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Watch: Dozens of Gaza protesters arrested at Yale University

By James FitzGerald & Bernd Debusmann Jr
BBC News

Protests against the war in Gaza have spread from Columbia and Yale to other universities as officials scramble to diffuse a burgeoning protest movement.

Dozens of students were arrested at Yale on Monday, while Columbia cancelled in-person classes over fears of antisemitism on campus.

Similar protest “encampments” have sprung up at other campuses, including Berkeley in California.

School officials are under increasing pressure to calm campus tensions.

Demonstrations and heated debates about the Israel-Gaza war and free speech have rocked major university campuses in the United States since the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October.

Students on both sides say there has been a rise in both antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents.

The campus protest movement was most recently thrust into the global spotlight last week after New York City police were called to Columbia University’s campus in New York, where they arrested dozens of protesters.

Since then, campus tensions have escalated at a number of US institutions.

On Monday, nearly 50 protesters were arrested at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, where demonstrations had swelled to several hundred people over the weekend.

The university said those taken into custody had ignored “multiple requests” to leave.

Many protest participants called on Yale to cut its investments in military weapons manufacturers.

Protest encampments have also been established at other universities across the country, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Emerson College and Tufts.

About eight miles (12km) south of Columbia, at New York University, protesters have set up tents across from the Stern School of Business.

As was the case in some of the other universities, the NYU protesters are calling on the school to disclose and divest its “finances and endowments from weapons manufacturers and companies with an interest in the Israeli occupation”.

The campus protests, however, have been marred by accusations of antisemitism.

In one example, videos posted online appeared to show some protesters near Columbia expressing support for the Hamas attack on Israel.

Members of the protest groups have denied antisemitism, arguing that their criticism is reserved for the Israeli state and its supporters.

Pro-Palestinian students continue to camp on Columbia University’s campus to protest the university’s ties with Israel

On Monday, however, Columbia announced that all classes would be held virtually, with Columbia President Minouche Shafik citing incidents of “intimidating and harassing behaviour” in a statement.

Students who do not live on campus were advised to stay away.

A rabbi affiliated with the university also reportedly sent a message to 300 of Jewish Columbia students, warning them to avoid campus until the situation “dramatically improves”.

In her statement, Dr Shafik said tensions on campus had been “exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas”.

A working group had been created to “try to bring this crisis to a resolution”, she added.

The university and Dr Shafik – who last week travelled to Capitol Hill to testify before a congressional committee on the university’s efforts to tackle antisemitism – are being urged to resolve the situation.

A group of federal lawmakers, led by New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik, on Monday signed a letter asking for her to step down for what Ms Stefanik said was a “failure to put an end to the mob of students and agitators calling for acts of terrorism against Jewish students”.

The protests in New York also attracted the attention of Democrat Representatives Jared Moskowitz, Josh Gottheimer, Dan Goldman and Kathy Manning, who toured the campus.

Rep Gottheimer said Columbia will “pay the price” if it fails to ensure Jewish students feel welcome and safe at the university.

Meanwhile, in a letter posted online, North Carolina Republican Virginia Foxx – the chair of the House Education Committee – wrote that “Columbia’s continued failure to restore order and safety” constitutes a breach of obligations on which federal assistance is contingent and must be “immediately rectified”.

The protests also prompted Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriot NFL team and a prominent Columbia alumnus, to warn that he would stop supporting the university “until corrective action is taken”.

Some faculty members at the university, however, have faulted Columbia for its handling of the protest and for calling in the police.

In a statement sent to the BBC on Monday evening, Columbia’s own Knight First Amendment Institute called for an “urgent course correction”.

It quoted university rules to argue that outside authorities should only be involved when there is a “clear and present danger to persons, property or the substantial functioning of any division of the university”.

“It is not evident to us how the encampment and protests posed such a danger, even if they were unauthorised,” the statement said.

When asked about the campus protests on Monday, President Joe Biden said that he condemns “the antisemitic protests” as well as “those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians”.

As well as the protests at universities, there have also been wider demonstrations in the US over the events in Gaza.

Pro-Palestinian protesters recently blocked major roads across the country, restricting access to airports including Chicago’s O’Hare International and Seattle-Tacoma International, as well as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Brooklyn Bridge in New York.

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