Pro-Palestinian protests rock universities across the US

Pro-Palestinian protests by university students against Israel’s war in Gaza are growing rapidly across the United States.

The protests, which began last week at Columbia University in New York City, have reached dozens of universities nationwide, sparking clashes with the police. 

The students are demanding their universities “divest from genocide” and stop investing money from their endowments into companies involved with weapons manufacturing that supports  Israel’s war in Gaza. 

At Columbia, police arrested 100 people and tried to clear an encampment set up by protesting students. 

Similar protests and camps have now appeared across many other universities, including Harvard, UC Berkeley, USC, Yale, Brown, NYU, Michigan and Texas at Austin.

Clashes with police have occurred at multiple locations, with hundreds more protesters arrested across the country. 

At Princeton on Thursday, students took over a courtyard, vowing to remain until the university divests from companies profiting off the Israeli occupation of Palestinians.

Following the mass arrests, Amnesty International urged universities “to safeguard and facilitate all students’ right to peacefully and safely protest or counter-protest on their campuses.”

While some pro-Israel groups claim the protests have included antisemitic elements and made them feel unsafe, others have highlighted the significant numbers of Jewish students participating in solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Protests draw political response

The campus protests have spilled into the political arena. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticised Columbia University for calling NYPD officers to clear student protesters from its grounds.

“Not only did Columbia make the horrific decision to mobilize NYPD on their own students, but the units called in have some of the most violent reputations on the force,” she said on X, formerly Twitter. 

“NYPD had promised the city they wouldn’t deploy SRG (Strategic Response Group) to protests. So why are these counterterror units here?”

Meanwhile, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders slapped down Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s description of the demonstrations being “horrific.” 

“No, Mr Netanyahu. It is not antisemitic or pro-Hamas to point out that in a little over six months your extremist government has killed 34,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 77,000 – 70% of whom are women and children,” Sanders replied on X.

On Thursday, students with the DC/Maryland/Virginia Coalition of Students for Justice in Palestine said they established an encampment at George Washington University’s yard.

At Harvard, students braved cold temperatures to erect over 30 tents in the university’s historic Harvard Yard on Wednesday night and stayed there through Thursday.

Chaotic scenes unfolded at the University of Texas in Austin as hundreds of local and state police officers, some on horseback holding batons, moved to disperse protesters on campus.

Columbia University condemned 

The wave of protests spreading to campuses around the country comes as several academics and groups released statements condemning Columbia University’s decision to call police to clear protesters.

A protest involving just a handful of Columbia students in the early hours of April 17 quickly ballooned into a movement of hundreds by the next day, with the campus adorned in Palestinian flags and placards.

Around 108 Columbia students were arrested last Thursday when the university’s president, Nemat Minouche Shafik, called the NYPD to dismantle an encampment on the central lawns that had started a day earlier.

On Tuesday, the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) said Columbia and Barnard College had created a climate of repression and harm for students peacefully protesting against the Israeli “genocide” in Gaza.

University campuses across the United States have emerged as a key front in the backlash against Israel’s assault in Palestine. 

Two weeks ago, USC cancelled outside speakers for this year’s graduation after it revoked the valedictorian speech of Muslim student Asna Tabassum due to her vocal support of Palestine on social media.

The university said her speech should not go ahead, citing security concerns. Tabassum said she was the target of “a campaign of hate meant to silence my voice.”

“I am not surprised by those who attempt to propagate hatred. I am surprised that my own university – my home for four years – has abandoned me,” she added.


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