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Pro-Palestine Riptide Protests Surge Across Universities in the US

On April 19th, more than a hundred students at Columbia University, New York, were arrested and condemned for “antisemitic rhetorics” during a surge of pro-Palestinean protests that swept classrooms and halls. Not all protesters were from Columbia; masses erected signs at their encampments for colleges to cut financial ties with Israel and “stop investing in this genocide,” as said by Columbia protest leader Mahmoud Khalil.


As the Columbia administration extends the deadlines once again for the clearance of protest encampments, the signs and chants across the tents blazed the way for a wildfire of pro-Palestinean demonstrations across educational institutions.

On Monday, April 22nd, Yale University, another Ivy League institution, was shaken by a wave of protests as well. A sea of demonstrators also poured into a campsite put up by students at New York University (NYU). After the throng dispersed and the university received complaints of "intimidating chants and several antisemitic incidents," the institution claimed it issued a warning and subsequently summoned the police. Police started apprehending people at just about 8:30 p.m., which was closely followed by arrest at Yale University.


It is evident that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a decades-old campaign against Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people, is the source of the recent uprisings.


While the arrests went on, the movement spread quickly within the US in Harvard, MIT, University of Minnesota, NYU, University of California, and other universities known for their activism or their prestige. Harvard Yard had to be closed down due to the demonstrations.


Similarly, Columbia had to cancel classes. In fact, the university said on Monday that it will be transitioning to hybrid classes until the conclusion of the spring semester.

Coalitions of student organizations, sometimes comprising local branches of groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, have organized protests on several campuses. They are coming together under umbrella organizations like the Tahrir Coalition at the University of Michigan and the Coalition Against Apartheid at MIT.


Several university officials have expressed a desire to engage in dialogue with students and respect their freedom to demonstrate. However, they are also reiterating the worries of several Jewish students who claim that certain protestors' remarks and deeds constitute antisemitism and that such conduct will not be accepted.

On the opposite side, the anti-zionist Jewish Voice for Peace has instead asserted that it is the administration at Columbia University that is harassing Jewish students and failing to protect their safety and wellbeing, while also interfering with their Shabbat religious observances and keeping them from visiting their Jewish community on the eve of Passover.


Although the protests seem to have an effect, the possible antisemitism is not the only cause of concern arising from the chants and sit-ins. The universities’ reputations are also at stake, but they are rather minor compared to the covert Israeli funding, antisemitism, and Arabophobia.


More than 1,400 academics worldwide signed a letter boycotting Columbia and its affiliate Barnard College, asserting that they would not attend academic or cultural events at the said institutions until the suspensions of student protesters that have occurred in recent days are lifted.


Although the protests call against war, financial support is at the heart as per the  Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.


Over the past 20 years, around 100 American institutions have acknowledged receiving gifts or contracts worth $375 million from Israel, according to a database maintained by the Education Department. However, the information concerning the source and usage of the funds is scarce.


The identities of dozens of researchers who accept funding from Israel's military ministry for studies that they believe might aid in missile defense and drone navigation have been made public by several MIT students. Pro-Palestinian students claim that MIT has taken in over $11 million from the defense ministry in total throughout the previous ten years.


Students at the University of Michigan also camped out on Tuesday, carrying similar allegations that the university pays investment managers over $6 billion to make money off of Israeli contractors or businesses. They also mentioned investments in firms that manufacture drones or Israeli-operated aircraft, as well as in surveillance gear deployed at Gaza checkpoints. The administrative branch has denied these claims, suggesting that the indirect investments through funds only constitute 1% of the total endowments.


Ultimately, the protests at top US universities reflect the deepening rift over Israel-Palestine. So the ultimate question arises: Should institutions and even foreign powers pick sides in violent struggles and get actively involved outside advocating for peace or should they completely stay out of the question?

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