Police clear pro-Palestine protest camps at New York universities

Demonstrations over the Gaza war have spread from the US to colleges in Canada and Europe

New York police clear camps across the city

New York police clear camps across the city
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Police made dozens of arrests as they cleared pro-Palestine protests at two universities in New York City on Friday, capping a week of student demonstrations across the US that have fuelled debate on free speech and anti-Semitism.

More than 2,300 people have been arrested in recent weeks as demonstrators set up encampments, calling on universities to divest from funds and academic institutions with ties to Israel.

Police cleared camps at New York University and The New School in Manhattan early on Friday, after protesters ignored requests to disperse.

Authorities said they arrested 13 protesters at NYU and 43 at the New School.

The New School describes itself as a university “for scholarly activists, fearless artists, and convention-defying designers, founded in 1919” .

The school's biography on X, says: “We welcome dissent.”

But university administrators across the US have often provided fierce responses to protests, accusing pro-Palestinian demonstrators of intimidating Jewish students and of anti-Semitism.

Violence erupted at the University of California, Los Angeles, this week when supporters of Israel attacked a camp set up by pro-Palestinian protesters.

US President Joe Biden weighed in on the issue on Thursday, saying “order must prevail”, amid pressure from Republicans who have accused him of being too slow to respond to the protests.

He defended the right of students to peaceful protest but ignored protesters' calls, which included demands to stop US support for Israeli military actions in Gaza.

“Dissent is essential for democracy,” Mr Biden said. “But dissent must never lead to disorder.”

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona echoed the condemnation in a letter to university leaders on Friday, pledging to investigate reports of anti-Semitism “aggressively”, CNN reported.

At The New School, student representative Adam Young told The National that “hundreds” of police officers turned up early in the morning to clear the camp.

“We had a thriving encampment, peacefully protesting. The university’s morals were built on free speech, protesting and all these things, and then they go and do this,” Mr Young said.

“This is a disgusting move on behalf of the university.”

Police deputy commissioner Kaz Daughtry posted on X that NYU requested assistance “to disperse the illegal encampment on their property”.

He shared a letter from The New School, also requesting police action, which said protesters ignored pleas to leave and had damaged university property.

Another student, Julian, also expressed his disappointment, saying he felt that the university failed to uphold the values it promotes.

“The New School preaches a lot of these values that we have the right to protest, and instils all these values, but then it doesn't uphold them. And so that's something that we're tired of,” he told The National.

He said he opposes the destruction of property, emphasising “that's not really what the protests are about.”

“It is a complete atrocity what's happening in Gaza right now. That is exactly what it is. It's a genocide. It's ethnic cleansing. It's apartheid,” Julian said.

Authorities said 133 protesters were arrested when police broke up a pro-Palestinian encampment at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

The protest movement began on April 17 at Columbia University, where students built an encampment to call for an end to the Israel-Gaza war.

More than 34,500 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict in the Gaza Strip, according to its health ministry.

The Israeli military launched its offensive in Gaza after Hamas-led attacks on October 7 that killed about 1,200 people in the south of Israel.

Earlier this week, more than 200 people were arrested during a crackdown at Columbia University.

Similar protest movements have taken root in Canada and throughout Europe, including in Paris.

In Montreal, students from the city’s four main universities have set up a large encampment at McGill University.

Tarpaulins are strewn over a metal fence, which surrounds dozens of tents. The demonstrators have restricted access to the site, which has turned into a large muddy pitch.

“We’ve had a lot of mud but it’s been good, because we see that the community and the people camping are committed to keeping the camp and keeping the site,” said Ali Salman, one of the designated media liaisons.

Mr Salman, whose family is from Lebanon, attends nearby Concordia University. He said the protesters' demands mirror those of their American peers.

“We are putting maximum pressure on universities to divest from deals that fund genocide,” he told The National.

Another protester, who refused to give his name, put it even more bluntly. “We don't want our tuition money going into funding a genocide,” he said.

The demonstrators are keenly aware of the violent interactions that have taken place at universities across the US, but say so far their interactions with the police have been positive.

“I think here it's more of a peaceful manner than in the US, and we are confident it will stay that way,” Mr Salman said.

Quebec’s premier, Francois Legault, called the encampment “illegal” on Thursday and called on the police to break it up.

But Montreal police have so far refrained from doing so.

“Let us remember that the role of police officers in such a situation is to ensure peace, good order and the safety of people, while respecting rights and freedoms,” the police said in a statement.

Police dismantle Los Angeles student encampment – in pictures

Updated: May 04, 2024, 4:45 AM