she said.

However, Southey said she’ll vote for Biden “pretty much no matter what” in a matchup with Trump.

“The students who are upset, especially at these kind of universities, are smart enough to not stay home,” she said. “I think that they’re going to go out and vote, and they’re going to go for the most strategic option, even if they’re not happy for Biden. I think that they would do anything to make sure that Trump’s not in office.”

Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher was skeptical that campus demonstrations over Gaza would prove to be politically influential.

“What percentage of Americans are really in those narrow spaces, and how representative are they of a broader American audience, or even a broader youth audience?” he asked.

Johnston, the historian on student activism, said the current protests don’t approach the size or intensity of demonstrations in the 1960s, when school officials were held hostage and campuses were vandalized.

But over the years, he said, “there’s a lot of times where student protests have shaped the national debate.”

Weissert and Megerian reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

President Joe Biden waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, after returning from a trip to Florida where he blamed Donald Trump for Florida's upcoming abortion ban. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, after returning from a trip to Florida where he blamed Donald Trump for Florida's upcoming abortion ban. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, after returning from a trip to Florida where he blamed Donald Trump for Florida's upcoming abortion ban. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden waves as he walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2024, after returning from a trip to Florida where he blamed Donald Trump for Florida's upcoming abortion ban. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Columbia University professors rally in solidarity with their students rights to protest free from arrest at the Columbia University campus in New York on Monday April 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Columbia University professors rally in solidarity with their students rights to protest free from arrest at the Columbia University campus in New York on Monday April 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather in front of Sproul Hall during a planned protest on the campus of UC Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., on Monday, April 22, 2024. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters staged a demonstration in front of Sproul Hall where they set up a tent encampment and are demanding a permanent cease-fire in the war between Israel and Gaza. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group via AP)

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather in front of Sproul Hall during a planned protest on the campus of UC Berkeley in Berkeley, Calif., on Monday, April 22, 2024. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters staged a demonstration in front of Sproul Hall where they set up a tent encampment and are demanding a permanent cease-fire in the war between Israel and Gaza. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group via AP)

Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

FILE - Police in Riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York. U.S. colleges and universities are preparing for end-of-year commencement ceremonies with a unique challenge: providing safety for graduates while honoring the free speech rights of students involved in protests over the Israel-Hamas war. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

FILE - Police in Riot gear stand guard as demonstrators chant slogans outside the Columbia University campus, Thursday, April 18, 2024, in New York. U.S. colleges and universities are preparing for end-of-year commencement ceremonies with a unique challenge: providing safety for graduates while honoring the free speech rights of students involved in protests over the Israel-Hamas war. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

Biden tries to navigate the Israel-Hamas war protests roiling college campuses

France and Belgium released statements supporting the world’s top war crimes court’s request for arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas, after Israel and the United States both harshly condemned the effort.

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. While Netanyahu and Gallant do not face imminent arrest, the announcement Monday was a symbolic blow that deepened Israel’s isolation over the war in Gaza.

Israeli forces raided a militant stronghold Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, killing at least seven and wounding several, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The raid into Jenin is part of months of surging violence in the Palestinian territory.

Sri Lanka announced a national day of mourning Tuesday after Iranian officials announced that President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were found dead Monday, hours after their helicopter crashed in fog, leaving the Islamic Republic without two key leaders. Iran backs Hamas, and the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah, also supported by Tehran, has fired rockets at Israel. In April, Iran launched its own an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel.

Israel launched its offensive after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed about 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250.

At least 35,000 Palestinians have died in the war, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. Around 80% of the population of 2.3 million Palestinians has been displaced within the territory, often multiple times.

Currently:

— Iran's president and foreign minister die in a helicopter crash.

— ICC prosecutor seeks arrest warrant for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Netanyahu.

— These photos show Palestinians’ quick exodus from Rafah after Israel issued evacuation orders.

