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Pro-Gaza protesters disrupt Biden-Obama-Clinton record fundraiser in New York: ‘Blood on your hands’

Current president and his Democratic predecessors address US policy on the Gaza crisis as they make rare joint appearance at fundraising event

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Friday 29 March 2024 16:13 GMT
Protesters outside Democratic fundraiser

The streets outside and atmosphere inside Radio City Music Hall offered a dramatic split-screen on Thursday as pro-Palestinian protesters attempted to disrupt a massive fundraiser for President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign featuring former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

As a phalanx of police officers surrounded the historic venue, a large group of marchers stood outside waving Palestinian and other flags and chanting slogans, with some denouncing Mr Biden as having “blood on [his] hands” for America’s continued support of the Israeli government during the country’s six-month-old war on Hamas.

Protesters also made it inside the fundraiser by purchasing tickets with the intent of interrupting the evening’s programme to express their displeasure over the war, which has killed more than 30,000 Gaza residents since it began after the 7 October terror attacks by Hamas.

During what Mr Biden’s re-election campaign called an “armchair conversation” with the 46th president, former president Bill Clinton and former president Barack Obama, one protester began shouting “shame on you, Joe Biden!” before being ushered out by security.

And as Mr Clinton began to answer a question about what he missed most about the presidency, another protester began shouting obscenities about Ukraine and Russia before being joined by other protesters.

Stephen Colbert, the CBS Late Show host and the evening’s moderator, interjected to ask Mr Biden about the US’s role “to ensure the most peaceful and prosperous future for the people of Israel and for Gaza”.

Barack Obama, left, Joe Biden, centre, and Bill Clinton at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday night (AP)

The president replied that there have been “too many innocent victims, Israeli and Palestinian” since the war started.

“We’ve got to get more food and medicine, supplies into the Palestinians ...It’s understandable Israel has such a profound anger and Hamas is still there. But we must in fact, stop the effort that is resulting in significant deaths of innocent civilians, particularly children,” he said.

Mr Biden also said his administration has been working with “the Saudis and with all the other Arab countries, including Egypt and Jordan and Qatar” and told attendees that the Saudis are ready to “fully recognize Israel for the first time”.

“But there has to be a post Gaza plan, and there has to be a train to a two state solution. It doesn’t have to occur today, but there has to be a progression, and I think we can do that,” he added.

A short time later, a second group of protesters disrupted the event as Mr Obama was answering Colbert’s question on what he misses most about the presidency.

The 44th president quickly hit back to silence the disruption.

“No, no listen. You can’t just talk and not listen... That’s what the other side does. And it is possible for us to understand that it is possible to have moral clarity and have deeply held beliefs, but still recognize that the world is complicated and it is hard to solve these problems,” he said.

A protester is detained outside the venue (REUTERS)

Mr Obama continued, telling the attendees — and the protesters — that he’d chosen Mr Biden to be vice president in 2008 because of his “moral clarity,” his “deeply-held beliefs,” and his willingness “to listen to all sides in this debate and every other debate and try to see if we can find common ground”.

He also described the presidency as “a lonely seat” and said “one of the realities” of the office was that “the world has a lot of joy and beauty, but it also has a lot of tragedy and cruelty”. People “understandably, oftentimes, want to feel a certain purity in terms of how those decisions are made,” he said. “But a president doesn’t have that luxury.”

Mr Clinton chimed in as well, praising Mr Biden as someone who “genuinely cares about preserving the existence of Israel” and “genuinely cares about giving the Palestinians a decent state of self governance and the support they need for self determination”.

“Look, the world we live in is hard because you have to keep two apparently conflicting ideas in your head at the same time. But don’t forget, those of you who particularly if you’re younger and all you know is the Israeli government denying the rights of the Palestinians... Joe Biden says he wants a two-state solution,” he said.

Mr Biden’s two most recent Democratic predecessors also offered effusive praise for his first three years in office and warned of the threat to American democracy posed by a resurgent Donald Trump and the Republican Party he controls during the rare joint appearance.

