Morehouse Under Pressure to Scrap Biden Address Over Israel War

President Joe Biden’s support for Israel has resulted in calls to scrap the president’s planned commencement speech at Morehouse College.

Morehouse, a historically Black college that counts civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. among its alumni, announced earlier this week that the president would travel to the Atlanta campus to deliver the keynote address during the graduation ceremony on May 19.

Morehouse President David Thomas said in a statement that the college was “excited” to host Biden, maintaining that “his presence serves as a reminder of our institution’s enduring legacy and impact” and “continued commitment to excellence, progress, and positive change.”

With this year’s presidential election only about six months away, polls have suggested that Biden is losing support among Black voters, particularly in Georgia—putting him at risk of losing the Peach State to former President Donald Trump. Biden won the state by fewer than 15,000 votes in 2020.

Joe Biden Morehouse College Commencement Backlash Israel
President Joe Biden is pictured outside the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 26, 2024. Morehouse College is facing calls to cancel Biden’s planned May 19 commencement speech at the historically Black college due…

Kevin Dietsch

The commencement announcement sparked immediate backlash from Morehouse students and faculty opposed to Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza, which some argue has been aided by Biden.

The surprise Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in around 1,200 deaths in Israel, while Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza has caused over 34,000 deaths, according to figures from local health officials that have been reported by the Associated Press.

While remaining steadfast in his support for Israel, Biden has also repeatedly denounced the humanitarian situation in Gaza and called for aid. The president signed a bill authorizing $26 billion in military aid to Israel on Wednesday, according to the AP, which included humanitarian aid to Gaza and other places but set aside a designated $1 billion in Gaza aid.

While student protesters at colleges across the country continue to protest against Israel’s actions in Gaza—some pro-Palestinian protesters have also taken to calling Biden “Genocide Joe”—a number of students and faculty members at Morehouse began preparing for potential protest during Biden’s planned speech.

Morehouse professor Andrew Douglas told NBC News that faculty and students were “wrestling” over protesting the president, adding that the speech was “on everybody’s mind” and he had “spoken with several faculty members who say under no conditions are they going to sit on a stage with Joe Biden.”

Meanwhile, Morehouse alumni reportedly drafted a letter calling on the college to drop the president’s commencement address over his support for Israel soon after the speech was announced.

“In inviting President Biden to campus, the college affirms a cruel standard that complicity in genocide merits no sanction from the institution that produced one of the towering advocates for nonviolence of the twentieth century,” the letter reads, according to the Associated Press.

“If the college cannot affirm this noble tradition of justice by rescinding its invitation to President Biden, then the college should reconsider its attachment to Dr. King,” it continues.

A statement shared to Instagram by the Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine— Georgia demanded that Morehouse “rescind the invitation to President Biden, and use its moral authority to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.”

Newsweek reached out for comment to the White House and Morehouse College via email on Friday night.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday that she would not “speculate or go into hypotheticals” about whether or not the commencement address could be canceled while insisting that Biden was “looking forward” to the event despite the tensions.

“We know it’s an incredibly painful time for many communities,” Jean-Pierre said. “You have heard us mention the president meeting with different community leaders and community members… whether it’s Arab Americans, Muslim Americans, Palestinian Americans… to have those honest conversations.”

“As it relates to commencements, they’re about the graduates, right?” she continued. “They’re about their families. They’re about their loved ones. It’s about celebrating accomplishments. And the president is certainly looking forward to doing that. He’s going to do that at Morehouse.”

Biden received both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian backlash earlier this week after saying that he condemns “the antisemitic protests” at colleges hosting pro-Palestinian demonstrations, while also condemning “those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”