Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The university protests put Biden in a difficult position

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Student demonstrations at Columbia University in New York. The demonstrations are causing headaches for President Joe Biden. Photo: Stefan Jeremiah / AP / NTB

Of NTB | 05.05.2024 09:35:42

War and conflicts: While the police intervene by force to break up the demonstrations at America’s prestigious universities, Biden receives sharp criticism for his Middle East policy from both the left and the right.

At dozens of universities, students have gathered and set up tent camps to demand that the schools cease business cooperation with companies that support the war. According to the news agency AP, on Saturday more than 2,400 people were arrested in connection with the demonstrations.

Demonstrations against Israeli warfare on the Gaza Strip and Biden’s strong support for Israel have dogged the president since the end of last year and split the Democratic Party.

On Wednesday, 57 of Biden’s colleagues in Congress asked him to withhold support for Israel in an effort to halt a planned Israeli incursion into Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge and live in close quarters, many of them in tent camps.

– We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people and crush dissenting opinions, but we are not a lawless country either. We are a civil society, and peace and order must prevail, said Biden.

– Disagreement is essential for democracy. But disagreement must never lead to unrest, he added.

The move came after several days in which the demonstrations received a lot of attention in the US, and the Republicans are trying to use the unrest around them as an election campaign issue.

By trying to strike a balance between classic “law and order” rhetoric and defending the students’ freedom of expression, Biden is looking for a middle ground in what is a very polarizing issue in the election campaign.

He avoided addressing most of the protesters’ demands, among them an end to US support for Israel’s warfare. When asked if the demonstrations will make him change course on Middle East policy, Biden simply replied “no”.

According to the news agency, senior officials in the Biden administration reject in private conversations the possibility that the demonstrations and their supporters could cost Biden re-election in November.

They refer to the relatively small number demonstrating, given that there are around 41 million voters from the so-called generation Z with the right to vote in November, i.e. people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The White House has launched several initiatives to appeal to young voters recently, including announcements of new student loan relief and reduced penalties for marijuana use. In addition, the administration has directed sharp criticism against a ban on abortion after six weeks that has come into force in Florida.

However, the demonstrations do not seem to end anytime soon, and some high-profile Democrats have warned that Biden, who is already struggling to reach young voters, could lose them because of the Israel support.

According to the authorities in the Gaza Strip, around 35,000 people have been killed in the Israeli attacks that have followed Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7 October. Around 1,170 people were killed there, most of them civilians.

The United States is Israel’s leading military supporter, and the Americans have several times used the veto power to protect Israel against critical UN resolutions.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump on Wednesday praised the New York police officers who entered and cleared a building at Columbia University that had been occupied by pro-Palestinian protesters.

He referred to the protesters as “raging lunatics”, and he said that Biden is hiding.

Republican campaign strategists accuse Democrats of supporting anti-Semitism and “pro-terrorist protesters.”

At the same time, they are promoting vulnerable Republican congressmen, including Mike Lawler and Anthony D’Esposito, who are both elected from swing districts in New York with large Jewish populations.

– The narrative has changed, says Ufot, who works to motivate young minority voters to show up at the polling stations in the important swing state of Georgia.

– They must listen to their voter base, she adds.

In a Quinnipiac University poll from April, 46 percent of those polled stopped giving Israel support for the war, while 44 percent said they were against it. But among registered voters aged between 18 and 34, only 25 per cent are in favor of supporting Israel, while 66 per cent said they are against it.

Young voters were central to Biden’s election victory in 2020. On a national basis, he won the group between the ages of 18 and 29 by 24 percentage points. In the polls, he now appears to have lost large amounts of ground to Trump.

When asked if Biden is afraid of losing the youth vote this autumn because of the demonstrations, his spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday pointed to the measures against student debt and climate policy.

– The president has introduced many policies that he knows young people care about, and many of these measures are popular with young people, she said.

Biden finally spoke out about the demonstrations on Thursday. He then called for calm and order around the demonstrations, while at the same time emphasizing the importance of protecting the students’ freedom of expression.

The Biden campaign’s internal voter surveys show that most 2024 voters, including the youngest, will choose who they vote for based on issues such as the economy, and not Gaza, writes Reuters.

The Republicans have used the demonstrations to describe the Democrats as anti-Semitic and someone who tolerates chaos.

Founder Nsé Ufot of the action committee New South Super PAC says that the Democrats risk losing the support of young voters if they are not responsive to the anger they feel as a result of the Gaza war.

(© NTB)

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