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Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US colleges following arrests at Columbia

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates of Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday as some of America’s most popular universities most prestigious sought to defuse tensions on campus. on Israel’s war against Hamas.

More than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters camped on Columbia Green were arrested last week, and similar encampments have sprung up at universities across the country as schools struggle to figure out where to go. Draw the line between enabling free speech while maintaining safe and inclusive campuses.

At New York University, a student-organized encampment hosted hundreds of protesters throughout the day Monday. The school said it warned the crowd to leave, then called police after the scene became disorderly, and the university said it was aware of reports of “intimidation chants and several anti-Semitic incidents.” Shortly after 8:30 p.m., police began making arrests.

“It’s a truly outrageous crackdown by the university to allow police to arrest students on our own campus,” said Byul Yoon, a law student at New York University.

“Anti-Semitism is never acceptable. This is absolutely not what we stand for and that is why there are so many Jewish comrades here with us today,” Yoon said.

The protests have pitted students against each other, with pro-Palestinian students demanding that their schools condemn the Israeli attack on Gaza and divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel. Some Jewish students, meanwhile, say much of the criticism of Israel has veered into anti-Semitism and put them in danger, and they point out that Hamas still holds hostages taken during the the group’s invasion on October 7.

Tensions remained high Monday at Columbia, where campus gates were closed to anyone without a school ID and protests broke out both on and off campus.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Manning, a North Carolina Democrat who was visiting Columbia with three other Jewish members of Congress, told reporters after meeting with students from the Jewish Law Students Association that there was ” a huge camp of people” who had taken care of a third of the green.

“We saw signs that Israel must be destroyed,” she said after leaving the Morningside Heights campus. Columbia announced Monday that classes at the Morningside campus will offer virtual options to students when possible, citing safety as their top priority.

A woman inside the campus gates led about two dozen protesters into the street chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” » — a loaded phrase that can mean very different things to different groups. A small group of pro-Israel counter-protesters protested nearby.

University President Minouche Shafik said in a message to the school community Monday that she was “deeply saddened” by what was happening on campus.

“To ease hard feelings and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday,” Shafik wrote, noting that students who do not live on campus should remain at the gap.

Protests have rocked many university campuses since Hamas’ decision. deadly attack in southern Israel, when militants killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostages. During the ensuing war, Israel killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants but says at least two thirds of the dead are children and women.

On Sunday, Elie Buechler, rabbi of the Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative in Columbia, sent a WhatsApp message to nearly 300 Jewish students recommending they return home until it was safer on the campus.

The latest developments took place before the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover on Monday evening.

Nicholas Baum, a 19-year-old Jewish freshman who lives in a Jewish theological seminary two blocks from the Columbia campus, said the weekend protesters were “calling on Hamas to blow up Tel Aviv and Israel “. He said some of the protesters shouting anti-Semitic slurs were not students.

“Jews are afraid in Columbia. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “There has been so much defamation of Zionism, and that has carried over into the defamation of Judaism. »

The protest encampment sprung up in Columbia on Wednesday, the same day as Shafik faces harsh criticism during a congressional hearing by Republicans who said she had not done enough to combat anti-Semitism. Two others Ivy League presidents resigned a few months ago, following widely criticized testimony they gave before the same committee.

In her statement Monday, Shafik said the conflict in the Middle East was terrible and that she understood that many people were experiencing deep moral distress.

“But we cannot let one group dictate its terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance its point of view,” Shafik wrote.

Over the next few days, a task force of deans, school administrators and professors will try to find a solution to the academic crisis, noted Shafik, who did not say when in-person classes would resume.

Republicans in the New York House of Representatives urged Shafik to resign, saying in a statement letter As of Monday, she had failed to provide a safe learning environment in recent days as “anarchy engulfed the campus.”

In Massachusetts, a sign indicated that Harvard Yard was closed to the public on Monday. He said structures, including tents and tables, were only allowed into the yard with prior permission. “Students who violate these policies may be subject to disciplinary action,” the sign states. Security guards checked students’ ID cards.

The same day, the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee said the university administration had suspended its group. In the suspension notice provided by the student organization, the university wrote that the group’s April 19 protest violated school policy and that the organization failed to complete required trainings after they were implemented. to the test.

The Palestine Solidarity Committee said in a statement that they were suspended for technical reasons and that the university did not provide written clarification of its policies when asked.

“Harvard has shown us time and time again that Palestine remains the exception to free expression,” the group wrote in a statement.

Harvard did not respond to an email request for comment.

At Yale, officers arrested about 45 protesters and charged them with misdemeanor trespassing, said Officer Christian Bruckhart, a New Haven police spokesman. All were released on a promise to appear in court later, he said.

Protesters set up tents in Beinecke Plaza on Friday and demonstrated throughout the weekend, calling on Yale to end all investment in defense companies that do business with Israel.

In a statement to the campus community Sunday, Yale President Peter Salovey said university officials had repeatedly spoken to student protesters about the school’s policies and guidelines, including those regarding speech and authorization of access to campus spaces.

School officials said they gave protesters until the end of the weekend to leave Beinecke Plaza. They said they warned protesters again Monday morning and told them they risked arrest and punishment, or even suspension, before police intervened.

A large group of protesters gathered after Monday’s arrests at Yale and blocked a street near the campus, Bruckhart said. No cases of violence or injuries were reported.

Prahlad Iyengar, an MIT graduate student studying electrical engineering, was among about 20 students who set up a tent encampment on the school’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on Sunday evening. They are calling for a ceasefire and protesting what they describe as “MIT’s complicity in the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” he said.

“MIT hasn’t even called for a ceasefire, and that’s a demand we certainly have,” Iyengar said. ___

Perry reported from Meredith, New Hampshire, and Collins reported from Hartford, Connecticut. Associated Press writers Steve LeBlanc in Boston and Susan Haigh in Hartford contributed to this report.

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