Campus protests over Gaza escalate

The horrific situation in Gaza where the Israeli government has unleashed a reign of terror on the people there killing over 34,000 people (two-thirds of whom are women and children), destroying hospitals, infrastructure, and homes, leaving almost two million people destitute and in a state of famine, has galvanized protests around the world. In the US, students at over 40 universities have organized protests demanding justice for Gaza and also protesting the attacks on Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank by settlers, who have taken this opportunity to further encroach upon the lands owned by Palestinians and to attack them, shielded by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Sometimes, a story about one person captures the horror of what is going on better than a recitation of facts and statistics. I was deeply moved by this story on NPR about a 12-year old Gazan boy who was shot by Israeli troops when he went to get food from one of the air drops. He was later kicked in the head by one of the soldiers as he lay on the ground and is now in agony because of the lack of pain medication.

The protests have taken the form of tent encampments on campuses and protest leaders have called upon universities to, at the very least, divest from any company that is involved in arms shipments to Israel and is thus complicit in the ongoing atrocities. I do not recall seeing this level of campus student protests against Israeli policies, extending far beyond what the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement ever was able to muster.

As could be expected, the Israel lobby has fought back by making the tired charge that the protests are fueled by and fueling antisemitism (even though many of the protestors are themselves Jewish) and thus should be crushed, and some university administrators have dutifully complied, sending in riot police to attack the demonstrators and arrest them and the journalists covering them. Some Republican politicians, especially speaker Mike Johnson, have also attacked the protestors. However, this heavy-handed reaction has only served to stiffen student resolve and further expand the protests.

Columbia University has been the center of attention, possibly because it is located in New York City, the center of US media, and its president has been particularly harsh in her actions. Such actions have led to faculty protests at Columbia and elsewhere, sometimes resulting in arrests of faculty.

At Georgia’s Emory University, faculty members have been arrested at pro-Palestine demonstrations – including Emil’ Keme, a professor of English and Indigenous studies, and Noelle McAfee, the philosophy department chair.

McAfee was seen being roughly pinned down and escorted away by Atlanta police in a video shared widely on social media, asking the person recording: “Can you call the philosophy department office and tell them I’ve been arrested?”

In light of the protests sweeping campuses, formal graduation ceremonies have been cancelled at the University of Southern California, where the Muslim student Asna Tabassum was prevented from making her valedictatory speech over her public support for Palestine.

“Rather than respond to faculty and student concerns about the cancelling of Asna Tabassum’s valedictorian speech and the arrest of peaceful protesters, USC has unfortunately doubled down on its authoritarian approach and simply cancelled an aspect of graduation that students earned and looked forward to,” said the USC assistant sociology professor Brittany Friedman.

“It is disheartening to see the current state of higher education in our country, the mass exposure of students to police violence, and the complete disregard for what USC claims to stand for.”

On Monday, many members of Columbia University faculty and staff rallied in support of students who were arrested, suspended, and in some cases, evicted from their dorm rooms. They demanded “an immediate apology and amnesty” for these students and for their disciplinary records to be cleared.

At nearby Princeton, classes, such as the one run by Max Weiss, who is teaching a course on the history of Palestine and Israel, are even being held at some protests.

Earlier this week, Weiss joined dozens of other faculty members in New Jersey in writing an open letter in the school’s newspaper, the Princetonian, in support of Columbia faculty and student protesters.

“We, Princeton University faculty and staff, affirm our solidarity with and support for the Columbia University and Barnard College students who are continuing to demand that the university divest from Israel’s genocide in Gaza and ongoing occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and other Palestinian land,” the letter read.

Professor and students were arrested at protests at other universities in New York, such as New York University and the City University of New York. While some NYU educators were arrested shortly after shielding Muslim students as they prayed, Cuny professors physically stood together in order to form a barricade between their students and police.

“To get to our students, you have to get through us,” they chanted in unison.

This article describes how the student-run campus radio station at Columbia has been central in getting out up-to-the-minute news.

Bernie Sanders has fiercely criticized the attacks on the student protests, taking particular aim at Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for falsely raising the allegation that these protests are driven by antisemitism.

