Tensions flare at US universities over Gaza protests

Tensions flare at US universities over Gaza protests
Tensions flare at US universities over Gaza protests

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Pro-Palestinian protesters gather outside of Columbia University in New York City April 18, 2024. — AFP pic

NEW YORK, April 23 — Classes at Columbia University were shifted online yesterday as protests over the Israel-Hamas war heightened tensions on US campuses and led to dozens of arrests at Yale University.

A large group of demonstrators has established a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” on lawns at Columbia, with some Jewish students at the prestigious New York institution reporting intimidation and anti-Semitism amid the days-long protest.

In an open letter to the university community, Columbia’s president Nemat Shafik said there needed to be “a reset.”

“Over the past days, there have been too many examples of intimidating and harassing behaviour on our campus,” she said.

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“Anti-Semitic language, like any other language that is used to hurt and frighten people, is unacceptable and appropriate action will be taken.

“To deescalate the rancor and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday,” she added.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators began their protest last week, calling for the university to divest from companies that have ties to Israel.

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More than 100 of them were arrested after university authorities called the police onto the private campus on Thursday, a move that seemingly escalated tensions and sparked a greater turnout on the weekend.

Protests also spread to MIT, New York University, the University of Michigan and Yale, where at least 47 people had been arrested yesterday after refusing requests to disperse.

“The university made the decision to arrest those individuals who would not leave the plaza with the safety and security of the entire Yale community in mind and to allow access to university facilities by all members of our community,” the Ivy League university said in a statement.

“Students who were arrested also will be referred for Yale disciplinary action, which includes a range of sanctions, such as reprimand, probation, or suspension.”

Universities have become the focus of intense cultural debate in the United States since the October 7 Hamas attack and Israel’s overwhelming military response to it.

Columbia’s Shafik said she was establishing a working group of university staff to try to chart a way out of an impasse that was drawing in non-students.

“The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days. 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,” she wrote.

President Joe Biden yesterday said he condemned “the anti-Semitic protests.”

“I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians,” he told reporters, without further details

New York Mayor Eric Adams vowed that police would arrest anyone breaking the law.

“At no time should we call for the destruction of anyone, should we call for violence towards anyone — that is not what protesting is about,” he told CNN yesterday. — AFP

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