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Mass arrests at US campuses as Gaza protests spin out of control

Pro-Palestinian protests have set up encampments on several campuses, led by Columbia University where in-person classes had to be cancelled.
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tents, flags, people in keffiyah in front of grand university buildings

Pro-Palestinian protesters gather on the campus of Columbia University in New York City (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

Published: 24 April 2024

Last updated: 24 April 2024

Protests roiling on American college campuses since October 7 have intensified over the past week, with mass arrests at several elite universities.

The crisis began at Columbia where more than 100 students were arrested after refusing to leave a pro-Palestinian protest encampment set up on the university’s main campus. The student protesters said they would occupy the lawn until the university divests from companies with ties to Israel.

After calls of ‘go back to Poland’ and ‘burn Tel Aviv to the ground’, Columbia announced it would cancel in-person classes to ‘deescalate the rancour’ on campus.

Israeli-born professor Shai Davidai said he would sue the university after he was refused entry to campus because the university “cannot protect my safety as a Jewish professor”.

“This is 1938,” he added, referring to the dismissal of Jewish staff from universities in Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the Holocaust.

They’re fostering a culture of harassment and intimidation focused on Jewish students

Hillel CEO Adam Lehman

The crisis at Columbia set off a chain of encampments, protests and arrests at other US universities.

A pro-Palestinian protest at Yale University turned violent with dozens of arrests.

Yale sophomore and Yale Free Press editor Sahar Tartak said she was surrounded by taunting protesters after she was “singled out for wearing Hasidic Jewish attire”.

“There’s hundreds of people taunting me and waving the middle finger at me, and then this person waves a Palestinian flag in my face and jabs it in my eye,” she said.

At Gould Plaza near New York University, police broke through a barricade of tables and chairs to arrest protesters who had defied university warnings to vacate the plaza.

The University of Southern California cancelled all its planned commencement speakers, after pro-Israel groups voiced concerns about the anti-Israel social media posts of a Muslim-American student who had been scheduled to speak. 

Encampments have sprung up at campuses from Boston to Michigan to North Carolina.

Students across the country said the Columbia arrests only further emboldened them to call for their universities to divest from Israel. Buoyed by the growing number of demonstrations, the national umbrella of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) announced the launch of a cross-campus initiative called “Popular University for Gaza”.

“Over the last 72 hours, SJP chapters across the country have erupted in a fierce display of power targeted at their universities for their endless complicity and profiteering off the genocide in Gaza and colonization of Palestine,” the group posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday afternoon.

Jewish campus groups called on administrators to take stronger action to ensure protests remained controlled. Adam Lehman, CEO of Hillel, said protesters are blatantly and frequently violating the most basic policies and codes of conduct of the colleges.

“These out-of-control encampments are hugely problematic. They are preventing students from taking advantage of the campus activities they’re supposed to be focused on.

“However well-meaning some of the protest activities may be, they’re fostering a culture of harassment and intimidation focused on Jewish students, Israeli students, and in some cases even leading to physical assault.”


Israel, Gaza and divestment: why are Columbia students protesting? (Guardian)

Inspired by Columbia example, pro-Palestinian encampments spring up at colleges nationwide (JTA)

Dozens arrested at Yale; Columbia pauses in-person classes after ‘burn Tel Aviv’ calls (Times of Israel)

‘A culture of harassment’: Hillel’s CEO sees trouble for Jews in new spate of campus clashes (Forward)

Jewish Yale student journalist stabbed in the eye with Palestinian flag during protest (New York Post)


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