House Speaker Slams Columbia Protesters: ‘If You’re Getting Endorsed by Hamas, That’s Not a Good Look’ | Video

House Speaker Mike Johnson held a press conference on the campus of Columbia University on Wednesday, calling for the resignation of the school’s president due to ongoing student protests on campus against the war in Gaza. He told CNN’s Erin Burnett in an interview on campus that he believes the university president needs to “keep peace on campus” and “this is time for a really strong hand.”

The student protesters were largely chanting “free Palestine,” Burnett noted, as well as heckling and booing Johnson’s call for the resignation of the university’s president. When asked how that chant is antisemitic, Johnson responded, “Well, what’s antisemitic is that Hamas endorsed these protests today. … They issued an endorsement statement and heralded the students here and said this — this is the next generation of leadership in America.”

“If you’re getting endorsed by Hamas, that’s not a good look,” Johnson continued. “It’s not a good sign.”

The Speaker argued that these protesters and the way they’re interfering with campus life “is not who we are as Americans. This is not an expression of the First Amendment. This is not an exchange of ideas. This is — this is threats and intimidation of violence against Jewish students for who they are, for their faith.”

Johnson asserted that students were either unaware of “the atrocities of Oct. 7, or they’re denying it. They denied that women and children were brutally raped and murdered, that infants were placed into ovens and cooked alive.”

Burnett followed up by noting that she’d been in some of the kibbutz following Oct. 7 and “you could smell the death and the bodies. It was horrific. And yet, what’s happened since has been horrific, too.” She pressed Johnson on whether protesting “the humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and “the tens of thousands of innocent people” who’ve died is antisemitic.

Johnson dodged the question, responding by stating that he believes in “a place for debate and the free exchange of ideas,” but that he didn’t want to equivocate about Hamas and Gaza. He quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said that the war is a battle between good and evil, light versus darkness, civilization versus barbarism.

“This isn’t a close call,” Johnson said.

Burnett asked if there’s anything Israel could do that would be over the line, asking about innocent children who’ve died and are dying at Israel’s hands and the IDF.”

Johnson said, “They have. There have been civilians murdered, but that is not the fault of Israel.” He added that the moral responsibility for those deaths goes to Hamas. “Israel, I’m convinced, is doing its very best to prevent civilian casualties. But this is a war and they’re fighting for their very existence.”

The Speaker also expressed frustration with the protesters intimidating Jewish students, stating, “That’s the thing that is so problematic.”

“You have to speak to these Jewish students who are in fear of their lives, who were cowering in their apartments right now, who are not coming to class,” Johnson said.

He criticized the administration for suggesting that Jewish students should stay home and attend hybrid classes.

“It is so discriminatory. It’s so wrong in every way,” Johnson said. “The responsibility of a university administrator is to keep peace on campus and ensure the safety of students — job number one. If they’re incapable of doing that, they need different leadership. I think this is time for a really strong hand.”

Johnson also noted that he’d been a First Amendment lawyer for 20 years, but that the problem with what the student protesters are doing is camping and preventing other students from exercising their own rights.

When speaking about Johnson’s earlier speech on campus, Burnett had noted, “They couldn’t actually hear the Speaker, which I can tell you is a good thing, because much of what he said would have incensed that crowd.”

Johnson’s comments Wednesday come after clashes between police and students at both the University of Southern California and the University of Texas at Austin earlier in the day, along with protests at numerous universities. Columbia students who are protesting are calling for the school divest from companies with ties to Israel.

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