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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Biden has his own 'fine people on both sides' moment. He's as wrong now as Trump was then.

The hatred of Israel that American college students are spewing deserves only one response – condemnation. But Joe Biden equivocated.

President Joe Biden was asked the following by a reporter last week: “Mr. President, what’s your message to the protesters? Do you condemn the antisemitic protests on college campuses?”

Biden answered: “I condemn the antisemitic protests. … I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians and their − how they’re being −”

The president didn’t complete his thought. His absent-mindedness has come to be expected these days. 

Yet, that's not why his comment is most alarming. What stands out is the blatant hypocrisy of Biden’s words. 

Conservative commentators called out Biden for having a “fine people on both sides” moment. And I agree. 

In case you have forgotten, then-President Donald Trump made the "both sides" comment in August 2017 when neo-Nazis and white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia. A white supremacist, purposefully ramming his car into a crowd, killed a woman and injured 35 people who were there to counterprotest the racist demonstration.

It was a terrible incident, one that demanded a response from the president. Yet, it took Trump several days before he would condemn those responsible by name. Then, the next day, he negated his strong statement by pointing to how there were “fine people” on both sides.

Trump was roundly criticized for his response, as he should have been. It was an ugly, inane attempt to downplay the threat of neo-Nazis, presumably for political reasons.

Now, Biden is the one who deserves strong criticism.

Berkeley, violence isn't free speech.Colleges still struggle with antisemitic protests.

Biden, stop equivocating on support for Jews and Israel

The campus protests that have intensified deserve no support from the president. Recent pro-Palestinian “encampments” at colleges around the country – many at the most elite schools in the nation – have proved to be vile, antisemitic and even violent.

Jewish students and faculty have been targeted, harassed and assaulted simply for who they are, and many feel afraid to set foot on their campuses. 

University of Michigan students rally at an encampment on April 22, 2024, to pressure the university to divest its endowment from companies that support Israel or could profit from the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

And college administrators have proved woefully inept at enforcing their own codes of conduct and quelling this blatant hatred toward Jews. 

While students have become increasingly bold and obnoxious, antisemitic rhetoric has roiled campuses since Oct. 7, when Hamas brutally attacked Israel, murdering at least 1,200 people and kidnapping hundreds of hostages. Horrific messages quickly surfaced at colleges, with students and professors openly embracing Hamas – a terrorist group – as liberators overcoming their Israeli oppressors.

Hate at Harvard:Harvard for Hamas? Something is very twisted on America's university campuses

Keffiyeh-clad and mask-wearing college students have shouted slogans such as “we are all Hamas” and “long live Hamas.” A protester brought a Hezbollah flag (another terrorist group) to a demonstration at Princeton.

A student responsible for organizing the Columbia University encampment, Khymani James, has said such disgusting things as “Zionists don’t deserve to live.”

James, who was banned from campus after his comments went viral, also said: “Be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists.”

The hatred and violence have gone in one direction – against Jews and anything to do with Israel. Actual terrorists such as Hamas and their sponsors in Iran have even praised the college students for staging the protests – a fact that should embarrass and shame these privileged young Americans and their enablers.

Surely, there's not much here for Biden to equivocate over. 

Did Biden forget why he ran for 2020 presidential election?  

Biden has said that the white supremacists' protest in Charlottesville – and Trump’s botched response – persuaded him to run for president in 2020.

He made it a central part of his campaign announcement in April 2019, calling out the “fangs of racism” and the “same anti-Semitic and racist bile heard across Europe in the 1930s and 40s.”

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And, of course, he invoked Trump: "And that’s when we heard words from the President of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of our nation. He said there were some 'very fine people on both sides.' With those words, the President of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it."

Now, Biden has committed the same error.

The hate and ignorance spewing from the mouths of these college students deserve only one response – condemnation.

The campus protests could have made a distinction between caring about and trying to help innocent people in Gaza and the terrorists who brought on this war through their barbaric attack. But they haven’t, and in many cases, they’ve doubled down on antisemitism. 

Don’t expect Biden to change course, though. He’s petrified of losing the pro-Palestinian vote. I guess it’s not easy to take the moral high ground when you have voters to woo six months before an election.

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at ijacques@usatoday.com or on X, formerly Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques.

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