Biden Faces Pro-Palestinian Silent Protest at Morehouse Graduation

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden renewed his call for a temporary cease-fire in Gaza in a speech at Morehouse College’s graduation ceremony, where some participants donned Palestinian colors in protest at Israel’s military incursion.

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Biden’s address at the historically Black school in Atlanta brought him face to face with some of the campus unrest set off by the Israel-Hamas war, which has inflamed US politics and added risk to his reelection campaign. Several students and at least two faculty members openly demonstrated solidarity with Palestinians before and during the speech.

“What’s happening in Gaza and Israel is heart-breaking,” Biden said Sunday, referring to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants and the plight of “innocent Palestinians” caught up in Israel’s military response. He said he’s “working around the clock” to get more humanitarian aid into Gaza and build a “durable peace” in the region.

“It’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. That’s why I’ve called for an immediate cease-fire,” Biden said, drawing applause. “Bring the hostages home.”

Several students and faculty members at the commencement wore keffiyeh scarfs, which have become a symbol of protest against the war in Gaza. At least one student draped a Palestinian flag over his graduation gown and a faculty member wore a stole with the Palestinian colors while receiving an award on the podium.

Leading up to Biden, class valedictorian DeAngelo Fletcher called for “an immediate and permanent cease-fire” in Gaza during a passionate speech that evoked the late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., a Morehouse alumnus.

“It is only right for the class of 2024 to utilize any platform provided to stand in solidarity with peace and justice,” said Fletcher, a psychology major.

Taura Taylor, an assistant professor, stood with her fist raised and back turned to Biden during his entire speech. She also wore a keffiyeh.

Biden didn’t acknowledge the silent protests and told the ceremony it’s his job to tackle “one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world.”

“Leadership is about fighting through the most intractable problems,” he said. “It’s about challenging anger, frustration and heartbreak to find a solution. It’s about doing what you believe is right even when it’s hard and lonely.”

Read more: Biden Risks Losing Significant Share of Black Vote, King Says

The war in Gaza has spurred anti-war demonstrations on at least 100 US college campuses, though students at Morehouse and other historically Black colleges and universities mostly haven’t joined in visible forms of protest.

Still, polling suggests that significant numbers of young voters and Black Americans disapprove of Biden’s support for Israel in its war with Hamas, which the US and the European Union have designated a terrorist organization.

The White House dispatched senior adviser Stephen Benjamin, who leads the administration’s Office of Public Engagement, to Morehouse last Friday to meet with students and faculty to quell concerns about the president’s selection as the commencement speaker.

Before Sunday’s ceremony, the White House revealed that an additional $900 million for HBCU institutions had been secured through Education Department programs, bringing the total investment under Biden to $16 billion — a point he made in his speech.

Black men in particular have shown signs of shifting away from the Democratic Party. Although that shift seems incremental, it raises questions about Biden’s reelection prospects after he narrowly defeated Donald Trump in 2020.

The president has been appealing to African American supporters in recent days, with a speech on Friday at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington and a White House meeting with leaders of historically Black sororities and fraternities.

On Saturday, he held a campaign event focused on Black voters in Georgia, a state he won by less than 1 percentage point in 2020. Later Sunday, he’ll meet with Black small business owners in Michigan, another crucial swing state.

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