Spiraling out of control: pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses up the ante

Hundreds of protesters set up tents at Yale, 50 arrested; Columbia University moving to partial remote learning as President Minouche Shafik under pressure from GOP legislators to resign for 'losing control' of students

Last week, over 100 students were detained during a pro-Palestinian rally at Columbia University in New York. Similarly, New York University (NYU) saw the arrest of dozens of students on Monday night who, along with faculty members, occupied a central campus plaza in protest against the university's alleged backing of Israel, refusing to vacate the area.
At Yale University in Connecticut, approximately 50 pro-Palestinian students were taken into custody after they erected tents in the campus's main plaza and remained there, demanding that the university stop "supporting the massacre in Gaza" with its investments in Israel. The demonstration drew participation from hundreds of students. Fearing similar disturbances, Harvard University preemptively closed its main plaza.
At Yale, protesters, including students and staff, set up tents and displayed signs advocating for a boycott of Israel, some of which called for the dismantling of the "Zionist settler state." The university warned the protesters that failure to clear the plaza might lead to their expulsion from studies, explaining that the arrests were conducted with the safety and security of the Yale community in mind.
Sahar Tertek, an Israeli student at Yale University, alleged she was stabbed in the eye by a protester wielding a stick topped with a Palestinian flag, necessitating medical attention. "What's going to happen now is that more students will end up like me, beaten, and in a few years, these gangsters will dominate the universities," she told Ynet. "Violence is the core of this movement - violence against Jews and violence against the West."
Another Israeli student at the university, Roee Benya, expressed no fear regarding the campus protests. "I'm not afraid to come to campus and I don’t know anyone who is," he stated. "Yes, there have been arrests. Yes, they create a lot of noise. But to my knowledge and based on my personal feelings, I see no reason to hesitate about walking around campus, even near the protest areas. It's certainly disappointing to see the trend of students joining the pro-Palestinian protests, as many seem to get carried away with support without truly understanding what they are endorsing."
President Joe Biden addressed yesterday the turbulent protests against Israel that have taken place in recent days at Columbia University, saying: "In recent days, we have seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is dangerous and must be condemned, and I say unequivocally that there is no place for it on campuses, or anywhere else in our country." Later, he added: "I condemn the antisemitic protests. That's why I initiated a program to address this. I also condemn those who fail to understand what is happening with the Palestinians."
Last week, over 100 students were detained amidst a pro-Palestinian demonstration at Columbia University, where they occupied large sections and erected tents on the campus greens. Prior to this disturbance, the university's president, Minouche Shafik, faced a congressional hearing where Republican legislators criticized the institution as "one of the worst educational institutions in dealing with antisemitism and expressions of hatred."
The "Halel" organization, serving as the official Jewish student center at the university, disregarded a rabbi's suggestion from within the group and announced that the center would continue to operate to assist students and would proceed with the planned Passover Seder on campus. Nevertheless, the organization highlighted their expectation for more robust actions from both the university and the New York City authorities to safeguard Jewish students. "We call on the university administration to act immediately to restore peace to the campus. The city must ensure that students can walk the streets without fear of harassment," the statement declared.
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מחאות נגד ישראל באוניברסיטת ניו יורק שבארה"ב
מחאות נגד ישראל באוניברסיטת ניו יורק שבארה"ב
NYU demonstrators
(Photo: AFP)
In response to last week's intense protests, Columbia University declared yesterday that it will implement partial remote learning. The administration has directed all faculties and lecturers to provide students who prefer not to come to campus with the option to participate in classes and complete exams online. Following this directive, many lecturers indicated they would transition their courses to a fully online format until stability is restored. The university administration expressed its concern for the safety of Jewish students and is offering them support.

Political officials responding

Republican Elise Stefanik, who is being considered as a potential VP candidate on Trump's ticket, called for the immediate resignation of university president Shafik, criticizing the university's leadership for having "clearly lost control of the campus." Additionally, Virginia Foxx, Chair of the House Education Committee and also a Republican, issued a warning to Columbia University leaders in a letter. She cautioned that failure to manage the protests could lead to serious consequences for the institution, including the potential cessation of financial aid.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates, speaking to CNN, stated, "While every American indeed has the right to protest non-violently, the calls for violence against Jewish students and against the Jewish community are blatant antisemitism, dangerous and utterly unacceptable." Bates did not provide specific examples of these calls.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared that threats against Jewish students constitute acts of violence. New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced an increase in police presence around the campus "to protect the students and all New Yorkers in the nearby streets." He characterized the antisemitism in the vicinity as "shocking and repulsive."
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מחאות נגד ישראל באוניברסיטת ניו יורק שבארה"ב
מחאות נגד ישראל באוניברסיטת ניו יורק שבארה"ב
Waving Palestinian flags
(Photo: AFP)
Adams stated, "These are professional agitators who seek to exploit the ongoing conflict in the Middle East to sow chaos and division in our city. They will not succeed. New York will not be a city of lawlessness. I am appalled by the antisemitism emanating from and around the campus. Supporting a terrorist organization that aims to kill Jews is nauseating and disgraceful. As I have said repeatedly, there is no place for hatred in our city, and I have directed the New York Police to investigate any breach of the law. Rest assured, the New York Police will not hesitate to arrest anyone found violating the law."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Jewish Democratic Senator from New York, also expressed his disapproval of the protests against Israel at Columbia University. He remarked, "University campuses must be places of learning and discussion. Every American has the right to protest, but when protests turn into antisemitism, verbal abuse, intimidation, or glorification of violence like the October 7 attacks against Jews - it crosses the line. Campuses must remain safe for all students."
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