US President Joe Biden greets Holocaust survivors during the annual Days of Remembrance ceremony for Holocaust survivors at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on May 7, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden condemned a “ferocious surge” in anti-Semitism on Tuesday, in a Holocaust memorial speech that came at a fraught moment in Israel’s war in Gaza and with protests roiling American universities.

Biden, who has backed Israel since the start of the conflict, said too many people were forgetting that it was the Palestinian militant group Hamas that “unleashed this terror” with the October 7 attack on Israel.

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“I have not forgotten, nor have you, and we will not forget,” Biden said at the US Capitol in a keynote address to mark the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s annual Days of Remembrance ceremony.

“We’ve seen a ferocious surge of anti-Semitism in America and around the world,” Biden said, including on US campuses roiled by protests against the war in Gaza.

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Jewish students have reported an increase in anti-Semitism since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, and Israel’s president said last week that US campuses were “contaminated” by hatred.

“There’s no place on any campus in America - any place in America - for anti-Semitism or hate speech or threats of violence of any kind,” Biden said.

Protesters against the war in Gaza deny anti-Semitic incidents and have criticized the lack of attention given to alleged harassment of Muslim and Palestinian students.

Police have broken up several of the protests and Biden, who is seeking reelection in November, recently drew criticism from both Republicans and Democrats for staying silent for days on the issue.

Biden’s speech also came as Israel seized control of a key border crossing in Rafah in southern Gaza despite US warnings, and with talks for a hostage release and ceasefire deal on a knife-edge.


The White House said it was also unveiling additional measures to curb anti-Semitism on campuses.

They include guidance from the US education department on identifying anti-Semitic discrimination and other forms of hate, and convening tech firms to discuss how to tackle anti-Jewish content.

Biden also discussed anti-Semitism in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, during which he pushed for Israel not to invade Rafah, according to a readout of the conversation.

The two leaders discussed the “shared commitment” of Israel and the US to remember the six million Jews killed during the Holocaust by Nazi Germany “and to forcefully act against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate-fueled violence,” the White House said.

Campuses across the United States have been rocked by weeks of protests against Israel’s offensive on Gaza, with police being called in to dismantle encampments, including in prestigious Columbia University.

Columbia, the epicenter of the demonstrations, on Monday canceled its main graduation ceremony.

The Ivy League school in New York, where at least 100 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested last week, cited security concerns as it scrapped the ceremony scheduled for May 15. Students have criticized what they say is a heavy handed response.

After staying mostly silent on the protests, Biden insisted in a televised address last week that “order must prevail” and that there was “no place in America for anti-Semitism.”

Biden’s administration has tried to walk a fine line between free speech and complaints of intimidation.

Republicans have accused him of being soft on what they say is anti-Semitic sentiment among the protesters, while demonstrators have accused their detractors of conflating criticism of Israel with prejudice against Jews.

Biden is also under pressure for his military and diplomatic support of Israel as the death toll mounts in Gaza.