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College Democrats Have A Serious Warning For Biden

The national group representing college Democrats released a statement Tuesday standing with pro-Palestinian campus protesters and criticizing President Joe Biden for his “bear hug” of what the group called “the genocidal acts of the far-right radical extremist Israeli government.”

The statement, released by the College Democrats of America, illustrated a break with the Democratic Party — of which it is an official arm. It was approved by an 8-2 vote of the group’s executive board, which is made up of national leadership that has been elected by representatives of campus and state college Democrats chapters across the country.

“Since the beginning of this conflict, College Democrats and students from every walk of life have had the moral clarity to see this war for what it is: destructive, genocidal, and unjust,” the CDA statement read. It commended the “bravery” of students facing arrest and disciplinary action for their protests, and condemned college administrators for those responses. Across the country, student protesters have called for an Israeli cease-fire in Gaza, and institutional transparency and divestment with regard to investments in Israeli firms, or those linked to American military aid to Israel.

The statement also called for the “release of all hostages” and condemned the rise in domestic antisemitism and Islamophobia in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s subsequent invasion and air barrage of Gaza, saying Jewish and Muslim students had no control over the conflict. Still, it said, “it should be abundantly clear that calling for the freedom of Palestinians is not Antisemetic [sic], and neither is opposing the genocidal acts of the far-right radical extremist Israeli government.”

The statement’s harshest criticism was directed at the president and his reelection campaign. The White House, according to the CDA, has pursued a “cold shoulder strategy for its own base and all Americans who want to see an end to this war.”

“Each day that Democrats fail to stand united for a permanent ceasefire, two-state solution, and recognition of a Palestinian state, more and more youth find themselves disillusioned with the party,” the statement read. It earned praise from progressives across the country including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and the former Ohio state legislator and prominent Bernie Sanders supporter Nina Turner.

“The President shares the goal for an end to the violence and a just, lasting peace in the Middle East. He’s working tirelessly to that end,” Seth Schuster, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, told HuffPost Tuesday in response to the CDA statement.

And Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told The New York Times: “President Biden continues to work around the clock to secure a deal that would release all the hostages and result in an immediate, sustained cease-fire that enables significantly more aid to reach the people of Gaza. The president has held calls with the leaders of Israel, Egypt and Qatar in the last several days to try to secure an agreement. Israel has accepted the deal and now the onus is on Hamas, which is the only obstacle to immediate relief for civilians in Gaza.”

Hasan Pyarali, a senior at Wake Forest University and chairman of the CDA Muslim Caucus, helped write the statement, and told HuffPost the group was “trying to do a service to the party and the White House” by alerting them to what CDA leadership believes is a growing rift between Biden administration policy and the views of young voters.

“If you keep ignoring us, keep giving us the cold shoulder, you risk losing your own base, and then in turn, the election,” he said. “Because let’s just be frank about this: They can’t win without young voters. 2020 was won in large part because of young voters. So if you neglect them and assume that they’ll come along no matter how you treat them, you’re risking the entire country. And we didn’t think that was fair or right, which is why we decided to call them out on it.”

The national College Democrats group began working on the statement after Columbia University’s president, Minouche Shafik, called in police to clear a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus two weeks ago; overnight Tuesday, Shafik called in police again, this time to clear a building where protesters had set up camp after Shafik began suspending students for their protest. Both instances resulted in several dozen arrests. Pyarali cited other campus protests as inspiration as well, including at Indiana University, where police snipers were stationed above protesters. “It’s insane, it’s not a war zone, it’s a college campus,” he said.

The statement doesn’t necessarily represent the thousands of Democratic college students whose campus chapters fall under the larger College Democrats umbrella. Rather, the only binding vote on its release was held by the CDA executive board.

Two members of that body opposed it. One of them, Joshua Martin, the former student body president at the University of Houston, commented on social media: “The only way to bring peace is to destroy Hamas, who through years of terror have subjugated Palestinians to decades of violence.”

Allyson Bell, a Meredith College graduate student and chair of the College Democrats Jewish Caucus — and who collaborated with Pyarali in a December call for cease-fire — told HuffPost in an email that earlier statements focused on condemning instances of campus antisemitism had been “voted down by the executive board and replaced with what was released.” She called the final statement “one sided.”

Sohali Vaddula, a New York University student and communications director at CDA, said that, ultimately, “the board has final say on all statements,” and that the statement they approved condemned both antisemitic and Islamophobic bigotry and violence. “But we also will stand up in solidarity with protesters who are peacefully protesting — the key word is peacefully protesting,” she said.

For Pyarali, Biden’s ongoing support for the Israeli military campaign is an obstacle to his reelection.

“There are good things that the admin is doing and this party stands for,” he said, referring to the Inflation Reduction Act and efforts to protect abortion rights, expand health care coverage and reduce drug prices. But, he added, “Biden has decided to hitch his wagon to what is a far-right, extremist, radical government. We’re letting him know: This is on you now.”

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