Biden acknowledges 'heartbreak' over Israel-Gaza war in speech to Morehouse grads

President Biden delivered the commencement speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta on Sunday morning, taking the opportunity to connect with college students amid the backdrop of tumultuous pro-Palestinian demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war that have erupted in recent weeks at several American universities, including Morehouse.

While campus protesters have specifically called for their universities and colleges to "divest" from Israel, they have also expressed their opposition to the White House's financial and military support of Israel's offensive against the Hamas militant group as the operation has created a dire humanitarian situation for Palestinians in Gaza.

📢 What Biden said on the Israel-Hamas war

The president took the opportunity on Sunday to address students’ concerns over the Israel-Hamas war.

"What's happening in Israel and Gaza is heartbreaking," Biden said. He acknowledged the deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, who also kidnapped nearly 250 hostages that day. Biden also underscored the "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza, which is on the brink of famine and in desperate need of medical supplies.

In his address, Biden called for an immediate ceasefire and said his administration is working on a deal "as we speak" so that Israelis taken hostage can be returned home and more humanitarian aid can get into war-torn Gaza. Biden's National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, is in Saudi Arabia and Israel this weekend to talk with top leaders.

The president said he’s also working on a two-state agreement to create “ever-lasting peace” between the Israelis and Palestinians in the region in a post-Hamas era so that both sides can have “security and dignity.”

“It’s one of the most hardest, complicated problems in the world,” Biden said of the ongoing conflict.

Biden expressed empathy with student and faculty members who've participated in the pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus, saying, "I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family." (First Lady Jill Biden has reportedly been urging her husband to stop the suffering in Gaza.) "But most of all, I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well," Biden said.

🎓 What happened while Biden was on stage

Leading up to the commencement, there were mixed reactions within the Morehouse community over Biden’s planned appearance. Some students and faculty at the college called for the president’s invitation to be rescinded, but that request was declined by Morehouse President David Thomas.

Thomas told CNN last Thursday that the graduation ceremony would be shut down "on the spot" if there were any disruptions during Biden's speech, instead of having police remove protesters in zip ties.

But on Sunday, Biden delivered his address without any notable disruptions. One student unfurled a Palestinian flag and held it up, according to CNN. Other students turned their chairs so their backs were facing Biden while he spoke.

Following his speech, Biden was presented with a Morehouse College honorary doctorate degree. At this point, several students walked out in protest, while another held up a fist, with their back to the stage, according to the New York Times.

🗣️ Additional reactions to Biden’s speech

Following Biden's speech, the New York Times reports, a group of about 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside Morehouse campus, including students and faculty, blocked traffic on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard — named for a late civil rights leader and minister.

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