MANASSAS, Va. – At their first joint campaign event in the 2024 presidential race, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris rallied voters around abortion access and reproductive rights at a northern Virginia university campus, but several Pro-Palestinian demonstrators interrupted the president with criticisms of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war.

“I think, in my personal opinion, that you cannot vote for Joe Biden if you believe in human rights,” said Mohamed Azab, 42, an immigrant and local resident, who was one of almost a dozen protesters who stood up in the audience.

The event at George Mason University’s science and technology campus in Manassas, a suburb of Virginia, showcased both a strength and a weakness of the Biden-Harris ticket. They hope reproductive rights will help them win battleground states like Virginia, where Democrats largely campaigned on abortion access during state elections last November, ultimately flipping the statehouse. But the hecklers underscored a growing weakness Biden and Harris have with some of their Democratic base. It was the second time Pro-Palestinian demonstrators have disrupted Biden during a campaign speech. The first was at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 8, emphasizing the disapproval of the Biden administration’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war by some Democrats.

Biden, who was forced to pause with each interruption, promised to restore Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court’s decision allowing women the right to choose. But Neda, a demonstrator in her 30s, wasn’t convinced.

“We know that Biden is here to talk about women’s rights, and about their reproductive rights, but he did forget to mention that he is dealing with a genocide that has taken away women’s rights in Gaza and in Palestine,” she said.

Israel’s war in Gaza has not been officially called a genocide, but a case considering such charges is underway before the International Court of Justice. About 25,000 people have died there, many of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Biden has requested a package allotting $14 billion for Israel from Congress. The president criticized Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza but has not called for a ceasefire.

A November report from a United Nations Population Fund staff member in Gaza said that with the lack of resources and electricity in the region, many pregnant women, more than 5,000, would be forced to give birth without anesthesia and in unsanitary conditions.

At Tuesday’s rally, protesters shouted “Ceasefire now!” and “How many kids have you killed today?” before being escorted away. Biden supporters on and offstage attempted to drown out the hecklers by chanting: “Four more years!”

Azab, a recent U.S. citizen who would be eligible to vote for the president for the first time in November, said that Biden’s policy in the Israel-Hamas war was the most important issue for him. He argued that Americans should not vote for Biden, regardless of the alternative.

“Nothing is gonna change if we elect Joe Biden,” he said.

But when Keoni Vega, 20, an American politics student at the University of Virginia, compared Trump and Biden, he said that Trump was by far the worse option.

“I think as Biden would say, ‘Don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative,’” said Vega. “And so if you look at these issues that a lot of people are upset with and, for the most part, rightfully so, you have to realize if it’s not Biden, it’s going to be Trump, who’s going to be tenfold worse.”

Longtime abortion advocate Sharon Wood echoed Vega’s opinion that Democrats should rally around Biden.

“I don’t agree with everything about him. I think he should be stronger on pushing for a ceasefire, but he’s our guy,” said Wood, 74, who lives in nearby Chantilly, another northern Virginia suburb.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators stand outside at George Mason University’s campus in Manassas, Va., where Joe Biden and Kamala Harris appear in their first joint campaign event on Jan. 23, 2023. (Juliann Ventura/Medill News Service)

A protester is booed and escorted out of the rally. (Anastasia Mason/Medill News Service)