— Israeli forces kill at least seven Palestinians in a West Bank raid.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Gaza at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here's the latest:

JERUSALEM — Israeli forces raided a militant stronghold Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, killing at least seven and wounding several, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The Israeli military said it struck militants during an operation into the city. In addition to the seven fatalities, the Palestinian Health Ministry said nine people were injured. Among those killed was Dr. Ossayed Kamal Jabareen, the surgery specialist at Jenin Governmental Hospital who was killed on his way to his work, according to Dr. Wissam Abu Baker, the hospital’s director.

The raid was ongoing and the casualty numbers could rise.

The raid into Jenin is part of months of surging violence in the Palestinian territory. Nearly 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank since the start of the war in Gaza, part of an Israeli crackdown on militancy in the territory. Attacks by Palestinians against Israelis have also increased.

Saraya al-Quds, the military arm of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, said its fighters battled Israeli forces raiding Jenin.

Israel has arrested more than 3,000 Palestinians since the start of the war.

France and Belgium each released statements supporting the world’s top war crimes court's request for arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas.

International Criminal Court top prosecutor Karim Khan accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. While Netanyahu and Gallant do not face imminent arrest, the announcement Monday was a symbolic blow that deepened Israel’s isolation over the war in Gaza.

“France supports the International Criminal Court, its independence, and the fight against impunity in all situations,” its Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Monday, around the same time Belgium Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib posted on X, “Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators," along with a statement.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the move as disgraceful and antisemitic. United States President Joe Biden also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Sri Lankan government declared Tuesday a national mourning day for the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. The government also ordered all state institutions to hoist the national flag at half-staff.

Raisi visited Sri Lanka in April to inaugurate a long-delayed hydropower and irrigation project. The project, valued at $514 million, was started in 2010. It was scheduled for completion in 2015 but was delayed by the sanctions, technical issues and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Raisi was the first Iranian leader to visit Sri Lanka since then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited in 2008.

A man lays flowers near a photo of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his colleagues at a makeshift memorial at the Iranian Embassy in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 20, 2024. Raisi, a hard-line protege of the country's supreme leader who helped oversee the mass executions of thousands in 1988 and later led the country as it enriched uranium near weapons-grade levels, launched a major attack on Israel and experienced mass protests, has died Sunday, May 19. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A man lays flowers near a photo of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his colleagues at a makeshift memorial at the Iranian Embassy in Moscow, Russia, Monday, May 20, 2024. Raisi, a hard-line protege of the country's supreme leader who helped oversee the mass executions of thousands in 1988 and later led the country as it enriched uranium near weapons-grade levels, launched a major attack on Israel and experienced mass protests, has died Sunday, May 19. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Palestinians are waiting for aid trucks to cross in central Gaza Strip on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

Palestinians are waiting for aid trucks to cross in central Gaza Strip on Sunday, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Abdel Kareem Hana)

People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on Monday, May 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament in Jerusalem on Monday, May 20, 2024. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a press briefing after his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas. Haniyeh is one of the three Hamas leaders believed to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh speaks during a press briefing after his meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, March 26, 2024. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas. Haniyeh is one of the three Hamas leaders believed to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant pauses while making a brief statement to the media with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, at The Kirya, Israel's Ministry of Defense, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, in Tel Aviv. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday, May 20, 2024, he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas. Netanyahu, his defense minister Gallant, and three Hamas leaders, are believed to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool, File)

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant pauses while making a brief statement to the media with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, at The Kirya, Israel's Ministry of Defense, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, in Tel Aviv. The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said Monday, May 20, 2024, he is seeking arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in connection with their actions during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas. Netanyahu, his defense minister Gallant, and three Hamas leaders, are believed to be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool, File)

FILE - Exterior view of the International Criminal Court, or ICC, in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, April 30, 2024. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said Monday, May 20, 2024, that he’s seeking arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders in connection with their actions during the seven-month war. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

FILE - Exterior view of the International Criminal Court, or ICC, in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, April 30, 2024. The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said Monday, May 20, 2024, that he’s seeking arrest warrants for both Israeli and Hamas leaders in connection with their actions during the seven-month war. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

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