NYC university site of first faculty-run pro-Palestine camp in US

Police demolish George Washington University student protest camp under Congressional pressure

The New School faculty occupies the lobby as they set up a pro-Palestinian camp on Wednesday in New York City.  AFP
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Academics at a New York City university on Wednesday started the first faculty pro-Palestine camp in support of student demands of financial divestment from companies and schools connected to Israel's war in Gaza.

Natasha Lennard, a faculty member taking part in the protest, told The National there are dozens of faculty and students at the protest camp at the New School University Centre.

"We hope to see it grow, and for similar efforts to multiply around the city and country, and deepening of the faculty solidarity that we have seen on so many campuses in recent weeks," Ms Lennard said.

There are no remaining student protest camps in New York City as of Wednesday after police cleared them at Columbia University, New York University, City College of New York and the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Forty-five people were arrested at a student-run camp at the New School last week, inspiring faculty there to "heed their calls and help finish what they started", a faculty representative organising the camp said in a statement.

Ms Lennard posted a photo of the indoor camp showing a sign that read, "Refaat Alareer Faculty Solidarity Encampment," honouring a Palestinian professor and writer killed in Gaza.

She told The National that they "hope with this small gesture, the faculty encampment honours his memory" of being a "chronicler of the violence of the Israeli regime" and a "mentor to many Palestinian writers".

Earlier on Wednesday, more than 30 demonstrators were arrested at George Washington University in the US capital when police cleared a pro-Palestinian protest camp early on Wednesday.

The arrests of 33 demonstrators occurred hours after dozens marched to the home of the university's president as city officials prepared to appear before Congress on the handling of the protest.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police chief Pamela Smith were called to testify on Wednesday afternoon at the Republican-led House committee on oversight and accountability, but the hearing was cancelled after the arrests.

Representative James Comer, the committee's chairman, said he was “very pleased” that the camp had been shut down.

But majority leader Steve Scalise was more critical, saying it “shouldn’t have taken the threat of a congressional hearing for DC Mayor Bowser to finally allow DC Police to respond to George Washington University’s call for them to clear the anti-Semitic and unlawful encampments”.

“It should’ve been done on day one,” Mr Scalise said.

University administrators said in a statement: “While the university is committed to protecting students’ rights to free expression, the encampment had evolved into an unlawful activity, with participants in direct violation of multiple university policies and city regulations."

Students at universities across the country are protesting against the Israel-Gaza war and demanding that their institutions divest from companies with ties to the Israeli government and military.

A handful of “Free Gaza” signs strewn along 20th Street is all that was left of the pro-Palestine camp.

Police blocked off the area and sanitation workers threw tents and debris into rubbish lorries as the city and university worked to clear the site, where students had gathered for more than week in support of Palestine.

“I’m pretty shocked that they came in,” one student told The National.

“I didn't really think they would touch the students because it's DC.”

The fourth-year student said that from what she had seen of the demonstration, it was peaceful.

“It was pretty contained. It's just one block," she said. "They've blocked off the street.

"And compared to other universities, compared to what MPD [Metropolitan Police Department] deals with every day in DC with protests, it was very minimal.”

Parents and faculty members at George Washington and other universities in the capital spoke out against the war and the clearing of the camp, describing the demonstration as "democratic" and "beautiful".

"We have the violent use of law-enforcement agents with guns and handcuffs and batons and tear gas to destroy that [the protest] because it represented a challenge to power, and that's something that they can't tolerate," George Washington University professor Peter Calloway said.

Bassam Haddad, professor at George Mason University, said the city was "sanctioning, supporting the brutalisation of the students, when they are overwhelmingly peacefully protesting on our own campuses".

"Shameful presidents, administrators and faculty are supporting this brutalisation of students who are standing up for exactly what we taught them to stand up for."

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in response to the clearing of the camp that “students have the right to be safe and anti-Semitism is repugnant”, repeating the administration's stance that the demonstrations had included the use of discriminatory action and violence.

Pro-Palestine protests at US universities continue – in pictures

On Tuesday President Joe Biden, marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, spoke out against anti-Semitism on campus and reaffirmed his support for Israel.

“My commitment to Israel is ironclad, even when we disagree,” Mr Biden said.

The clearing of the George Washington University camp came a day after police cleared a similar site at the University of Chicago, where dozens of tents and cardboard signs had been set up on the lawn for nine days.

“It was traumatising,” Prof Uday Jain, of the Faculty For Justice In Palestine, told CBS.

“And it's a miracle that no one was injured. It's really a miracle given the level of chaos that the police were causing.”

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, more than 300 Harvard University faculty members signed a letter sent to interim president Alan Garber that urged his administration to negotiate with the pro-Palestine student protesters on campus, The Harvard Crimson reported.

The faculty letter came a day after Mr Garber sent a university-wide email that threatened students taking part in the camp with suspension if they did not end the protest.

And at Princeton University in New Jersey, students began a hunger strike last week in protest against the war in Gaza.

“Our hunger strike is a response to the administration's refusal to engage with our demands for dissociation and divestment from Israel,” the Princeton Israeli Apartheid Divest wrote in a release.

"We refuse to be silenced by the university administration's intimidation and repression tactics."

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Updated: May 08, 2024, 11:53 PM