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Biden condemns "antisemitic protests" and "those who don't understand what's going on with the Palestinians"

Fears of antisemitism at Columbia
Fears of antisemitism at Columbia University as protests continue 06:46

President Biden on Monday weighed in on the pro-Palestine demonstrations taking place at elite university campuses. 

"I condemn the antisemitic protests," Mr. Biden told reporters after an Earth Day Event in Northern Virginia Monday. "That's why I've set up a program to deal with that. I also condemn those who don't understand what's going on with the Palestinians." A reporter cut off the president's sentence before he could finish. 

More than 100 people have been arrested at Columbia University since pro-Palestine protesters began occupying the grounds last week, and police arrested 45 protesters at Yale University on Monday after the demonstrators repeatedly refused to vacate the plaza voluntarily. Protesters outside of NYU's Stern School of Business were arrested Monday night.

Students at Yale and Columbia are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and demanding their universities divest from companies connected to Israel. But some Jewish students at Columbia say many of the chants are antisemitic, and they're concerned about their safety. 

Similar protests have been taking place at other college campuses, including at MIT, Boston University, Emerson College and Tufts University. 

Other top Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, both of New York, have criticized the demonstrations, too. The protests come as Passover is set to begin at sundown Monday. 

Calls are growing for Columbia's president, Nemat "Minouche" Shafik, to resign, as Columbia goes fully remote in an effort to deescalate the situation. 

The entire Republican congressional New York delegation called for Shafik's resignation Monday, accusing her of failing to keep students safe.

"The ongoing situation that has unfolded is a direct symptom of your continued lax enforcement of policy and clear double standards," the lawmakers wrote. "Your failure to enforce the rules on campus has created an environment in which students and outside agitators know they are able to operate with impunity and without any accountability. While the rot is systemic, the responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders."

GOP Rep. Mike Lawler of New York, who was just outside Columbia University on Monday, said, "Everybody has the right to protest. They have the right to voice their opinion. The moment you turn that into physical assaults or threats against others is the moment you lose that right."

Shafik testified before Congress for several hours last week, telling Congress, "Antisemitism has no place on our campus and I am personally committed to doing everything I can to confront it directly."

Some Jewish congressional Democrats also went to Columbia's campus to offer their support for Jewish students. They did not echo the calls for Shafik's resignation, but demanded the restoration of order.

Addressing his remarks to the university's administrators, Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, said, "Stop the double talk and start acting now. Discipline harassers, restore civility on this campus, encourage peaceful, constructive dialogue."

Mr. Biden declined Monday to weigh in on Shafik's fate. 

At the same Earth Day event with Mr. Biden, progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York cited the "peaceful student-led protests" at Columbia University and other campuses, highlighting how politically sensitive the politics are with respect to the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

The president also condemned antisemitism at protests at university campuses in a written statement Sunday night. 

"Silence is complicity," he said. "Even in recent days, we've seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country."

Israel continues near-daily aid raids on Rafah, a city in southern Gaza, resulting in the deaths of many civilians, including children. 

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