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Renewed tensions around pro-Palestinian demonstrations on American campuses

Photo: David Dee Delgado Getty Images via Agence France-Presse This pro-Palestinian student was arrested Monday at Columbia University.

Ana Fernandez – Agence France-Presse and Paul Nolp – Agence France-Presse respectively in New York and Washington

Posted at 7:17 a.m.

  • United States

Tensions electrified American campuses on Monday, with pro-Palestinian demonstrators saying they were determined, despite the strong police presence, to fight for their freedom of expression against the right who accused them of anti-Semitism.

Under a spring sun on Monday, dozens of tents are pitched on the large esplanade of Columbia University in New York, occupied by demonstrators denouncing the war waged by Israel in Gaza, a Palestinian territory in the grip of a humanitarian disaster.

At the entrance to the camp, a group of students distribute masks and control entries. “We undertake not to share names or information about anyone […], not even to the police or the administration,” one poster reads.

Since Thursday and the arrest of around a hundred people during a rally on campus, tensions have continued to increase, first at Columbia then on numerous campuses in the country.

Columbia President Nemat Shafik decided Monday that all classes would be held remotely and called in a statement to “put things back in the right direction.” 'order'.

“We will stay here until they speak to us and listen to our requests,” Mimi Elias, a student, told AFP who said she was one of those arrested and since suspended by the university.

“99% of people are here for the liberation of Palestine,” she argues. “We are not for anti-Semitism, nor for Islamophobia. We want the liberation of everyone.”

These demonstrations “turned into a question about freedom of expression”, a student summarized to AFP not supporting either side, and who did not wish to give his name.

Renewed tensions around pro-Palestinian demonstrations on American campuses

Photo: Stefan Jeremiah Associated Press Columbia University professors spoke out Monday to defend free speech for pro-Palestinian protesters.

“Say what you have to say”

“One of the most important things about being a student is being able to explore and say what we have to say, without being punished and without the police arriving on campus,” he insists.

The arrests were “ the nuclear option”, regrets Joseph Howley, professor of Greek and Latin at Columbia, believing that the university has “made the situation worse”.

Member of a group of pro-Palestinian teachers, he accuses “the American extreme right” of wanting to muzzle “political opinions that it does not like.” “Today it’s about Israel and Palestine. Next week, it will be on racial or gender issues, vaccines or the climate,” he worries.

The debate rages within the academic world between, on the one hand, those who denounce the demonstrations causing, according to them, a rise in anti-Semitism, and on the other, those who defend freedom of expression, in 'occurrence in favor of the Palestinian cause.

“This is a very, very sensitive subject. We're trying to do our best,” Mike Gerber, the New York Police Department's head of legal affairs, said Monday. “No form of violence will be tolerated.”

Further south of Manhattan, the campus of New York University (NYU) is also under tension. Management asked demonstrators to evacuate a place. Police began arresting students Monday evening, according to the New York Times.

Renewed tensions around pro-Palestinian demonstrations on American campuses

Photo: Stefan Jeremiah Associated Press Shai Davidai, an assistant professor at Columbia University, was unable to access campus Monday because his access card was deactivated to avoid any confrontation with protesters. He later read aloud the names of Israelis still held by Hamas.


On the campus of Yale University, north of New York, hundreds of Students waved pro-Palestinian flags and signs. At least 47 people were arrested, according to a university press release Monday.

In Boston, Rayan Amim, a student at Emerson College, told AFP they were demonstrating “to relentlessly condemn the ongoing genocide of Palestinians in Gaza and the ethnic cleansing that has lasted for more than 75 years.”

The park in the heart of the Harvard campus is closed to the public for the entire week. A pro-Palestinian group announced its suspension by the university on Instagram.

American campuses have been the scene of tension since the start of the conflict between Israel and Hamas on October 7 .

Denouncing what they consider to be anti-Semitism, Republicans took up the subject in the fall. After a heated hearing in Congress, the former presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard resigned.

That of Columbia, heard last week in Congress, resigned. assured that “anti-Semitism (had) nothing to do on our campus”, which did not prevent calls for his resignation from elected Republican officials, who denounce “anarchy”.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden condemned “anti-Semitic protests” while denouncing “those who do not understand what the Palestinians are going through.”

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116