America's leading schools struggle to expand Gaza protests

  • James Fitzgerald & Bernd Debusman Jr
  • BBC News

video title, WATCH: Dozens of Gaza protesters arrested at Yale University

Protests against the war in Gaza have spread from Columbia and Yale to other universities as officials struggle to contain the growing resistance movement.

Dozens of students were arrested at Yale on Monday, while Columbia canceled in-person classes for fear of anti-Semitism on campus.

Similar protest “camps” have sprung up on other campuses, including Berkeley, California.

School officials are under increasing pressure to calm campus tensions.

Since Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7, demonstrations and heated debates about the Israel-Gaza war and free speech have rocked major US university campuses.

Students on both sides report an increase in incidents of bigotry and Islamophobia.

The anti-campus movement was recently thrust into the global spotlight last week after New York City police were called to the Columbia University campus in New York, where they arrested dozens of protesters.

Since then, campus tensions have risen at many American institutions.

On Monday, nearly 50 protesters were arrested at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where demonstrations swelled to several hundred over the weekend.

The university said the detainees ignored “numerous requests” to leave.

Many protest participants called on Yale to reduce its investments in military weapons manufacturers.

Protest camps have also been established at other universities across the country, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emerson College and Tufts.

At New York University, about eight miles (12 km) south of Columbia, protesters pitched tents across the Stern School of Business.

As has happened at some other universities, NYU protesters have called on the school to release “funds and grants from arms manufacturers and corporations interested in the Israeli occupation.”

However, campus protests were marred by accusations of anti-Semitism.

In one example, videos posted online show some protesters near Colombia expressing support for a Hamas attack on Israel.

Members of protest groups have denied anti-Semitism, arguing that their criticism is reserved for the Israeli state and its supporters.

image caption, Pro-Palestinian students continue to camp out on Columbia University's campus to protest the university's ties to Israel.

However, on Monday, Colombia announced that all classes would be held virtually, with Colombia President Minuch Shafiq citing incidents of “intimidating and harassing behavior” in a statement.

Students who do not live on campus were advised to stay away.

A rabbi affiliated with the university also reportedly sent a message to 300 Jewish Columbia students, warning them to avoid campus until the situation “improves dramatically.”

In his statement, Dr. Shafiq said the tensions on campus were “exploited by individuals not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas.”

A task force has been formed “to try to bring this crisis to a resolution,” he added.

The university and Dr. Shabig — who traveled to Capitol Hill last week to testify before a congressional committee about the university's efforts against the university — are being urged to resolve the situation.

A group of federal lawmakers, led by Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, signed a letter on Monday that Ms Stefanik said “fails to put an end to mobs of students and agitators calling for actions. Terrorism against Jewish students”.

The protests in New York also drew the attention of Democratic Reps. Jared Moskowitz, Josh Gotheimer, Dan Goldman and Kathy Manning, who toured campus.

Rep. Gottheimer said Columbia will “pay the price” if it fails to ensure Jewish students feel welcome and safe at the university.

Meanwhile, North Carolina Republican House Education Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx wrote in a letter posted online that Columbia's “continued failure to restore order and safety” violates obligations that require federal assistance and “must be immediate.” corrected”.

The protests also prompted New England Patriot NFL team owner and Columbia alumnus Robert Kraft to warn that he would end support for the university “until appropriate action is taken.”

However, some faculty members at the university blamed Columbia for handling the protest and calling the police.

In a statement sent to the BBC on Monday evening, Columbia's own Knight First Amendment Institute called for an “urgent course correction”.

It cited university rules to argue that outside officials should be involved only when there is a “clear and present danger to persons, property, or the substantial operation of any unit of the university.”

“Even if unauthorized, we do not know how the encampment and protests caused such danger,” the statement said.

When asked about the campus protests on Monday, President Joe Biden said he condemned “anti-Semitic acts” and “people who don't understand what's going on with the Palestinians.”

In addition to the protests at universities, there have also been widespread demonstrations in the United States over the events in Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian protesters have recently blocked major roads across the country, blocking access to airports including Chicago's O'Hare International and Seattle-Tacoma International, as well as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

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