Israeli politicians condemn pro-Palestine protests in US

Prime Minister Netanyahu says 'anti-Semitic mobs' have taken over as students demonstrate in support of ceasefire in Gaza

Police are struggling to contain protests at college campuses across the US. AFP
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Israeli ministers have condemned pro-Palestine protests that are sweeping US campuses amid alarm in Israel over growing international criticism of its war in Gaza.

Thousands of students at universities across the US have been protesting for a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to Israeli occupation.

Almost 100 people were arrested at the University of California on Wednesday and demonstrators at Columbia University in New York, where the movement started, are in a showdown with authorities that they say will only end when the university cuts ties with Israeli institutions.

The protests have caught global attention as Israel appears to be entering the next phase of its war in Gaza, with speculation that it may soon launch a military operation against Rafah, despite the US and others speaking out against the operation.

Tensions are also high in the occupied West Bank and on the Israeli-Lebanese border, where fighting against the militant group Hezbollah has intensified.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke against the protests on Wednesday, as he sought to rally opinion.

The demonstrations are “reminiscent of what happened in German universities in the 1930s”, Mr Netanyahu said in a television address.

“Antisemitic mobs have taken over leading universities. They call for the annihilation of Israel, they attack Jewish students, they attack Jewish faculty,” he said.

“When you listen to [the protesters], they say not only ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to the Jews', but also ‘Death to America'.”

Minister of Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli wrote on X that the movement is a “pandemic spreading on American campuses … not so different and not less dangerous than the fentanyl epidemic”.

“Mass protests act like a drug, an immediate response to social isolation and the absence of meaning. This is what most of the young people participating in these protests are seeking; most of them have no clue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he added.

The comments by Israeli ministers come amid unprecedented tension between Israel and the US government.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has grown increasingly concerned over the humanitarian toll of the military operations in Gaza and is reportedly angered that the Israeli government appears to have repeatedly ignored American warnings against escalating the conflict and tipping the region into a wider war.

Mr Biden also criticised Israel for the killing of aid workers in Gaza last month and has warned that an offensive on Rafah could deepen the humanitarian catastrophe in the enclave.

Despite the fractured relationship between Mr Biden and Mr Netanyahu, the US passed a spending package this week that will give Israel $17 billion in military aid.

The move has been slammed by many in the US and abroad who say the Biden administration should withhold military aid to force Israel to change its conduct during the war.

Pro-Palestinian Jewish groups staged a sit in outside New York Senator Chuck Schumer's house to protest against the spending package this week. The words "Stop Arming Israel" were also projected onto Brooklyn Public Library in New York, close to Senator Schumer's house.

Within Israel, opposition politicians have presented different views on the US campus protests.

“What’s happening on American college campuses is unforgivable,” wrote opposition leader Yair Lapid on X.

“It is anti-Semitism, it is support for terrorism, it is support for Hamas which murders LGBT people and oppresses women. The administration cannot stand by, it has to intervene.”

However, the left-wing Israeli opposition member Offer Cassif shared a video of students at the protest at Columbia, including Jewish students, holding a joint Passover Seder.

“This wonderful event happens at no place other than Columbia University, which in recent days has been libelled in the Israeli media as the stronghold of campus anti-Semitism in the US,” he said in a post on X.

“This is the definitive proof that opposition to successive Israeli governments' abominable policies towards the Palestinians is not anti-Semitism, and that when there is no proper argument against the protesters, opponents resort to slander and lies.”

Updated: April 25, 2024, 1:42 PM