Drexel University on lockdown as anti-Israel encampment ignores calls to disband

School’s president threatens disciplinary action following ‘distressing reports and images of protesters subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech, signs and chants’

Anti-Israel protesters and Philadelphia police have a standoff along 34th Street at the University of Pennsylvania on  May 17, 2024. (Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)
Anti-Israel protesters and Philadelphia police have a standoff along 34th Street at the University of Pennsylvania on May 17, 2024. (Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

Pro-Palestinian protesters ignored a request by Drexel University’s president to disband their encampment on Monday as arrests linked to anti-Israel protests on US campuses approached the 3,000 mark nationwide.

Drexel’s campus in Philadelphia remained on lockdown, with classes being held virtually as police kept watch over the demonstration on the school’s Korman Quad.

Many Drexel employees were told to work from home.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Drexel president John Fry said as many as 60 protesters were at the encampment, lambasting it as “intolerably disruptive to normal university operations.” He said there were “serious concerns about the conduct of some participants, including distressing reports and images of protesters subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech, signs and chants.” Fry threatened disciplinary action against Drexel students participating in the protest.

The Drexel Palestine Coalition responded on Instagram late Sunday, saying that “it is slander to accuse the encampment of ‘hateful’ or ‘intimidating’ actions when we have done neither.” The group accused Drexel and city police of harassment and intimidation.

No arrests were reported.

New York City police officers take people into custody near the Columbia University campus in New York, April 30, 2024, after a building taken over by protesters earlier in the day was cleared, along with a tent encampment. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Students and others have set up tent encampments on campuses around the country to press colleges to cut financial ties with Israel in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war, which was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, in which some 1,200 people were killed and 252 were taken hostage.

Tensions have been high on campuses since the fall but demonstrations spread quickly following an April 18 police crackdown on an encampment at Columbia University.

Nearly 3,000 people have been arrested on US campuses over the past month. As summer break approaches, there have been fewer new arrests and campuses have been calmer. Still, colleges have been vigilant for disruptions to commencement ceremonies.

The encampment at Drexel, which has about 22,000 students, was set up after several hundred demonstrators marched from Philadelphia’s City Hall to west Philadelphia on Saturday. Nearby, on the University of Pennsylvania campus, university and city police arrested 19 demonstrators Friday night, including six Penn students.

US President Joe Biden delivers a commencement address during Morehouse College’s graduation ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 19, 2024. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP)

Elsewhere, dozens of George Washington University graduates walked out of commencement ceremonies at the base of the Washington Monument on Sunday, disrupting university president Ellen Granberg’s speech, while at Morehouse College in Atlanta, US President Joe Biden told the graduating class that he heard the voices of protest and had called for “an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and the return of hostages taken by Hamas.

Wesleyan University in Connecticut said it has reached agreement with student protesters to review possible divestment, with meetings scheduled for later this month and in the fall. Wesleyan president Michael Roth announced the deal over the weekend and disclosed that 1.7% of Wesleyan’s endowment was invested in aerospace and defense businesses, but that none were directly involved in the manufacture of weapons. He said protesters had agreed to clear their encampment on Monday.

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