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Pro-palestinian protest at Biden rally shows split within his base

​Pro-Palestinian demonstrators

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators rally at George Mason University’s campus in Manassas, Va., where President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris made ther first joint appearance of the 2024 campaign.

Juliann Ventura/Medill News Service

Ventura and Mason are graduate students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and reporters at Medill News Service.

MANASSAS, Va. – At their first joint campaign event in the 2024 presidential race, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris rallied voters around abortion access and reproductive rights in Northern Virginia, but several pro-Palestinian demonstrators interrupted the president with criticisms of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

The event at George Mason University’s Manassas campus, about 30 miles from Washington, D.C., showcased both a strength and a weakness of the Biden-Harris ticket, a pairing likely to dog the incumbents throughout the campaign.

Biden and Harris hope reproductive rights will help them win competitive states like Virginia, where Democrats largely campaigned on abortion access during off-year state elections last November, ultimately flipping the state House. But the hecklers underscored a growing potential weakness among some of the Democratic base. It was the second time pro-Palestinian demonstrators have disrupted Biden during a campaign speech. The first occurred at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 8, emphasizing some Democrats’ disapproval of the administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

“I think, in my personal opinion, that you cannot vote for Joe Biden if you believe in human rights,” said Mohamed Azab, 42, an immigrant and local resident who was one of almost a dozen protesters standing in the audience.

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Biden, who was forced to pause with each interruption, promised to restore Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that declared abortion a constitutional right but was overturned in 2022. But Neda, a demonstrator in her 30s who would not provide her last name to protect her anonymity, wasn’t convinced.

“We know that Biden is here to talk about women's rights, and about their reproductive rights, but he did forget to mention that he is dealing with a genocide that has taken away women’s rights in Gaza and in Palestine,” she said. Neda provided her first name only because she felt safer having some sense of anonymity.

Israel’s war in Gaza has not been officially called a genocide, but a case considering such charges is underway before the International Court of Justice. About 25,000 people have died there, many of them women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry. Biden has requested Congress approve a $14 billion aid package for Israel and has not called for a ceasefire, but he has criticized Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza.

A United Nations Population Fund staff member said in November that more than 5,000 pregnant women will be forced to give birth without anesthesia and in unsanitary conditions given the lack of resources and electricity in the region.

At the Jan. 23 rally, protesters shouted “Ceasefire now!” and “How many kids have you killed today?” before being escorted away. Biden supporters on- and offstage attempted to drown out the hecklers by chanting: “Four more years!”

Azab, a recent U.S. citizen who will be eligible to vote for president for the first time in November, said Biden’s policy in the Israel-Hamas war was the most important issue for him. He argued that Americans should not vote for Biden, regardless of the alternative.

“Nothing is gonna change if we elect Joe Biden,” he said.

But when 20-year-old Keoni Vega, a student studying American politics at the University of Virginia, compared Trump and Biden, he said that Trump was by far the worse option.

“I think as Biden would say, ‘Don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative,’” said Vega. “And so if you look at these issues that a lot of people are upset with and, for the most part, rightfully so, you have to realize if it's not Biden, it's going to be Trump, who's going to be tenfold worse.”

Longtime abortion advocate Sharon Wood echoed Vega’s opinion that Democrats should rally around Biden.

“I don't agree with everything about him. I think he should be stronger on pushing for a ceasefire, but he's our guy,” said Wood, 74, who lives in nearby Chantilly.

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