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Biden condemns violence as U.S. campus protests over Israel-Hamas war see widespread arrests | CBC News



Biden condemns violence as U.S. campus protests over Israel-Hamas war see widespread arrests | CBC News

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday rejected calls from student protesters to change his approach to the war in Gaza while insisting that “order must prevail” as college campuses across the country face a wave of violence, outrage and fear.

“Dissent is essential for democracy,” Biden said at the White House. “But dissent must never lead to disorder.”

Biden’s comments came hours after police in Los Angeles removed barricades early Thursday morning at a pro-Palestinian demonstrators’ encampment on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The law enforcement effort came after officers spent hours threatening arrests over loudspeakers if people did not disperse.

At least 200 people were arrested at UCLA on Thursday, bringing the nationwide total of arrests to more than 2,000 at dozens of college campuses since police cleared an encampment at Columbia University in mid-April, according to a tally by The Associated Press.

Demonstrations — and arrests — have occurred in almost every corner of the nation. But in the last 24 hours, they’ve drawn the most attention at the UCLA where chaotic scenes played out early Thursday as officers in riot gear surged against a crowd of demonstrators.

  • This week, Cross Country Checkup wants to know: Are protests an effective way to change minds? How are you resolving disputes in your own life around the Israel-Hamas conflict? Fill out the details on this form and have your say.

As police helicopters hovered overhead, the sound of flash-bangs, which produce a bright light and a loud noise to disorient and stun people, pierced the air. Protesters chanted “where were you last night?” as the officers approached.

At least 200 people were arrested at UCLA, said Sgt. Alejandro Rubio of the California Highway Patrol, citing data from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Biden, speaking from the White House, said there was “no place” on campus for antisemitism or Islamophobia.

“People have the right to get an education, the right to get a degree, the right to walk across the campus safely without the fear of being attacked,” he said.

WATCH l Biden addresses tense campus scenes this week:

‘Peaceful protest’ is protected in U.S. — but intimidation and violence can’t be tolerated, Biden says

Dissent is ‘essential’ to democracy, U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday in remarks about growing pro-Palestinian campus encampments — but he added that protests must be peaceful, and antisemitism, Islamophobia or hate speech of any kind can’t be tolerated.

He largely sidestepped protesters’ demands, which have included ending U.S. support for Israeli military operations. Asked after his remarks whether the demonstrations would prompt him to consider changing course, Biden responded with a simple “no.”

Biden also said that he did not want the National Guard to be deployed to campuses. 

The Biden administration has forcefully defended Israel’s right to root out the militant group Hamas after the Oct. 7 attacks, but has increasingly expressed concern about the civilian death toll within Gaza and the provision of humanitarian aid within the territory.

Tent encampments of protesters calling on universities to stop doing business with Israel or companies they say support the war in Gaza have spread across campuses in the U.S., with several also arising in Canada. The ensuing police crackdowns echoed actions decades ago against a much larger protest movement opposing the Vietnam War.

Police response at UCLA criticized

The tense standoff at UCLA came one night after violence instigated by pro-Israel counter-protesters erupted in the same Royce Quad area. The law enforcement presence and continued warnings stood in contrast to the scene that unfolded the night before, when counter-demonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, throwing traffic cones, releasing pepper spray and tearing down barriers.

WATCH | On the scene at UCLA: 

Police moving in on UCLA pro-Palestinian encampment

Police have started making arrests at an encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles campus where earlier in the day, pro-Palestinian protesters were chanting ‘we’re not leaving.’

At least 15 protesters suffered injuries, and the tepid response by authorities — no arrests were made — drew criticism from political leaders as well as Muslim students and advocacy groups.

“The community needs to feel the police are protecting them, not enabling others to harm them,” Rebecca Husaini, chief of staff for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, said in a news conference on the Los Angeles campus Wednesday.

Speakers at the news conference disputed the university’s account that 15 people were injured and one hospitalized, saying the number of people taken to the hospital was higher.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that “a group of instigators” perpetrated the previous night’s attack, but he did not provide details about the crowd or why the administration and school police did not act sooner.

“However one feels about the encampment, this attack on our students, faculty and community members was utterly unacceptable,” he said. “It has shaken our campus to its core.”

Several helmeted police officers are shown near a canvas enclosure, with large amounts of smoke shown in the background.
Law enforcement officials clash with demonstrators as they try to enter the protest encampment in support of Palestinians at UCLA, early on Thursday. (David Swanson/Reuters)

Block promised a review of the night’s events. The head of the University of California system, Michael Drake, ordered an “independent review of the university’s planning, its actions and the response by law enforcement.”

Hundreds of arrests in U.S.

The chaotic scenes at UCLA came after New York police burst into a building occupied by anti-war protesters at Columbia University on Tuesday night, breaking up a demonstration that had paralyzed the school.

The nationwide campus demonstrations began at Columbia on April 17 to protest the humanitarian situation in Gaza, resulting from the Israeli military response to a deadly attack on Oct. 7 launched by Hamas and other militants.

About 1,200 people were killed on Oct. 7, including several Canadians, while some 250 people were taken hostage, according to Israeli government tallies. Since then, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there.

Israel and its supporters have branded the university protests antisemitic, while Israel’s critics say it uses those allegations to silence opposition.

Although some protesters have been caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, organizers of the protests, some of whom are Jewish, say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

At Brown University in Rhode Island, administrators agreed to consider a vote to divest from Israel in October —apparently the first U.S. college to agree to such a demand.

WATCH l No signs of campus protests abating:

U.S. campuses see clashes, arrests as Canadian encampments grow

After arrests at New York’s Columbia University, Los Angeles police appear to be preparing to move in on protesters at UCLA. The number of encampments in solidarity with the Palestinian cause continue to grow as students camped at Montreal’s McGill University say they’re not going anywhere.

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