Biden faces silent Gaza protest at Martin Luther King Jr’s college

Biden faces silent Gaza protest at Martin Luther King Jr’s college
Biden faces silent Gaza protest at Martin Luther King Jr’s college

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A Morehouse College graduate with his back turned, holds a Palestinian flag while US President Joe Biden speaks during a commencement ceremony. — Reuters pic

ATLANTA, May 20 — US President Joe Biden said yesterday he heard the voice of Gaza war protesters as some students turned their backs on his graduation ceremony speech at the former university of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.

A small number of graduates carried out the silent protest, with some holding Palestinian flags and one holding up a fist as Biden spoke at Morehouse College, a historically Black university in Atlanta, Georgia.

Others wore keffiyeh scarves over their gowns in a sign of solidarity with the protests that have roiled campuses across the United States over Israel’s offensive on Gaza after the Hamas October 7 attacks.

“I support peaceful, non-violent protest. Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them,” said Biden, who wore a maroon and black gown in the colours of the all-male university.

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The speech was Biden’s most direct encounter with US students since the Gaza protests engulfed campuses nationwide, causing him political troubles with an election rematch against Donald just over six months away.

“This is one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world. There’s nothing easy about it,” added Biden about Gaza.

“I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family, but most of all, I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well.”

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He did not elaborate, but First Lady Jill Biden reportedly urged the president in April to “stop it now” as the toll of Palestinian civilians mounted from Israel’s offensive.

A number of Morehouse students had called for Biden’s speech to be cancelled over the Gaza war but the ceremony went ahead without disruption.

Biden told the students that Gaza was enduring a “humanitarian crisis” and that he was working for an “immediate ceasefire to stop the fighting, bring the hostages home.”

The 81-year-old Democrat added that he was pushing for a “lasting, durable peace” in the wider Middle East that would lead to an independent Palestinian state, which he called the “only solution.”

‘Hard issues’

The president’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is in Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend trying to push for a ceasefire as well as a normalization deal between the two countries.

Biden had earlier applauded as the college’s valedictorian, DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher, also called for an immediate ceasefire in his own speech.

“It is important to recognise both sides have suffered heavy casualties since October 7,” said Fletcher.

Morehouse College president David Thomas — who had earlier this week threatened to shut down the ceremony if it was disrupted — told Biden after the speech that “you’ve been listening”.

“You spoke to the hard issues confronting our nation and the world at this moment,” said Thomas.

The speech at the alma mater of rights hero King was part of a series of Biden events this week aimed at winning over Black voters, amid polls showing that their support for him is flagging.

Biden did not specifically mention his rival Donald Trump but leaned heavily into themes of democracy and racism that he has previously invoked while talking about the twice-impeached Republican former president.

“This is what we’re up against — extremist forces aligned against the meaning and message of Morehouse,” said Biden.

His outreach efforts to Black voters and Gaza protesters were two sides of the same coin as Biden tries to shore up support among the coalition that helped him beat Trump in 2020.

Later Sunday Biden travelled to Detroit in the key swing state of Michigan where he visited a cafe owned by two former NBA players, brothers Joe and Jordan Crawford.

“The guy we’re running against wants to back up all the progress we made,” Biden said.

A New York Times/Siena poll last week showed that, in addition to trailing Trump in several key battleground states, Biden is also losing ground with African Americans.

Trump is winning more than 20 per cent of Black voters in the poll — which would be the highest level of Black support for a Republican presidential candidate since the Civil Rights Act was enacted in 1964, it said. — AFP

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