Gaza Protests: Rising Tensions Among America's Elite Universities

In recent days, there have been several examples of “intimidating and harassing behavior on our campus,” Columbia President Nemat Shafik wrote in an open letter. “Anti-Semitic statements and other statements intended to offend and intimidate people are unacceptable and will be dealt with appropriately,” he continued.

A statement posted Monday on Columbia University's website said, “I am announcing that all classes will be virtually closed on Monday to give everyone an opportunity to consider next steps.”

APA/AFP/Getty Images/David Dee Delgado

A protester was arrested at the entrance to Columbia University in New York

Mass arrests in Colombia

Pro-Palestinian protests began last week calling for the university to divest from institutions linked to Israel. More than 100 protesters were arrested after the university called police to the private campus on Thursday. Tensions then seemed to rise, and turnout was even higher over the weekend. The protest spread to other universities as well.

Protest camps have been set up at other US universities

Most recently, several protesters were arrested at NYU on Monday evening. Hours earlier, nearly 50 protesters were arrested at Yale University, the BBC reported. The university said those arrested had ignored “numerous requests” to leave.

The New York Times reports that Harvard Yard, the oldest part of Harvard University, is closed. University officials also suspended a pro-Palestinian solidarity group on Monday, the student group announced on Instagram. They were ordered to cease “all institutional activities” for the remainder of the semester or risk permanent expulsion, the Harvard Crimson student newspaper reported.

Protest camps similar to the one that broke out at Columbia University last week have reportedly been set up at the University of California at Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, Emerson College and Tufts.

Tents of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia University in New York

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Tents of pro-Palestinian demonstrators on the grounds of Columbia University in New York

Since Hamas's unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 and the resulting war in the Gaza Strip, America's elite universities have been deeply divided over the war in the Middle East. Students, professors and administrators engage in bitter arguments that have spilled over into online networks. It includes accusations of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and threats to freedom of expression.

“Reprehensible”: Biden condemns anti-Semitic protests

US President Joe Biden has condemned “reprehensible” anti-Semitic incidents at the country's universities over the debate over the Gaza war. “This blatant anti-Semitism is reprehensible and dangerous — and has no place on a college campus or anywhere in our country,” he said.

The rabbi of the Jewish student body at Columbia University previously recommended that Jewish students stay home amid ongoing pro-Palestinian protests on campus. Rabbi Eli Buchler wrote to students that recent events “have made it clear” that the university's public safety services and the New York Police Department “cannot guarantee the safety of Jewish students.”

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