Arrests at major US varsities as Gaza protests spread

Published April 24, 2024
NEW YORK: Pro-Palestine students and activists come face to face with riot police during a demonstration against Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, on the campus of New York University, on Tuesday. The protests have spread across several varsities in the US as law enforcement agencies made mass arrests to dislodge students staging sit-ins at the institutions.—AFP
NEW YORK: Pro-Palestine students and activists come face to face with riot police during a demonstration against Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, on the campus of New York University, on Tuesday. The protests have spread across several varsities in the US as law enforcement agencies made mass arrests to dislodge students staging sit-ins at the institutions.—AFP

NEW YORK: Police arrested more than 130 pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Yale University (YU) in Connecticut and New York University (NYU) in Manhattan, as the Israel assault on Gaza continued to reverberate through university campuses in different parts of the United States.

Police crackdowns came after Columbia University cancelled in-person classes on Monday in response to protesters setting up tent encampments at its New York City campus last week.

Some of America’s most prestigious universities have been rocked by protests in recent weeks.

The demonstrations come amid sweeping debates over Israel’s assault on Gaza. Such bastions of higher education — Harvard, Yale, Columbia and others — are grappling for a balance between students demanding free speech rights and others who argue that campuses are encouraging intimidation and hate speech.

On Tuesday, the New York Police Department claimed that 133 people had been arrested at NYU and released after being issued with court summons, as protests also intensify at Yale, Columbia University and other campuses.

Columbia cancels in-person classes amid crackdown on pro-Palestinian demonstrators

Demonstrators earlier blocked traffic around Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut, demanding the school divest from military weapons manufacturers. Police arrested more than 45 protesters, according to the student-run Yale Daily News.

In New York, officers moved on the NYU crowd shortly after nightfall as hundreds of demonstrators for hours had defied university warnings that they faced consequences if they failed to vacate a plaza where they had gathered.

Video on social media showed police taking down tents in the protesters’ encampment.

As demonstrators tussled with officers and chanted, “We will not stop, we will not rest. Disclose. Divest.”

In an email to Columbia staff and students on Monday, Columbia President Nemat Minouche Shafik said the university was cancelling in-person classes and moving to online teaching to “deescalate the rancour and give us all a chance to consider next steps.”

Last week, Shafik called in NYPD to clear a tent encampment protesters had set up on Columbia’s main lawn to demand the school divest from Israel-related investments, an unusual move condemned by some faculty.

Signs are seen posted around the protest encampment in support of Palestinians at Columbia University, in New York City.—Reuters
Signs are seen posted around the protest encampment in support of Palestinians at Columbia University, in New York City.—Reuters

The school said the encampment violated rules. Police arrested more than 100 students from Columbia on charges of trespassing. Columbia and the affiliated Barnard College suspended dozens of students involved in the protests against Israel.

“These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas,” said Shafik, who recently testified before a US House of Representatives committee, defending the school’s response to protests.

Republicans in the House and the Senate, as well as at least one Democratic senator, demanded Shafik resign.

Anti-Semitic debate

Earlier on Sunday, US President Joe Biden, who has been criticised by the protesters for supplying funding and weapons to Israel, in a statement said: “This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country.”

Also, while expressing concern about the unrest, US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona posted on X, “anti-Semitic hate” on college campuses was unacceptable.

Student organisers from the Columbia encampment criticised the Biden statement, noting that “some of the organisers are Jewish”.

“It’s very clear to us that people on the outside do not understand what this encampment is about,” said Lea Salim, a Barnard sophomore who said she was one of 15 Jewish students arrested on the Columbia lawn last week.

Salim said it was not anti-Semitic to criticise the state of Israel.

Social media images on late Monday night appeared to show pro-Palestinian Jewish students holding traditional meals inside the protest areas on campuses including at Columbia.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2024

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