Bernie Sanders has hit back fiercely at Benjamin Netanyahu over the Israeli prime minister’s claim that US universities were being overrun by antisemitism on a scale comparable to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

In a video posted on X, the progressive senator from Vermont – who is Jewish – accused Netanyahu of “insult[ing] the intelligence of the American people” by using antisemitism to distract attention from the policies of his “extremist and racist government” in the military offensive in Gaza.

“No Mr Netanyahu, it is not antisemitic or pro-Hamas to point out that, in a little over six months, your extremist government has killed over 34,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 78,000, 70% of whom are women and children,” Sanders said.

The two-and-a-half minute video listed a catalogue of further consequences of the war in the Palestinian coastal territory, including the destruction of infrastructure, hospitals, universities and schools, along with the killing of more than 400 health workers.

The protest are extending beyond students to the literary world.

The free speech organization PEN America has cancelled its World Voices festival after several authors withdrew their participation over the non-profit’s response to Israel’s military attacks against Gaza.

The festival was scheduled to take place on 8 May in New York City and Los Angeles. A prominent group of writers including Naomi Klein, a Guardian columnist; Isabella Hammad; and Zaina Arafat signed an open letter to PEN America in March announcing their decision not to participate in this year’s festival.

The latest cancellation comes days after PEN America cancelled the 2024 edition of its annual awards ceremony after a significant portion of nominated authors withdrew from consideration for prizes.

In a statement shared with the Guardian, PEN America confirmed the cancellation of its World Voices festival. The statement said the decision was, in part, due to authors withdrawing from the program.

The group Writers Against the War on Gaza called the cancellation a “win for the movement”.

“It is an indictment of PEN America’s leadership. And contrary to their statement, it’s a win for free expression, too,” the group said on X.

The New York Times bestselling author Daniel José Older praised the festival’s cancellation in a post on X.

“NO BUSINESS AS USUAL DURING A GENOCIDE! [PEN America] has continued to gaslight the entire literary world with their both-sidesing nonsense,” Older said, adding that the organization needed new leadership.

Twenty-eight out of 61 nominated authors and translators withdrew their books from consideration for PEN America’s annual award ceremony, according to a statement released on Monday.

Nine of 10 authors nominated for the PEN/Jean Stein book award also pulled out of consideration.

I do not recall anything like this level of campus protests since the Vietnam war and possibly the South African anti-apartheid movement.


  1. johnson catman says

    I do not recall anything like this level of campus protests since the Vietnam war and possibly the South African anti-apartheid movement.

    And like the days of the Vietnam war protests, the police are using brutal methods to try to quash the current protests, and authoritarian government officials are encouraging those actions. They are even, in some cases, calling for the military to be used against the protestors. Did none of them ever hear about Kent State?

  2. Bruce says

    I don’t understand why Netanyahu and the settlers have allied with Hamas to raise membership and support for Hamas. I think Netanyahu is doing things that hurt Israel and hurt Israelis in the long run.
    Also, when did Israel become a one-party state, in which the leader of 61 out of 120 seats in the Israeli parliament gets to have the only valid opinion in America?

  3. ardipithecus says

    Yes they have heard about Kent State. In their view, 4 was not enough. Not everyone is capable of empathy. Coupling non-empathy and a lust for power can justify any brutality.

    Fortunately, so far, those demanding lethal force be applied are a small minority, and without the authority to implement it.

  4. says

    I think Netanyahu is doing things that hurt Israel and hurt Israelis in the long run.

    And he would care because…?

  5. birgerjohansson says

    Netanyahu like other narcissists do not care what happens in the long run as long as they stay on top.

  6. jrkrideau says

    /I do not recall anything like this level of campus protests since the Vietnam war

    Even the responses during the Vietnam War are not comparable. The speed of reaction, the immediate call for arrests and what looks like pretty much a coordinated response across the USA are new and worrying.

    This is wholesale panic on the part of various US elites.

    Israel? Lots of young Americans, especially Jewish Americans, have been there, many Americans have been raised on stories of Israel and have been told it is the USA’s closest ally. Suddenly, it is appearing as a mad country filled with genocidal maniacs and the USA, *which is always on the side of the good*, is massively complicit in this genocide.

