George Washington U grads storm out of graduation ceremony in anti-Israel protest

Protesters heard chanting ‘there is only one solution, intifada revolution’ after leaving; students at Drexel University in Pennsylvania set up new encampment on campus

George Washington University students carry a sign during an anti-Israel protest as George Washington University President Ellen Granberg speaks at a commencement ceremony in Washington, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
George Washington University students carry a sign during an anti-Israel protest as George Washington University President Ellen Granberg speaks at a commencement ceremony in Washington, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Dozens of George Washington University graduates walked out of commencement ceremonies on Sunday, disrupting university President Ellen Granberg’s speech, in protest over the ongoing war in Gaza and last week’s clearing of an on-campus protest encampment that involved police use of pepper spray and dozens of arrests.

The ceremony, at the base of the Washington Monument, started peacefully with fewer than 100 protesters demonstrating across the street in front of the Museum of African American History and Culture.

But as Granberg began speaking, at least 70 students among the graduates started chanting and raising signs and Palestinian flags.

The students then noisily walked out as Granberg spoke, crossing the street to a rapturous response from the protesters.

In video shared on social media, some protesters could be heard chanting in Arabic: “From the water to the water, Palestine is Arab.” Some also chanted “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.”

The protesters could be seen holding signs reading “your tuition funds genocide,” “divest now,” and waving Palestinian flags, with many of them sporting keffiyehs. They were also joined by a small group of Neturei Karta, the fringe anti-Zionist Hassidic sect.

Meanwhile pro-Palestinian protesters set up a new encampment at Drexel University in Philadelphia over the weekend, prompting a lockdown of school buildings, a day after authorities thwarted an attempted occupation of a school building at the neighboring University of Pennsylvania campus.

After several hundred demonstrators marched from Philadelphia’s City Hall to west Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, Drexel said in a statement that about 75 protesters began to set up an encampment on the Korman Quad on the campus. About a dozen tents remained Sunday, blocked off by barricades and monitored by police officers. No arrests were reported.

Drexel President John Fry said in a message Saturday night that the encampment “raises understandable concerns about ensuring everyone’s safety,” citing what he called “many well-documented instances of hateful speech and intimidating behavior at other campus demonstrations.” University buildings were “open only to those with clearance from Drexel’s Public Safety,” he said.

Authorities at Drexel, which has about 22,000 students, were monitoring the demonstration to ensure it was peaceful and didn’t disrupt normal operations, and that “participants and passersby will behave respectfully toward one another,” Fry said.

“We will be prepared to respond quickly to any disruptive or threatening behavior by anyone,” Fry said, vowing not to tolerate property destruction, “harassment or intimidation” of students or staff or threatening behavior of any kind, including “explicitly racist, antisemitic, or Islamophobic” speech. Anyone not part of the Drexel community would not be allowed “to trespass into our buildings and student residences,” he said.

Anti-Israel protesters march from Philadelphia City Hall to University of Drexel Campus where they set up an encampment in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 18, 2024. (Matthew Hatcher / AFP)

On Friday night, members of Penn Students Against the Occupation of Palestine had announced an action at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fisher-Bennett Hall, urging supporters to bring “flags, pots, pans, noise-makers, megaphones” and other items.

The university said campus police, supported by city police, removed the demonstrators Friday night, arresting 19 people, including six University of Pennsylvania students. The university’s division of public safety said officials found “lock-picking tools and homemade metal shields,” and exit doors secured with zip ties and barbed wire, windows covered with newspaper and cardboard and entrances blocked.

Authorities said seven people arrested would face felony charges, including one accused of having assaulted an officer, while a dozen were issued citations for failing to disperse and follow police commands.

US President Joe Biden told the graduating class at Morehouse College on Sunday, which included some students wearing keffiyeh scarves around their shoulders on top of their black graduation robes, that he heard their voices of protest and that scenes from the conflict in Gaza have been heartbreaking. He said given what he called a “humanitarian crisis” there, he had called for “an immediate ceasefire” and return of hostages taken by Hamas.

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