NYPD officers confront Pro-Palestinian demonstrators a few blocks from Radio City Music Hall (Getty Images)

Sitting alongside Mr Biden, Mr Clinton and Mr Obama both said the 2024 general election should not just be litigated as a negative campaign against Mr Trump but as a positive campaign for Mr Biden based on his accomplishments.

“It’s the positive case for somebody who’s done an outstanding job,” said Mr Obama, under whom Mr Biden served as vice president for all eight years of the 44th president’s time in the White House.

“Sometimes we forget where we started, and where we are now. You got a record breaking job market. You’ve got an employment rate that is low as it has been for African Americans, by the way the lowest on record. ever,” he said, adding that Mr Biden had successfully “picked up the baton” on expanding health care coverage to all Americans, building off work Mr Clinton had done to enact the Children’s Health Insurance Program and Mr Obama’s own signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.

“He’s now expanded coverage, he’s made sure that seniors are seeing big discounts in their prescription drugs, capping insulin drug prices, capping the price of insulin at 35 bucks where it used to cost up to 400... we could obviously go on,” he said.

Crowds of protesters gathered outside the venue ahead of the event (REUTERS)

Mr Clinton chimed in a short time later under questioning from Colbert, rendering a similarly positive verdict on Mr Biden’s presidency thus far.

“He’s really done a good job,” he said.

The 42nd president recalled that Mr Biden had opened the fundraiser with a familiar refrain on how the US is at an “inflection point in history,” and noted that preserving democracy requires one to realise that no one can be right one hundred per cent of the time.

He explained how Mr Trump’s claims to have built a solid economy during his term were based on the 45th president having “stole from Barack Obama”.

“I listened to him tell us how terrible the American economy was all during 2016. And then, by January 2017, after the inauguration, it had become wonderful, miraculously, overnight. Well, what happened was actually job growth under President Trump was slower than it was under President Obama. But people didn’t feel it. It takes a while to feel it. So then he came and claimed it for everything,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, Joe Biden comes along and creates roughly twice as many jobs!”

Mr Clinton added that he “believes in keeping score”.

By that score, he said Mr Biden “has been good for America” and “deserves another term”.

Stephen Colbert moderated the fundraiser featuring a rare appearance by a serving president and two of his fellow Democratic predecessors (AP)

The full-throated support for Mr Biden expressed by both former presidents — each of whom has had differences with the 46th president at times during their respective public lives — stands in stark contrast with the lack of support for Mr Trump by the few living Republicans who’ve held the highest offices in the land.

Mr Trump routinely bashes the only living former Republican president, George W Bush, and while Mr Bush has not openly denounced his GOP successor, it is well-known that the 43rd president does not support the 45th in his bid to become the 47th.

Two of the three living ex-Republican vice presidents, Dan Quayle and Dick Cheney, are similarly disinclined to support Mr Trump.

Mr Quayle, who served under Mr Bush’s father, the late 41st president George HW Bush, was a key figure in convincing Mr Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, not to interfere with certification of Mr Biden’s 2020 election victory.

And Mr Cheney, whose daughter Liz Cheney has become a frequent antagonist of the ex-president since her service on the House January 6 select committee, famously cut an advertisement for his daughter’s failed congressional re-election campaign two years ago in which he denounced the 45th president.

NYPD officers block pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside Radio City Music Hall during the fundraiser (Getty Images)

The appearance by two of the three living Democratic former presidents capped off a star-studded evening featuring performances from high-profile artists including Queen Latifah and Lizzo, bringing in what the Biden campaign said was at least $26m for its coffers heading into what looks to be a hard-fought rematch with Mr Trump.

Mr Biden’s re-election campaign said in a statement that the $26m haul from Thursday’s event bested Mr Trump’s campaign’s fundraising total for the entire month of February and called it “latest proof point of a united and energetic coalition ready to re-elect President Biden”.

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