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Pro-Palestinian encampments spring up on more US college campuses

New York, US

Pro-Palestinian students have set up tent encampments at more campuses across the US to protest Israel’s incursion into Gaza, after mass arrests at similar demonstrations at a handful of mostly East Coast colleges in recent days.

The expanding protests include plans by a coalition of Jewish groups opposing Israel’s actions to close the Brooklyn street where US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer resides. That protest, on the second night of the week-long Jewish feast of Passover, is one of a dozen the coalition organised in cities around the country.

Students continue to protest into the evening at Columbia University in an encampment in support of Palestinians, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City, US, on 23rd April, 2024, PICTURE: Reuters/Caitlin Ochs

Since Friday, hundreds of students and others were arrested at Columbia, Yale, New York University and other schools.

Critics of the protests, including prominent Republican members of the US Congress, have stepped up accusations of antisemitism and harassment by at least some protesters. Civil rights advocates, including the ACLU, have raised free speech concerns over the arrests.

Among the new encampments, students at the University of California, Berkeley – a school well known for its student activism during the 1960s – set up tents in solidarity with protesters at other schools.

Also in California, the campus of Cal Poly Humboldt, a public university in Arcata, was shut down after pro-Palestinian protesters occupied a campus building.

At the University of Minnesota campus in St Paul, police cleared an encampment after the school asked them to take action, citing violations of university policy and trespassing law.

The new protests follow the arrest of more than 120 protesters on New York University’s campus late on Monday, a New York Police Department spokesperson said. Police said university authorities reached out for help, and protesters failed to clear by the deadline given by the university.

More than 100 students were arrested at Columbia last week, and the New York university canceled in-person classes on Monday in a bid to defuse tensions on campus and out of concern that Jewish students faced possible harassment.

On Tuesday, the school said classes for the rest of the year were hybrid – with students able to attend either online or in person.

Columbia administrators, along with state officials, some members of Congress, and the White House, have alleged that Jewish students have been subjected to antisemitism and harassment by some protesters.

While student organisers have acknowledged that there have been some incidents of extreme rhetoric, they have pointed out that some protesters are themselves Jewish and insisted that “inflammatory individuals” do not represent their anti-war movement.

Police watch as demonstrators protest near a closed entrance of Columbia University where students continue to protest in support of Palestinians, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City, US, on 23rd April, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters /Caitlin Ochs

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said authorities had identified people not connected with the universities causing problems at the mostly peaceful protests.

“We can’t have outside agitators come in and be disruptive,” he said in a press conference.

Allegations of antisemitism in these protests in the US were also the subject of a call between Vice President Kamala Harris and Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Tuesday.

“The Vice President condemned this reprehensible antisemitism as well as the rise antisemitism around the world, and she underscored her and President Biden’s commitment to speak out against it,” the White House said after the call.

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On Monday, student organisers from the Columbia encampment pushed back on such criticism, noting Jewish groups in the protests like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow and saying news outlets had focused on “inflammatory individuals who do not represent us.”

“We firmly reject any form of hate or bigotry and stand vigilant against non-students attempting to disrupt the solidarity being forged among students – Palestinian, Muslim, Arab, Jewish, Black and pro-Palestinian classmates and colleagues,” the organisers said.

In Brooklyn, protesters will hold a Passover Seder, a ritual holiday meal and service, while urging Schumer, the highest elected Jewish American, to support an end to providing US weapons for Israel’s war in Gaza, organisers added.

“Hundreds will risk arrest while demanding Senator Schumer, who has recently spoken sharply against Netanyahu, take the next step and stop arming Israel,” the statement said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The latest escalation of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict began on 7th October, when Palestinian Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 and taking scores of hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s military assault on Hamas-governed Gaza in retaliation has since killed over 34,000, according to the local health ministry. The assault has displaced nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3 million population and caused a humanitarian crisis, with Gaza also suffering from widespread hunger.

– With reporting by BRENDAN O’BRIEN in Chicago, ANDREW HAY in New Mexico and JULIA HARTE in New York


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