President Joe Biden arrives at Delaware Air National Guard Base...

President Joe Biden arrives at Delaware Air National Guard Base on Tuesday in Wilmington, Del. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON — The growing number of pro-Palestinian protests on U.S. college campuses could pose problems for President Joe Biden’s reelection effort if the Israel-Hamas war continues, political analysts said Wednesday.

As scenes of pro-Palestinian protesters clashing with police and pro-Israel demonstrators continue to play out, Biden is under pressure from competing parts of his winning 2020 coalition.

Young voters leading the campus protests are demanding a cease-fire and an end to the U.S. military support of Israel. Jewish students are calling on the Biden administration to do more to curb increasing acts of antisemitism on U.S. campuses since the start of the war in October.

All this comes as moderate voters are looking to the administration to cool tensions in the nation that have flared up over the Israel-Hamas war.

“If the protests continue to the fall, they will only help Donald Trump,” Democratic campaign strategist Hank Sheinkopf said of the former president, who is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. “The sense that things are out of control tends to benefit Republicans, depending on the circumstance.”

Sheinkopf said demonstrations at Columbia University in Manhattan potentially could create a sense of unease among voters, even those without strong views of the Israel-Hamas war.

“Anything that goes on in New York is national news, and for weeks people have been watching the Columbia chaos unfold,” Sheinkopf told Newsday.

The White House on Tuesday night condemned the actions of those who occupied Columbia’s Hamilton Hall, saying Biden “has stood against repugnant, antisemitic smears and violent rhetoric his entire life. Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful — it is wrong.”

Asked about the protests last week, Biden said: “I condemn the antisemitic protests,” before adding, “I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

Trump attacked Biden’s position last week.

“He wants to take like a middle ground, and oftentimes that doesn’t work, but it’s certainly not working here,” Trump said.

The protests have prompted recollections of the anti-Vietnam War protests of 1968 that played a role in Republican Richard Nixon's defeat of Democrat Hubert Humphrey for the presidency, said Ralph Young, a history professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who has written several books about student-led protest movements.

But Young told Newsday: “If the Biden administration successfully negotiates a cease-fire agreement it could help him.”

Jay Jacobs, who chairs both the New York State and Nassau County Democratic committees, said he understood the “legitimate concerns” of college-age voters “over the massive number of innocent civilian casualties” in Gaza.

Jacobs also said protest votes against Biden could tip the election to Trump.

“I understand that there's upset, but before you are willing to throw the country to Donald Trump … and a woman's right to choose, and all of the other issues which are also very, very important, you better think long and hard about what you're doing,” Jacobs said.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University’s Center for Suburban Studies, said the pro-Palestinian protests underscore the challenge Biden faces “in keeping together the coalition that got him elected in 2020.”

“If they go home to New York, they're not going to be a problem in a bid for the presidency,” Levy said of college voters. “If they go home to Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Michigan and the other seven states that are considered the most competitive, then they become a problem.”

In response to the growing unrest on U.S. campuses, the U.S. House voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday for a GOP-led bill to establish a broader definition of antisemitism for the Department of Education to use to enforce anti-discrimination laws. The measure, which still needs Senate approval, would expand the legal definition of antisemitism to include the “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

Some Democrats argued the expanded definition infringes on free speech protections, but proponents said the legislation aims to bolster protections for Jewish students. Long Island's Reps. Andrew Garbarino (R-Bayport), Anthony D’Esposito (R-Island Park), Nick LaLota (R-Amityville) and Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) all voted for the bill.

With Tom Brune


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