Biden to deliver speech at US Holocaust museum ceremony on Yom HaShoah as campus protests roil nation
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address during a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber at the U.S. Capitol, March 07, 2024. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

By Ron Kampeas
May 2, 2024

WASHINGTON (JTA) — President Joe Biden will deliver a speech next week marking Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day as he faces a nation roiled by campus anti-Israel protests and a reported spike in antisemitism.

Officials at the White House and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on Wednesday confirmed a report in Haaretz that Biden will be the keynote speaker on May 7, when the museum will mark the day, known in Hebrew as Yom HaShoah, with an annual ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Previous presidents of both major parties have also spoke at the ceremony.

Biden will report on the results of his strategy to combat antisemitism, rolled out a year ago, according to Haaretz. When the strategy was unveiled in May 2023, Biden pledged implement it within a year.

The announcement of his speech comes as police have been called in to clear out pro-Palestinian encampments on campuses across the country, and to arrest protesters who disregard orders to leave. On Tuesday night, hundreds of protesters were arrested in New York City and across the country as police cracked down on the encampments, which university administrators have said pose a threat to public safety. Some Jewish students on those campuses say they have faced intimidation and hate speech.

That same night, violence broke out at the University of California, Los Angeles encampment when a group of pro-Israel activists attacked its perimeter.

On Tuesday, Biden condemned the protesters’ use of the word “intifada,” as well as the group of Columbia University students who illegally occupied and barricaded a campus building. Biden also alluded to the campus turmoil in his proclamation this week marking Jewish American Heritage Month.

“Here at home, too many Jews live with deep pain and fear from the ferocious surge of antisemitism — in our communities; at schools, places of worship, and colleges; and across social media,” he said. “These acts are despicable and echo the worst chapters of human history.”

The Holocaust museum, in a rare statement on U.S. domestic politics, last week condemned the expressions of antisemitism on campuses. It specifically cited chants at Columbia.

“The shocking eruption of antisemitism on many American college and university campuses is unacceptable and university and all other appropriate authorities must take greater action to protect Jewish students,” the statement said. “Demonstrators at Columbia University calling for Jews to return to Poland — where three million Jewish men, women, and children were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators — is an outrageous insult to Holocaust memory, a failure to appreciate its lessons, and an act of dangerous antisemitism.”

After Hamas launched the war with Israel on Oct. 7, Biden accelerated some parts of the strategy to combat antisemitism, especially components having to do with campus. In the nearly seven months since the outbreak of the war, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has launched dozens of civil rights investigations into allegations of campus antisemitism. Republicans are also seizing on the turmoil and antisemitism on campuses, seen as redoubts of progressive activism.

Also scheduled to speak at the Capitol next week is Abraham Foxman, the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and a Holocaust survivor.

Leave a Reply