NATIONAL NEWS

Anti-war protesters dig in as some schools close encampments after reports of antisemitic activity

Apr 26, 2024, 10:48 PM | Updated: Apr 27, 2024, 7:42 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — As students protesting the Israel-Hamas war at college campuses across U.S. dug in Saturday and dozens of demonstrators were arrested, some universities moved to shut down encampments after reports of antisemitic activity.

With the death toll mounting in the war in Gaza, protesters nationwide are demanding that schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say are enabling the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

Early Saturday, police in riot gear cleared an encampment on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston. Massachusetts State Police said about 102 protesters were arrested and will be charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. Protesters said they were given about 15 minutes to disperse before being arrested.

As workers pulled down tents and bagged up the debris from the encampment, several dozen people across from the encampment chanted, “Let the Kids Go,” and slogans against the war in Gaza. They also booed as police cars passed and taunted the officers who stood guard over the encampment.

The school said in a statement that the demonstration, which began two days ago, had become “infiltrated by professional organizers” with no affiliation to the school and antisemitic slurs, including “kill the Jews,” had been used.

“We cannot tolerate this kind of hate on our campus,” the statement posted on the social media platform X said.

The Huskies for a Free Palestine student group disputed the university’s account, saying in a statement that counterprotesters were to blame for the slurs and no student protesters “repeated the disgusting hate speech.”

Students at the protest said a counterprotester attempted to instigate hate speech but insisted their event was peaceful and, like many across the country, was aimed at drawing attention to what they described as the “genocide” in Gaza and their university’s complicity in the war.

The president of nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology put out a statement Saturday saying the encampment there had become a “potential magnet for disruptive outside protesters” and was taking hundreds of staff hours to keep safe.

“We have a responsibility to the entire MIT community — and it is not possible to safely sustain this level of effort,” MIT President Sally Kornbluth said. “We are open to further discussion about the means of ending the encampment. But this particular form of expression needs to end soon.”

Indiana University campus officers and state police arrested 23 people Saturday at an encampment on the school’s Bloomington campus. Tents and canopies had been erected Friday night at Dunn Meadow in violation of school policy, university police said in a release. Members of the group were detained after refusing to remove the structures, police said. Charges ranged from criminal trespass to resisting law enforcement.

At the University of Pennsylvania on Friday, interim President J. Larry Jameson called for an encampment of protesters on the west Philadelphia campus to be disbanded, saying it violates the university’s facilities policies, though about 40 tents remained in place Saturday morning.

The “harassing and intimidating comments and actions” by some protesters violate the school’s open expression guidelines as well as state and federal law, Jameson said, and vandalism of a statue with antisemitic graffiti was “especially reprehensible and will be investigated as a hate crime.”

A faculty group said Saturday that it was “deeply disturbed” by the university president’s email, saying it included “unsubstantiated allegations” that “have been disputed to us by faculty and students who have attended and observed the demonstration.”

The university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors said Jameson’s statement “mischaracterizes the overall nature of an antiwar protest that necessarily involves strong emotions on both sides but has not, to our knowledge, involved any actual violence or threats of violence to individuals on our campus.”

Campus protests began after Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. During the ensuing war, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry.

Israel and its supporters have branded the protests as antisemitic, while critics of Israel say it uses such allegations to silence opponents. Although some protesters have been caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, organizers of the protests, some of whom are Jewish, say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

At Columbia University, where protesters have inspired pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the country, students representing the encampment said Friday that they reached an impasse with administrators and intended to continue their protest.

Though the university has repeatedly set and then pushed back deadlines for the removal of the encampment, the school sent an email to students Friday night saying that bringing back police “at this time” would be counterproductive.

Decisions to call in law enforcement, leading to hundreds of arrests nationwide, have prompted school faculty members at universities in California, Georgia and Texas to initiate or pass votes of no confidence in their leadership. They are largely symbolic rebukes, without the power to remove their presidents.

But the tensions pile pressure on school officials, who are already scrambling to resolve the protests as May graduation ceremonies near.

The University of Southern California drew criticism after refusing to allow the valedictorian, who has publicly supported Palestinians, to make a commencement speech. Administrators then scrapped the keynote speech by filmmaker Jon M. Chu. The school announced the cancellation of its main graduation event Thursday, a day after more than 90 protesters were arrested by police in riot gear.

USC President Carol Folt made her first public statement late Friday addressing the controversies as “incredibly difficult for all of us.”

“No one wants to have people arrested on their campus. Ever. But, when long-standing safety policies are flagrantly violated, buildings vandalized, Department of Public Safety directives repeatedly ignored, threatening language shouted, people assaulted, and access to critical academic buildings blocked, we must act immediately to protect our community,” Folt said.

Arizona State University said 69 people were arrested early Saturday on suspicion of criminal trespassing for setting up an unauthorized encampment on a lawn on its Tempe campus. The protesters were given chances to leave, and those who refused were arrested.

“While the university will continue to be an environment that embraces freedom of speech, ASU’s first priority is to create a safe and secure environment that supports teaching and learning,” the university said in a statement.

___

Perry reported from Meredith, New Hampshire. Associated Press journalists in various locations contributed, including Jacques Billeaud, Aaron Morrison, Stefanie Dazio, Kathy McCormack, Jim Vertuno, Acacia Coronado, Sudhin Thanawala, Jeff Amy, Jeff Martin, Mike Stewart, Collin Binkley, Carolyn Thompson, Jake Offenhartz, Jesse Bedayn and Sophia Tareen.

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Anti-war protesters dig in as some schools close encampments after reports of antisemitic activity