Anti-Israel protesters dig in as some US schools clamp down on encampments

Reports of antisemitic activity prompt action by officials on some campuses; 100 protesters arrested at Boston’s Northeastern University, where school says ‘kill the Jews’ slur used

A George Washington University student works on a school assignment while joining other students in protests at George Washington University in Washington,, April 27, 2024. Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protests and encampments have sprung up on college and university campuses across the country. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
A George Washington University student works on a school assignment while joining other students in protests at George Washington University in Washington,, April 27, 2024. Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protests and encampments have sprung up on college and university campuses across the country. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

NEW YORK — As pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel students protesting the Gaza war at college campuses across the US dug in Saturday and vowed to keep their demonstrations going, some universities moved to shut down encampments after reports of antisemitic activity among the protesters.

With the death toll mounting in the war in Gaza, anti-Israel protesters nationwide are demanding that schools cut financial ties to the country and divest from companies they say are enabling the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

Early Saturday, police in riot gear cleared an encampment on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston. Massachusetts State Police said about 102 protesters were arrested and will be charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct. Protesters said they were given about 15 minutes to disperse before being arrested.

As workers pulled down tents and bagged up the debris from the encampment, several dozen people across from the encampment chanted, “Let the Kids Go,” and slogans against the war in Gaza. They also booed as police cars passed and taunted the officers who stood guard over the encampment.

The school said in a statement that the demonstration, which began two days ago, had become “infiltrated by professional organizers” with no affiliation to the school and antisemitic slurs, including “kill the Jews,” had been used.

“We cannot tolerate this kind of hate on our campus,” the statement posted on the social media platform X said.

A chalk statement is seen on the road leading to the George Washington University Yard as students protest the Israel-Hamas war, in Washington, Saturday, April 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The Huskies for a Free Palestine student group disputed the university’s account, saying in a statement that counter-protesters were to blame for the slurs and no student protesters “repeated the disgusting hate speech.”

Students at the protest said a counter-protester attempted to instigate hate speech but insisted their event was peaceful and, like many across the country, was aimed at drawing attention to what they described as the “genocide” in Gaza and their university’s complicity in the war.

The University of Pennsylvania took similar action to Northeastern on Friday, when interim President J. Larry Jameson called for an encampment of protesters on the west Philadelphia campus to be disbanded, saying it violates the university’s facilities policies, though about 40 tents remained in place Saturday morning.

The “harassing and intimidating comments and actions” by some protesters violate the school’s open expression guidelines as well as state and federal law, Jameson said, and vandalism of a statue with antisemitic graffiti was “especially reprehensible and will be investigated as a hate crime.”

A faculty group said Saturday that it was “deeply disturbed” by the university president’s email, saying it included “unsubstantiated allegations” that “have been disputed to us by faculty and students who have attended and observed the demonstration.”

A George Washington University police officer stands near the statue of George Washington in the University Yard as pro-Palestinian students protest the Israel-Hamas war, at George Washington University in Washington, Saturday, April 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The university’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors said Jameson’s statement “mischaracterizes the overall nature of an antiwar protest that necessarily involves strong emotions on both sides but has not, to our knowledge, involved any actual violence or threats of violence to individuals on our campus.”

Student protesters say they are drawing attention to the war in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack into Israel, in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took another 250 people hostage. An Israeli offensive to remove the group from power in the enclave has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The figure cannot be independently verified. Israel says its forces have killed over 13,000 terror operatives.

The war has also displaced about 80% of the population and pushed hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of famine, according to international aid groups.

Israel and its supporters have branded the protests as antisemitic, while critics of Israel say it uses such allegations to silence opponents. Although some protesters have been caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, organizers of the protests, some of whom are Jewish, argue it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

Pro-Israeli demonstrators gather near a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel encampment on the UCLA campus Thursday, April 25, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

At Columbia University, where protesters have inspired pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrations across the country, students representing the encampment said Friday that they had reached an impasse with administrators and intended to continue their protest.

The university’s senate passed a resolution Friday that created a task force to examine the administration’s leadership, which last week called in police in an attempt to clear the protest, resulting in scuffles and more than 100 arrests.

Though the university has repeatedly set and then pushed back deadlines for the removal of the encampment, the school sent an email to students Friday night saying that bringing back police “at this time” would be counterproductive.

Anti-Israel protesters camp out in tents at Columbia University on Saturday, April 27, 2024 in New York (AP Photo)

Also Friday, student protester Khymani James walked back comments made in an online video in January that recently received new attention. James said in the video that “Zionists don’t deserve to live” and people should be grateful James wasn’t killing them.

“What I said was wrong,” James said in a statement. “Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification.”

James, who served as a spokesperson for the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel encampment as a member of Columbia University Apartheid Divest, was banned from campus Friday, according to a Columbia spokesperson.

Khymani James, a leader of the anti-Israeli protests at Columbia University, seen in a January 2024 video in which he said ‘Zionists don’t deserve to live’ (Video screenshot)

Protest organizers said James’ comments didn’t reflect their values. They declined to describe James’ level of involvement with the demonstration.

The Guardian reported Friday that protests against Israel had reached 40 campuses throughout the US.

Decisions to call in law enforcement, leading to hundreds of arrests nationwide, have prompted school faculty members at universities in California, Georgia and Texas to initiate or pass votes of no confidence in their leadership. They are largely symbolic rebukes, without the power to remove their presidents.

But the tensions pile pressure on school officials, who are already scrambling to resolve the protests as May graduation ceremonies near.

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, gave protesters who have barricaded themselves inside a building since Monday until 5 p.m. Friday to leave and “not be immediately arrested.” The deadline came and went. Only some of the protesters left; others doubled down. After protesters rebuffed police earlier in the week, the campus was closed for the rest of the semester.

In Colorado, police swept through an encampment Friday at Denver’s Auraria Campus, which hosts three universities and colleges, arresting about 40 protesters on trespassing charges.

In France, students at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, which counts President Emmanuel Macron among its many famous alumni, students blocked access to a campus building and classes went online as the wave of protests reached overseas.

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