    This is not good for the image of a lot of US politicians and opinion influencers. It might cause a lot of people, especially the young to start questioning other policies and even the legitimacy of US leaders.

  7. John Morales says


    Protests against the war in Gaza have spread to college campuses across the country in the days since students at Columbia University were arrested last week, evoking images of historical student protests that were met with similar backlash.

    Recent protests have not yet reached the scale of the major student protests of the late 1960s against the Vietnam War or the 1980s against South African apartheid. But on campus, they may be “the largest student movement so far” of the 21st century, said Robert Cohen, a professor of social studies and history at New York University who has studied student activism. In recent decades, there were mass protests against the Iraq War, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and after the killing of George Floyd, but they were primarily happening off campus.

    Just like the protesters that came before them, the students who are now being arrested, and in some cases suspended, for setting up encampments on their campuses in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza have been demonized by politicians. The vast majority are peaceful protesters who have been overshadowed by a minority of bad actors, some potentially not even affiliated with the universities where these demonstrations are taking place.


    But there are key differences as well. Besides their smaller size, the present-day protests have faced swifter suppression than their predecessors dealt with. In perhaps the most extreme example at the University of Texas-Austin, administrators quickly dispatched police with horses and riot gear absent any signs of violence at a pro-Palestinian protest; charges were later dropped against all 57 arrested. And that signals a deterioration of schools’ commitment to protecting free speech that emerged in the 1960s.

    “I think that the fact that this has happened so quickly is unprecedented. And the call for suppression of speech is much more public,” Cohen said.

    Next section it covers is subtitled “What today’s protests do and don’t have in common with the antiwar protests of the 1960s”. Informative.

  8. says

    Bruce: It’s very easy to understand why Beginyahu and the Likudniks have been supporting and propping up Hamas for all these years: they NEED Hamas to be the genocidal eliminationist enemy they are, in order to discredit all of Israel’s critics and the entire Palestinian cause. Israeli officials have explicitly said “Hamas helps us.” And last October, Hamas were doing exactly what Israel was paying them to do, no more or less. And yes, the magnitude of Hamas’s atrocities against innocent Israelis was part of the plan: the more horrific and inexcusable their violence, the harder it becomes for anyone to allege that Israel’s response is inappropriate or disproportionate.

    Did you notice how the IDF were so completely caught off-guard by Hamas’s attack, despite having got clear warnings from US and Egyptian intel as well as their own soldiers? Do you know who WASN’T caught off-guard? Israel’s lobbyists and propagandists — they went right into action from day one, and they’ve been staying firmly on-script ever since.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    “Israel runs America, with the collusion and support of an armed criminal gang who operate with impunity”. In my younger years I’d have dismissed that as borderline anti-semitic tinfoil-hattery. In the light of the events of the last seven months in particular, while I wouldn’t actively say it, I can’t think of many arguments against it.

  10. lanir says

    I think trying to talk about what happened at Kent State with people who are clearly frothing at the mouth to demonize, commit violence against, and maybe shoot peaceful student protesters is kind of missing the point. Those people are fundamentally out of touch with reality. Instead, if you actually talk to any of them (perhaps if it’s your congress critter who’s mouthing off this way), the way to get through is to remind them what happened as a result of Kent State.

    It doesn’t matter how “pro life” or “pro responsible gun ownership” these people supposedly are. When they’re calling for dead kids you can’t shame them with images of dead kids. Instead, shame them with how badly they’re managing their movement and how their every move is handing victory to “the other side.” It’s okay to not argue the moral high ground to people who won’t care. Less dead kids is a good result however we get there, even if we have to entertain jackals and fools to do it.

  11. REBECCA WIESS says

    The young see through clear eyes. The old see with eyes shaped by experience. In Israel today, as in Vietnam then, the clear eyes see that nothing justifies genocidal policies, while the eyes shaped by experience see responding to the memories of past evils as paramount. I am old: my eyes are still clear enough to stand with the young.

  12. says

    Meanwhile, the establishment wants to distract everyone with Noem’s brutal treatment of animals. Because dogs matter even if Palestinians don’t.

    (I do not endorse cruelty to animals)

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