Watch Nidhi Razdan: Will protests on US campuses impact Biden’s election bid? Video Credit: Gulf News

With months to go for the presidential election in the United States, a big question looms — how will the anti-Israel protests across American college campuses play out for Joe Biden?

The scenes of protest over the last few weeks — including crackdowns as I write this piece — have been quite something. From images of pro-Palestinian students standing their ground, many of them peacefully, to the heavy handedness of the police who were called into crush the protests.

As I argued in an earlier piece, there should not be any room for hate speech and anti-Semitism but some calling for an end to the Israeli assault on Gaza have steered clear of this.

The story has dominated the news cycle in the US and indeed the world, knocking Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York to second place. For the Democrats, this spells trouble. Poll after poll has shown that young Americans are increasingly unhappy with Biden’s foreign policy approach and his unwavering support for Israel, which has killed over 34,000 civilians in Gaza over the last few months.

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Taken the mistaken route

In his first major comments on the campus protests, Biden said he supported “the right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos.” Asked if the protests had led him to change his thinking on the conflict, the president said “No.”

And this is what could spell trouble for him politically in a closely contested race with Trump. Recently, the College Democrats of America (CDA), an arm of the Democratic National Committee, issued a statement saying “the White House has taken the mistaken route of a bear hug strategy for Netanyahu and a cold shoulder strategy for its own base and all Americans who want to see an end to this war. It should be made abundantly clear that calling for the freedom of Palestinians is not anti-Semitic, and neither is opposing the genocidal acts of the far-right radical extremist Israeli government.”

The CDA has over 100,000 members across US colleges and universities and as the Democrats seek to engage younger voters, they have flagged the challenges ahead. A poll done by Harvard/Institute of Politics in March showed that 51 per cent of young Americans supported a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. Only 10 per cent were opposed.

In April, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 32 per cent of adults younger the age of 30 sympathised with Palestinians, 13 per cent with Israelis. A Quinnipiac University poll done in April found 46 per cent of American registered voters supported aid to Israel and 44 per cent opposed it. But among those aged between18-34 years, just 25 per cent supported aid to Israel, and 66 per cent opposed it.

A very close race

However, the same polls have found that foreign policy is not the biggest issue concerning young Americans, the economy is. Which is what the Biden camp hopes will tide them over in this current crisis.

Yet, Biden’s support for police action on campuses is not winning him any love. And while the campus protests may not play out in the way the anti-war protests during Vietnam did, even a small percentage of young voters staying at home could hurt Biden. They won’t vote Trump but they don’t endorse Biden either. In a close race, this will matter.

America’s position on Gaza and its handling of the campus protests has exposed its double standards on free speech and democracy.

But clearly, Israel’s actions are making it harder for Washington to justify a business as usual approach. Which explains why Biden has said the US will not supply Israel with weapons to attack Rafah, where over a million Palestinians are sheltering. This has the potential to cause a serious rift in the relationship with Israel.

Biden was just asked in an interview about the Gaza protests on campuses and the chants of “genocide Joe”. He said he hears the message of these young Americans.

It will now be put to the test.