Anti-Israel encampment cleared at University of Chicago, but protests continue

Rhode Island School of Design hold talks with protesters occupying a building, while MIT deals with new encampment on site previously cleared of demonstrators

Illustrative: An anti-Israel protester leads chants at the university's police as they are kept from the university's quad while the student encampment is dismantled at the University of Chicago, on May 7, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Illustrative: An anti-Israel protester leads chants at the university's police as they are kept from the university's quad while the student encampment is dismantled at the University of Chicago, on May 7, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Police cleared an anti-Israel tent encampment at the University of Chicago on Tuesday as tensions ratcheted up in standoffs with demonstrators at other college campuses around the United States — and increasingly, in Europe.

Nearly three weeks into a movement launched by a protest at Columbia University in New York, the Rhode Island School of Design held talks with anti-Israel protesters occupying a building, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology dealt with a new encampment on a site that was cleared but immediately retaken by demonstrators.

The confrontations come as campuses try a range of strategies, from appeasement to threats of disciplinary action, to resolve the anti-Israel protests and clear the way for commencements.

At the University of Chicago, protesters numbering in the several hundreds had gathered in an area known as the Quad for at least eight days. Campus administrators warned them Friday to leave the area or face removal.

Police in riot gear blocked access to the Quad early Tuesday as law enforcement dismantled the encampment. Officers picked up a barricade and moved it toward protesters, some of whom chanted, “Up up with liberation, down down with occupation!” Police and protesters pushed back and forth along the barricade as the officers moved to reestablish control.

At MIT, protesters were given a Monday afternoon deadline to voluntarily leave or face suspension. Many left, according to an MIT spokesperson, who said protesters breached fencing after the arrival of demonstrators from outside the university. On Monday night, dozens of protesters remained at the encampment in a calmer atmosphere, listening to speakers and chanting before taking a pizza break.

Workers remove tents and debris from an anti-Israel encampment set up in front of Geisel Library at UC San Diego, Monday, May 6, 2024. Police cleared the campus encampment early morning Monday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

Sam Ihns, a graduate student at MIT studying mechanical engineering and a member of MIT Jews for a Ceasefire — who state that they are “Jewish MIT students/staff/faculty/alumni in solidarity with Palestine,” and are calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza — said that the group has been at the encampment for two weeks.

“Specifically, our encampment is protesting MIT’s direct research ties to the Israeli Ministry of Defense,” Ihns said.

No arrests had been made as of Monday night, according to the MIT spokesperson.

At the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where students started occupying a building Monday, a spokesperson said that the school affirms students’ rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly and that it supports all members of its community. The RISD president and provost were on site meeting with the demonstrators, the spokesperson said.

Protests proliferate in Europe

The anti-Israel student protests have spread to Europe, where they are gaining momentum. Police arrested about 125 activists Tuesday as they broke up a camp at the University of Amsterdam, and German police dismantled an occupation at Berlin’s Free University. Students have also held protests or set up encampments in Finland, Denmark, Italy, Spain, France and Britain.

Students blocking the Sciences-Po University flash the V sign, April 26, 2024 in Paris. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Schaeffer)

Many protesters want their schools to divest from companies that do business with Israel. Others simply want to call attention to the deaths in Gaza and to end the war that was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, in which some 1,200 people were killed in Israel and 252 were taken hostage, mostly civilians.

Anti-Israel demonstrations at Columbia University, where the protest movement began about three weeks ago, have roiled its campus. Officials on Monday canceled its large main ceremony but said students will be able to celebrate at a series of smaller, school-based ceremonies this week and next.

Columbia had already canceled in-person classes. More than 200 demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia’s green or occupied an academic building were arrested in recent weeks.

Similar encampments sprouted up elsewhere, leading universities to struggle with where to draw the line between allowing free expression while maintaining safe and inclusive campuses.

A New York City police officer walks past seating that was to be used for a large graduation ceremony at Columbia University in New York, May 6, 2024. (Seth Wenig/AP)

The University of Southern California earlier canceled its main graduation ceremony. Students abandoned their camp at USC on Sunday after being surrounded by police and threatened with arrest. Other universities have held graduation ceremonies with beefed-up security. The University of Michigan’s ceremony was interrupted by anti-Israel chanting a few times Saturday.

A group of faculty and staff members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill asked the administration for amnesty for student protesters who were recently arrested and suspended.

Harvard University’s interim president, Alan Garber, warned students that those in an encampment in Harvard Yard could face “involuntary leave,” meaning they would not be allowed on campus, could lose their student housing and might not be able to take exams.

At the University of California, San Diego, police cleared an encampment and arrested more than 64 people, including 40 students. The University of California, Los Angeles moved classes online for the week due to disruptions following the dismantling of an encampment last week that resulted in 44 reported arrests.

Illustrative: Police patrol as workers clean up anti-Israel graffiti at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus after police evicted pro-Palestinian protesters, May 2, 2024. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP)

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 34,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7, and 267 Israeli soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.

Hamas on Monday announced its acceptance of an Egyptian-Qatari temporary ceasefire proposal, and Israel said that it was pushing ahead with an IDF operation on the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Israel said the truce deal was “far from [its] essential demands,” but nonetheless would continue to send working-level teams to hold talks with the mediators in order “to exhaust the possibility of achieving an agreement on terms that are acceptable to Israel,”

The decision to move ahead with the Rafah operation was “in order to apply military pressure on Hamas, with the goal of making progress on freeing the hostages and the other war aims.”

“Ceasefires are temporary,” said Selina Al-Shihabi, a Georgetown University sophomore who was taking part in a protest at George Washington. “There can be a ceasefire, but the US government will continue to arm the Israeli military. We plan to be here until the university divests or until they drag us out of here.”

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