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White House vows to not be quiet on violent protests: 'Silent is complicit'


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White House officials addressed the anti-Israel protests taking place at universities across the country on Wednesday, saying President Biden believes in free speech, but when violent rhetoric and physical intimidation takes place, it must be called out.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked by a reporter during a briefing on Wednesday what the president thinks of how the administration at Columbia University in New York City has been handling the protests.

Jean-Pierre directed questions about personnel to university officials because it was up to them to comment on the situation. But she spoke about the situation at the university, saying it is "a deeply painful, painful moment for communities."

"The president believes that free speech debate and nondiscrimination on college campuses are important. They’re important American values and…we will always be very clear about that here," she said. "But you know, 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."

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Jean-Pierre said the White House would continue to "forcefully condemn" antisemitism, adding there are plans to implement the first national strategic effort to counter antisemitism.

She called the hateful rhetoric coming out of Columbia "vile."

The press secretary was also asked what the president’s personal reaction was to the activity taking place on the college campuses and what his message would be to those peacefully protesting.

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She said the president had been clear: "We can’t be silent here."

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"Silent is complicit, and we can’t allow that. We believe in First Amendment rights. We believe in people being able to express themselves in a peaceful manner. But when we’re talking about hateful rhetoric, when we’re talking about violence, we have to call that out.

"Students should feel safe. Communities should feel safe, and you know…we can’t stay silent," Jean-Pierre said. "Obviously, it is a deeply painful moment. He sees that. He understands that, and he will always support and believe in free speech and debate and nondiscrimination on college campuses."

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