Hundreds of students arrested across US in surging pro-Palestine protests

Hundreds of students have been arrested on US campuses as protests against Washington’s support for Israel are surging sea to sea.

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Hundreds of students have been arrested on US campuses as protests against Washington’s support for Israel are surging sea to sea.

By Wednesday, the protests that started last week at the Ivy League Columbia University campus in New York City where more than 100 students were arrested and their tent encampment cleared had skipped across the nation with more of them detained by police, a rare occurrence in the US where police seldom enter campuses to quell protests.

The students are demanding that the US end its support for Israel, which has been embroiled in a war with Hamas in Gaza leading to the deaths of over 30,000 people, most of them women and children.

They also want the universities to cut ties with Israel and divest the investments of their endowments in arms manufacturers.

Students have been arrested at, among others, the University of Texas-Austin, New York University, Yale, Ohio State University, and the University of Southern California.

And, protest tent encampments have cropped up in dozens of universities including Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and University of California-Berkley, copying the Columbia model.

The protest tents were back at Columbia when Mike Johnson, the speaker of the House of Representatives, came there on Wednesday to denounce the protests and demand the resignation of its president, Nemat Minouche Shafik, asserting that she lost control of the university and lawlessness prevailed.

Johnson, a Republican warned universities that they could lose federal funding if they did not control the students, threatened that the National Guard could be deployed to quell the protests, and called on President Joe Biden to intervene.

Students chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” -- which has been interpreted as a call to annihilate Israel -- tried to drown him out as he spoke to reporters.

The surge in protests has pitted the principle of freedom of expression against university norms and the protection of the rights and safety of students.

University administrators are caught in the middle, attacked by both the right that charges them with not doing enough to protect students, and the left that accuses them of being too harsh, especially when disciplinary actions are taken against protesters and police are called in.

Shefak, who was the head of the London School of Economics and is of Egyptian descent, is the first university head in the current wave of protests to call in the police but while Johnson demanded her resignation, university faculty and students have attacked her action.

A disturbing element, though, has crept into the protests with some veering off into communalism targeting Jews based on their religion, leading to a political backlash.

Johnson met with Jewish students at Columbia who said they had been personally threatened because of their religion by some of the protesters.

Some protesters have burned both US and Israeli flags and made threats on behalf of Hamas to attack Tel Aviv.

“We just cannot let this kind of hatred and anti-Semitism flourish in our campuses”, Johnson said.

In the climate of heightened tensions, Muslims have also faced attacks and the office of the Islamic Life Center at Rutgers was vandalised.