Anger spikes at US universities as Israel-Gaza war protests intensify

Anger spikes at US universities as Israel-Gaza war protests intensify

Pro-Israel supporters and others worried about campus safety have pointed to antisemitic incidents and argue that campuses are encouraging intimidation and hate speech.

NYPD officers detaining pro-Palestinian students and protesters on the campus of New York University on Monday. Photo: TNS

“Students have the right to protest, but they are not allowed to disrupt campus life or harass and intimidate,” Columbia’s vice-president of public affairs Ben Chang told reporters on Monday.

“We are acting on concerns we are hearing from our Jewish students,” he said, adding that university officials were meeting “in good faith” with the demonstrators.

Tensions flare at US universities over Israel-Gaza war protests

Protesters meanwhile – including a number of Jewish students in the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” – say they’ve disavowed instances of antisemitism and are there to support Palestinians.

“My college administration, my representatives in Congress and my own president have continually acted as spokespeople for the Jewish community, equating anti-Zionism with antisemitism,” Jewish student Sarah Borus, from Columbia’s Barnard College, said at a news conference held by Jewish and Palestinian students.

“They silence us, suspend us,” she added.

Protesting students also said they had been called slurs by a pro-Israel professor and that anti-Muslim incidents on campus were being ignored.

But another Jewish student at Columbia, Nick Baum, told CNN he has felt “downright unsafe” on campus in recent days, saying antisemitism there has “reached a boiling point”.

Professors have pushed back since Columbia President Minouche Shafik called in police last week to arrest students, with some announcing they would not enforce student suspensions.

An encampment in support of Palestinians at Columbia University. Photo: Reuters

While there is a long history of campus activism around Israel and the Palestinian cause, flaring tensions amid the war have attracted major media and political scrutiny.

“Jewish students at Columbia University don’t feel safe. It’s become so dangerous that students were forced out of the classroom,” Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson said on Tuesday.

“Let’s be clear: these are not peaceful protests, these are antisemitic mobs.”

Further downtown, 133 people were arrested at New York University (NYU) and released after being issued with court summons, the New York Police Department said, as protests also intensify at other colleges.

An NYU spokesman said the decision to call police to the campus came after additional demonstrators, many of whom were not thought to be affiliated with the university, breached the barriers erected around the protest encampment.

This “dramatically changed” the situation, the spokesman said in a statement on the school’s website Monday, citing “disorderly, disruptive and antagonising behaviour” along with “intimidated chants and several antisemitic incidents”.

On the West Coast, California State Polytechnic University announced it would be closed until at least Wednesday after pro-Palestinian demonstrators occupied an administrative building.

The protests have also drawn the attention of President Joe Biden and his administration.

“Antisemitic hate on college campuses is unacceptable,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona posted on X on Tuesday, expressing concern about the unrest.

That afternoon, hundreds of NYU students and faculty staged a walkout.

There have also been demonstrations at MIT, the University of Michigan, UC Berkeley and Yale, where at least 47 people were arrested Monday after refusing requests to disperse.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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