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President Biden missed chance to relate to campus protestors

As famine plagues Gaza and university students in North Carolina and throughout the United States express outrage at the slaughter of Palestinians, Israeli tanks and troops have entered Rafah and seized control of the border crossing with Egypt.

Protestors have been arrested at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and at N.C. State and are present on the Quad at UNC-Asheville. On university campuses throughout the nation, administrators have called in police to remove encampments and students from occupied buildings. Thirty-six students at UNC-Chapel Hill have been among more than 2,200 people arrested at U.S. campuses as of May 5, according to CNN.

President Biden responded to the student protests May 2nd, saying they “put to the test two fundamental American principles. First, the right to free speech and the right for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld.”

Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses and forcing the cancelation of classes or graduation, none of this is peaceful protest, he said. When a reporter asked if the protests had caused him to reconsider his policies toward Israel, he said “no, “ as he walked away from the podium.

Biden delivered the clarity he insisted was needed. But in answering that question, he expressed an abysmal lack of empathy and understanding for the angst students and others feel about the war in Gaza and the U.S. role in supporting Israel’s prosecution of it.

The comment disrespected the anguish students and others feel about the Israeli assault that began after Hamas terrorists killed more than 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages. More than 34,000 Gazans, many of them defenseless women and children, have been killed by the Israeli response.

Biden could have said, “Look, I understand their distress over the immense suffering and I’m doing all I can to try to end it in a way that will bring stability to the region. I applaud their courage and commitment, but please, for all our sakes, they need to stay within the bounds of the law.”

Biden rightfully denounced the anti-Semitism that has tainted many protests. But not all protestors who want to see the U.S. exert more pressure to end the assault on Gaza are anti-Semitic.

This is the greatest challenge of Biden’s presidency. The long-term implications of the war between Israel and Hamas for the world and for the U.S. are profound. Few people understand that better than veteran New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman spent 10 years from 1979 to 1989 reporting from Beirut, Lebanon, and Jerusalem. His book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” gives readers a comprehensive account of the complex history, motivations amd interests that drive this ongoing conflict. His many sources in the Middle East and the U.S. make his current columns for The New York Times perhaps the most insightful analysis regarding the war.

In an April 16 column, Friedman wrote that he gives “the Biden team generally high marks for the job that it has done responding to the hugely fraught and complex Gaza war….” Friedman supports what he calls the “Biden Doctrine,” a convergence of strategic thinking and planning he’s learned about through his reporting. It would involve a defense alliance among the U.S., friendly Arab states and Israel against Russian-allied Iran and the terrorist groups it backs including Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis. It would require Israel to agree to a

ceasefire, to agree to withdraw from Gaza and to allow an Arab peacekeeping force to take control there, and to agree to work toward a Palestinian state with a reformed Palestinian Authority.

The barriers to such a stabilization of the Middle East are manifold, and include the intractable Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Friedman has written that there is probably zero hope for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Iranian conflict without regime change in Iran, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Early this week, Netanyahu sent troops into Rafah, the area to which more than a million Palestinians have retreated as their homes and cities have been destroyed, in a likely futile effort to wipe out Hamas. On Monday, the Israeli military began targeted strikes against the city hours after Hamas agreed to a cease-fire proposal negotiated by Egypt and Qatar to pause the fighting. Israel said the proposal didn’t meet its requirements, but that it would send a delegation to the mediators.

On April 24, Biden signed a $95 billion military aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Despite that, Friedman wrote a couple of days later, the Biden administration has been telling Netanyahu that if he mounts a major military operation into Rafah, the U.S. will restrict some arms sales to Israel. As Friedman repeatedly points out, by continuing to pummel Gaza, Israel is becoming an international pariah. More critically for Americans, Israel is undermining the legitimacy of its staunchest supporter, the United States and the Biden administration.

“The Democrats who just gave Israel $26 billion are coming telling us that we’re going to lose the White House if we don’t vote for Biden,” Hatem Bazian, a UC Berkeley lecturer who co-founded Students for Justice in Palestine, told Stanford University protestors, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “You’re gonna lose the White House because you lost our vote. You lost the White House because you opted to protect Netanyahu rather than protect the American public.”

Protestors are leveraging the only influence they have. Unless the Biden team does a better job of leveraging its influence over Netanyahu, and communicating its Middle East policy with voters, the only regime change may be in the United States.

Joy Franklin is a journalist and writer who served as editorial page editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times for 10 years. Prior to that she served as executive editor of the Times-News in Hendersonville, N.C. Franklin writes for Carolina Commentary.


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Én kommentar

08. mai

Excellent post. I agree Biden has missed an opportunity to connect and explain to our young citizens about his approach and policy. Universities have missed an opportunity to teach the history and politics of the issue to help students understand its complexity. Frustration leads to anger and that leads to the violence. It's a really good example of bad parenting. You have to listen.

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