Trump compares campus Israel protests to 2017 white nationalist rally

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Donald Trump on Thursday criticized the mostly peaceful protests on U.S. college campuses over Israel’s war in Gaza, describing them as “tremendous hate,” while saying that the violence at a white nationalist rally in Virginia when he was president was by comparison “a little peanut.”

Trump, the Republican candidate for president in the November elections, also sought to place blame for the campus protests on Democratic President Joe Biden.

In remarks to media following the day’s testimony in his criminal trial in New York City, Trump referenced the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 between white nationalists and counter-protesters, in which one woman was killed, and claimed the current college protests over Israel were far worse.

“Charlottesville was a little peanut. And it was nothing compared to — and the hate wasn’t the kind of hate that you have here,” Trump said, repeating an assertion he made on his social media platform on Wednesday.

Trump drew strong criticism in the days after the Charlottesville rally for equating white supremacists with counter-protesters and saying “both sides” were to blame. A woman was run down by a car and killed during the clashes, and Trump’s response developed into a crisis for his administration.

The protests by students opposed to Israel’s war in Gaza have escalated at universities across the United States in recent days, although they have been largely peaceful, with no known deaths and none of violent clashes between demonstrators seen in Charlottesville.

University authorities have attempted to clear many of the protest encampments, saying they are often unauthorized and calling in police. About 500 demonstrators have been arrested in the past week.

Trump on Thursday also took aim at Biden over the campus protests, barely more than six months before the November presidential election when the two are expected to face a rematch.

“This is tremendous hate and we have a man that can’t talk about it because he doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t understand what’s going on with our country,” Trump said.

Some Republicans in Congress have accused university administrators of allowing Jewish students to be harassed during the protests, but activist groups have strongly denied that the protests are antisemitic. While they have acknowledged that hateful rhetoric has at times been directed at Jewish students, they insist that people who tried to infiltrate and malign their movement are responsible for any harassment.

Trump has in the past denounced the violence at Charlottesville. A year after the rally he wrote on Twitter that the rally had “resulted in senseless death and division,” while condemning all forms of racism and violence.

Trump is currently on trial in New York for allegedly falsifying business records related to a payment to a porn star to keep her silent about an affair prior to the 2016 election. Trump has denied wrongdoing.

(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington; editing by Paul Thomasch and Leslie Adler)

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