President Biden to Address Morehouse College Graduates Amid Protests Over Israel Support

Sun May 19 2024
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WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden is delivering the commencement address at Morehouse College on Sunday, marking a key election-year opportunity to engage with a Black audience. However, the event also exposes him to potential backlash from students upset over his unwavering support for Israel in its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre hinted that Biden would acknowledge the concerns of students and faculty at the historically Black college regarding his stance on the war. When asked if the president would address these worries, Jean-Pierre responded, “Stay tuned.”

This speech, along with another Biden is delivering later in the Midwest, is part of a broader effort to connect with Black voters, whose support has waned since their strong backing helped secure his 2020 victory.

After speaking at Morehouse in Atlanta, Biden will travel to Detroit to address an NAACP dinner. Both Georgia and Michigan are crucial battleground states that Biden narrowly won in 2020, with strong Black voter turnout playing a pivotal role.

Jean-Pierre emphasized Biden’s personal involvement in crafting his Morehouse remarks, noting that he has been looking forward to the speech and is acutely aware of the current climate of student protests.

Biden’s visit to Morehouse is part of a week of outreach to Black constituents. He recently met with plaintiffs and relatives involved in Brown v. Board of Education, members of Black fraternities and sororities, and the Little Rock Nine, who integrated a public school in Arkansas in 1957.

Morehouse’s decision to invite Biden sparked backlash among faculty and alumni opposed to his handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict. An online letter condemning the invitation and urging its rescission has circulated, arguing that Biden’s policies contradict the pacifism championed by Morehouse’s most famous graduate, Martin Luther King Jr.

The letter criticizes Biden’s support for Israel, which some allege amounts to backing genocide in Gaza. The conflict has seen significant casualties, with the Hamas attack on October 7 killing 1,200 people in southern Israel and Israeli offensives in Gaza resulting in over 35,000 Palestinian deaths, according to local health officials.

Morehouse President David Thomas has sought to downplay the likelihood of disruptive protests during the commencement. He acknowledges the spectrum of opinions on campus but emphasizes the importance of maintaining decorum during the ceremony. Silent, non-disruptive protests will be tolerated, but Thomas has pledged to halt the event if disruptions escalate.

Former US Representative Cedric Richmond, a Morehouse alumnus and Biden campaign co-chair, has called for respect for the graduation ceremony, urging potential protesters to consider the significance of the moment for students and their families.

In Detroit, Biden will visit a Black-owned small business before addressing the NAACP’s Freedom Fund dinner. This speech offers another opportunity to connect with Black voters, including the significant Arab American population in Wayne County, a demographic showing resistance to his re-election bid.

Protests against Biden’s visit are planned in Dearborn and outside the dinner venue, reflecting ongoing dissatisfaction with his policies among some constituents.

As Biden navigates these appearances, he faces the dual challenge of addressing immediate concerns about his foreign policy while reinforcing his commitment to key voter groups critical for the upcoming election.

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