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Israel-Gaza Briefing: Pro-Palestinian protests heap pressure on Biden from left and right

Legend, Protesters wave Palestinian flags on the West Lawn of Columbia University

Pro-Palestinian protests put left and right pressure on Biden

  • Author, Anthony Zürcher
  • Role, North America Correspondent

An explosion of pro-Palestinian protests and clashes with law enforcement on U.S. college campuses have grabbed headlines and sparked conversations among diplomats scrambling to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas in the Middle East.

This places US President Joe Biden in a new kind of domestic political bind.

He is caught between a left flank clamoring for peace and Americans concerned that the unrest is disrupting university education and posing a threat to civil order.

A message scrawled on a tent in a refugee camp in Rafah, the besieged city in the southern Gaza Strip, shows exactly how far news of recent protests on US campuses has traveled.

“Thank you students for Columbia,” it read. “Thanks thanks thanks.”

Other tents displayed similar messages of gratitude and solidarity, captured in videos and photographs by American journalists on site.

In recent weeks, police have arrested more than 2,000 protesters on dozens of college campuses across the United States.

A similar scene occurred at Columbia University, when New York City police in riot gear forcibly removed protesters who had barricaded themselves in a university building and cleared the pro-camp. Palestinian of this university.

Legend, Some tents in Rafah were sprayed with messages thanking American university students for their support

These unrest comes at a tense moment in the war in Gaza.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) appear to be preparing for a massive military operation in Rafah, a refuge for more than a million civilians. The Israelis said it was the last refuge of Hamas forces.

Meanwhile, the United States is pushing the Israelis and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire that would last weeks and include the release of some Israeli hostages held by Hamas, an increased flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza and the return of Palestinians to the northern part of the Gaza Strip. the territory, where the Israeli incursion began months ago.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently concluded his seventh trip to the region since hostilities began, meeting with Arab and Israeli leaders in a last-ditch attempt to prevent an operation in Rafah that observers say is likely to cause disaster. humanitarian.

At a State Department press briefing Thursday, spokesman Matt Miller said the Israelis made significant concessions in recent negotiations – agreeing to conditions that Hamas said were necessary to reach a agreement.

“Every day that goes by without a ceasefire right now is on Hamas,” he said. “They are the ones delaying a response to this proposal, and they are the ones delaying an immediate ceasefire. »

On Friday, a Hamas leader said the group was considering the latest proposal in a “positive spirit,” and a delegation was sent to Cairo for ceasefire talks on Saturday.

Legend, President Biden says ‘order must prevail’ after police evacuate pro-Palestinian camp at UCLA

Any sign of progress will be good news for a Biden administration that is under increasing pressure to end – at least temporarily – the bloodshed and civilian suffering in Gaza.

During his press briefing, Mr. Miller was dismissive of the impact of protests on American campuses on U.S. efforts, but he acknowledged that it was difficult to avoid American media coverage of the unrest, even at abroad, and that the subject came up during the conversation during Mr. Blinken’s press conference. Journey to the East.

Official US disdain aside, political pressure on Biden due to these protests is increasing.

For months, the president has resisted calls from factions of the Democratic left to abandon his vocal support for Israel.

He did so despite obvious political risk, as more liberal voters – particularly young people and people of color, who make up a key part of his electoral coalition – have become increasingly critical of this which they consider to be a tolerant, even supportive, policy. , aggressive Israeli actions in Gaza.

Polls show Mr. Biden locked in a tough fight for re-election in November, where even a slight weakening of support in battleground states could mean the difference between victory and four more years of Donald Trump in the House White.

“Because of the razor-thin margins in some areas like Wisconsin and Michigan that are going to be crucial in the elections, I think this creates more opportunities for the Gaza war to matter,” says Jessica Weeks, professor of political science at the University. of Wisconsin, which has been the scene of pro-Palestinian encampments and subsequent police arrests.

At least so far, that seems like a risk Mr. Biden is willing to take.

Vocal objections to the administration’s support for Israel, coming from the president’s left flank, have been a recurring theme in the months since the start of the Israeli invasion. What is new – and potentially more complicated – is the pressure now coming from the right and center, as campus unrest has dominated headlines.

Legend, Israel continues to threaten offensive in Gaza town of Rafah

Republicans, feeling vulnerable, launched the attack, claiming Biden is incapable of maintaining law and order and turns a blind eye to anti-Semitism.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, called protesters “rabid lunatics and Hamas sympathizers” at a rally in Wisconsin Wednesday night.

“I say remove the encampments immediately, defeat the radicals and take back our campuses for all normal students who want a safe place to learn,” he said.

The next morning, after several nights of police crackdowns on protesters, Mr. Biden made a hasty appearance at the White House to condemn what he called the lawlessness of some protests — including vandalism, trespassing and disruption. university activities.

“We are a civil society and order must prevail,” he said.

American elections have not traditionally been decided on foreign policy issues, unless American soldiers die abroad, but questions of law and order and domestic tranquility may be more important – particularly for the type of middle-class American voters who live in college towns or send migrants. their children in prestigious universities.

That could explain why Mr. Biden, in his remarks on Thursday, defended Americans’ freedom of speech but spent most of his time warning protesters of the consequences of their actions.

When the president finished his prepared remarks and turned to leave the room, a reporter asked whether the protests had caused him to reconsider any of his Middle East policies.

The president’s answer in one word: no.

“It certainly would not be politically wise for the president to say that he is making decisions that affect the national security of the United States based on the opinions of 19-year-old college students,” Ms. Weeks says.

There is, however, no doubt about the political realities of Mr Biden’s situation – and the possibility of escalation if ceasefire talks collapse and a bloody Israeli campaign begins in Rafah .

As college graduation season approaches, a new round of highly visible protests could be on the horizon.

In two weeks, the president is scheduled to speak at Morehouse College in Atlanta, a historically black college where administrators are already expressing concerns about campus security.

And in August, Democrats will gather in Chicago for their party convention to formally nominate Mr. Biden for president — which could become a national focus of intense protests not seen since the 1968 Democratic convention in the same city in strongest of the Vietnam War. .

A ceasefire could give the Biden White House some breathing room. But it may take the kind of permanent peace that has proven so elusive to eliminate the Gaza war as a potent political threat to the president.

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jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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