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US Jewish groups call on universities to enforce protest rules

“Hitler, Hitler go back home, Palestine is ours alone,” more than 100 demonstrators chanted at George Washington University on Friday.

Anti-Israel protesters on the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.
Anti-Israel protesters on the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.

National U.S. Jewish groups called on universities to enforce their rules on Friday, as anti-Israel protest encampments and demonstrations continue to disrupt academic life on campuses across the country.

Speaking at the Columbia University and Barnard College chapter of Hillel, American Jewish Committee CEO Ted Deutch said that some of the steps that universities have taken, such as reverting to online-only classes and canceling graduation ceremonies, represent a failure to protect Jewish students in the face of pro-Hamas and antisemitic protests.

“Rules, including codes of conduct, are there to keep students and faculty and staff safe and when they are enforced, student and campus life can flourish. That’s all we’re asking for,” Deutch said. “When they’re abandoned, as we’ve seen in far too many cases recently, the entire system breaks down.”

“Administrators cannot think that moving classes online because students don’t feel safe is an acceptable solution,” he said. “If the university cannot be a place of learning, then what is the point?”

Brian Cohen, executive director of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel, said that claims that Jewish students are attending the anti-Israel rallies did not exonerate the encampments from charges of antisemitism.

“I was on campus yesterday and spoke at length with a Jewish student, who has spent a lot of time in the encampment,” Cohen said. “That Jewish student shared with me that he’d been spending a lot of time working with his peers inside the encampment to reduce the level of antisemitism and the rhetoric against Israelis on campus.”

“I’ll take him for his word on that, but even in those comments, he clearly shared that there was a problem from his peers and others inside the encampment,” Cohen said.

University campuses across the country have faced turmoil in recent weeks, as anti-Israel student demonstrators set up “Gaza solidarity encampments” at Columbia, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and elsewhere.

University administrators have taken a mix of approaches to the protests, which often fall afoul of rules against permanently occupying campus spaces or using amplifiers that can disrupt other student activities. 

Columbia initially arrested protesters as trespassers and cleared tents from the South Lawn but has not repeated those actions after the protests rapidly resumed. 

At GW’s campus on Friday in Foggy Bottom, not far from the White House and the U.S. State Department, JNS observed a mix of student protesters and outside activists gathered on the edge of the central University Yard, which campus police closed off.

“Hitler, Hitler go back home, Palestine is ours alone,” the more than 100 demonstrators chanted, using a megaphone system.

While some anti-Israel protesters on campuses have attempted to draw a line between student protesters and outsiders, student leaders of the GW protests invited Osama Abuirshaid, executive director of American Muslims for Palestine, to address the crowd.

Abuirshaid claimed that Israelis and pro-Israeli Jews were not truly Jewish. “It is a disgrace to Jews to consider Israel as their representative,” he said, to applause. 

“They are the fascists of today,” Abuirshaid added.

GW protest
Anti-Israel protesters on the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.

Noah Arazi, a junior at GW who was part of a small pro-Israel counter-demonstration, told JNS that GW’s de facto campus lockdown, which administrators announced on Friday morning, was an unfortunate but necessary security measure.

“I’d much rather a campus work, and just walk around safely, and not have to tap in and tap out everywhere I go,” Arazi said. “I’m sure the other students would agree with me, but unfortunately this lot bring in such a dangerous crowd that that’s just a reality we have to live with.”

Arazi told JNS that the protests are affecting GW’s entire urban campus.

“I live down the road. I can hear it from my apartment,” he said. “It’s not just a contained protest in one area. It’s a group of people who have taken over the whole of the campus. You see people walking around campus with derogatory signs, with inflammatory language on them the whole time.”

“It really feels as if it’s an inflamed atmosphere on campus that’s been created,” he added.

The Student Coalition for Palestine at GW said on Friday in a social media post that students in the encampment have been threatened with interim suspension and claimed that they were “at risk for becoming houseless, losing all class credits from the semester and being arrested.”

One thing they will not face is hunger, as JNS observed a dozen pizzas and large trays of rice, falafel, kebab meat, fattoush and baklava.

“There’s so much food, please eat,” one protester said.
GW’s student newspaper the Hatchet reported that with most students having left the central encampment by late Friday afternoon, birds are eating the leftovers.

GW protest
Anti-Israel protesters on the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.
GW protest
Anti-Israel protesters on the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2024. Photo by Andrew Bernard.
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