College Democrats Back Protests and Criticize Biden’s Israel Policy

College Democrats of America, the student organization of the Democratic Party, endorsed pro-Palestinian campus protests on Tuesday and called on President Biden to support a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

In a statement approved by the organization’s executive board by a vote of 8 to 2, the College Democrats praised student protesters for having “the moral clarity to see this war for what it is: destructive, genocidal and unjust,” and condemned college administrators for suspending and calling in the police to arrest them.

The statement came after two tumultuous weeks in which pro-Palestinian protests spread to campuses across the country in the wake of a police crackdown at Columbia University. Students who oppose Israel’s actions in Gaza since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack have set up encampments and, in many cases, kept them going after participants were suspended or arrested.

Overnight from Monday into Tuesday, protesters at Columbia took over a building on campus. Protesters have escalated similarly at two other colleges, Portland State University and California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt.

The statement denounced “MAGA Republicans and many other lawmakers for smearing all protesters as hateful.” It condemned rising incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia, saying, “We find all calls for violence, such as those against Jewish and Muslim students, wrong; those spreading hate have no place in the movement for peace.” But it added, “Calling for the freedom of Palestinians is not antisemitic, and neither is opposing the genocidal acts of the far-right radical extremist Israeli government.”

And it criticized Mr. Biden and many other elected Democrats for not uniting behind calls for an immediate, permanent cease-fire — accompanied by the release of all hostages taken by Hamas — and for a rapid push to reach a two-state solution that recognizes an independent Palestinian state.

It was a striking rebuke from an organization that has historically worked in tandem with the Democratic Party and whoever leads it.

“As College Democrats, we are committed to the re-election of President Biden and Democrats across down-ballot races in every corner of our nation,” the statement said. “However, as representatives of youth across the country, we reserve the right to criticize our own party when it fails to represent youth voices.”

It continued: “As young voters, we are well aware that come November, our votes will determine who wins the White House. 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.”

Mr. Biden has called for a temporary cease-fire and said he supports an eventual two-state solution. But while he has been increasingly critical of the Israeli government, he has not made substantive changes to the United States’ policies, and has continued to provide weapons to Israel without conditions.

Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Biden’s National Security Council, said: “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.”

Mr. Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee did not respond to requests for comment.

Sunjay Muralitharan, the vice president of the College Democrats and a student at the University of California, San Diego, said the decision to release the statement stemmed from a shift in the organization’s understanding of its own role.

“We’re realizing that our duty as College Democrats is to be representatives of college students to the party, rather than vice versa,” Mr. Muralitharan said. “As it stands right now, young people starkly differ on the issue of Palestine/Israel from the Democratic Party apparatus. And throughout the nation, we’re witnessing Joe Biden, Democrats across the ballot, losing scores of young voters over this issue.”

The statement was written largely by the organization’s Muslim Caucus. The caucus’s chairman, Hasan Pyarali, a senior at Wake Forest University, said that the dissatisfaction with Mr. Biden’s Israel policy had been simmering for some time, but that the immediate impetus for making a public statement had been Columbia administrators’ decision to call the police to break up the campus protest and arrest participants.

Mr. Pyarali, 22, said he and his fellow members were dedicated Democrats invested in Mr. Biden winning the election and concerned about the possibility of him losing to former President Donald J. Trump, whom he called “a huge threat.”

But “we thought it would be a disservice, not only to the Democratic Party but also to the country, not to speak out against the president on this particular issue, and we hope that he listens to us,” he said, arguing that the election “won’t be won on the same path the president is on right now.”

The statement had supermajority support from the College Democrats’ 10-member executive board, but two members voted against it.

Joshua Martin, the organization’s political affairs director and a junior at the University of Houston, was one of them. He said that he was unhappy the statement had not condemned Hamas, and that it was inappropriate for it to compare the current protests — which he sees as in large part antisemitic — to the civil rights movement.

“By releasing the statement, you’re effectively saying to the Jewish students within the College Democrats of America that we frankly do not care what you say, and we’re just going to do whatever we please to complete a narrative,” Mr. Martin, 21, said, adding that he did not support putting conditions on aid to Israel and considered Hamas “the full root of the issue.”

In addition to calling for a permanent cease-fire and a two-state solution, the statement — written in consultation with members of the Columbia and Yale chapters of the College Democrats and student activists at New York University and Indiana University — endorsed student protesters’ calls for universities to divest from Israel.

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