House speaker condemned for remarks on pro-Palestine student protests

by Admin
House speaker condemned for remarks on pro-Palestine student protests

Progressive activists have condemned Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House of Representatives, for “willfully spreading misinformation” and “inciting violence” in a TV interview about student protests against Israel’s war in Gaza.

Johnson, who was booed and heckled during a press conference at Columbia University on Wednesday, when he said Hamas “backed” the protests in a CNN interview. There is no evidence Hamas has had any role in the student protests, though the organization has praised the demonstration. The Republican went on to make sweeping, incendiary claims: “Some of these students apparently are unaware of the atrocities of October 7 or they’re denying it.

Related: Boston police arrest 100 as crackdown on campus Palestine protests ramps up

“They deny that women and children were brutally raped and murdered, that infants were placed into ovens and cooked alive. The things that happened there are unspeakable and yet they’re out there waving flags for the very people who committed those atrocities. That is not who we are.”

The assertion that infants were cooked alive in ovens during Hamas’s attack on 7 October, which left 1,200 people dead and 240 taken hostage, is hugely controversial and widely disputed, apparently stemming from an unverified report of one such alleged case that spread on social media. Johnson’s remarks were attacked by Justice Democrats, a progressive group that has been sharply critical of Israel’s conduct of the war.

Usamah Andrabi, a spokesman, said on Thursday: “Republican extremists like Mike Johnson, and the Democrats aligning with them, are willfully spreading misinformation and inciting violence against young people who are peacefully protesting a genocide.

“Instead of doing anything to stop the US-funded assault on Gaza that has destroyed every university and killed nearly 40,000 Palestinians – almost half of which are children – and brought widespread famine and destruction, our elected leaders are attacking college students in tents for having more moral clarity than any of them have shown in the halls of power.”

More than 34,000 people have been killed in the war in Gaza, with the majority of victims women and children, according to Hamas-run health ministry. Amid a growing political backlash against Joe Biden’s support for Israel, some US universities have called in police to break up demonstrations against the war, resulting in scuffles and dozens of arrests.

Pro-Palestinian student protesters set up a tent encampment at Columbia University last week. On Wednesday Johnson denounced the treatment of Jewish students on the campus and called for the university’s president, Minouche Shafik, to resign if she cannot bring the protests under control. “We just can’t allow this kind of hatred and any antisemitism to flourish on our campuses, and it must be stopped in its tracks,” he said.

Republicans have seized on the unrest, which is receiving extensive coverage on Fox News and in other rightwing media, forcing Democrats on to the defensive. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, told reporters: “This is a deeply painful, painful moment for many communities, and we understand that. But the president believes that free speech, debate and nondiscrimination on college campuses are important. They’re important American values.

“… But protests must be peaceful. You know, students must be safe. When we see violent rhetoric, we have to call that out. When we see physical intimidation or grotesque antisemitic remarks, we have to speak that out. And you saw that from the president’s statement on Passover. He talked about that. He talked about taking action and making sure that we’re calling that out.”

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