Campus chaos: Violent protesters disrupt university life across America

The actions of many students violate basic civic and academic values, and break the rules and regulations of many campuses.

Police arrest pro-Palestinian demonstrators associated with an anti-Israel student tent encampment at the University of Texas at Austin, on April 24, 2024. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Police arrest pro-Palestinian demonstrators associated with an anti-Israel student tent encampment at the University of Texas at Austin, on April 24, 2024. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Pro-Hamas protesters at more than 50 universities—from Yale to Arizona State, from Minnesota to Texas and Canada to Australia—are engaged in major anti-Israel protests often with tent encampments aimed at disrupting campus life for all Americans. The protests are part of a planned, coordinated campaign that has included acts of intimidation, harassment and violence directed against Jewish students.

The protest goals include a demand that universities divest their finances from companies and institutions with connections to Israel. Protesters violently broke into the Columbia University library, barricaded themselves inside and held three janitors hostage. As Jewish students joined their families to celebrate the liberation of Jews from slavery during Passover, anti-Jewish activists led a brazen campaign on campuses to intimidate and silence Jewish students and their allies.

Protests impact all students

The protests are alarming for all Americans. The actions of too many protesters violate basic civic and academic values, and break the rules and regulations of many campuses. Some professors are participating on several campuses. Some Northwestern University professors encouraged their students to skip class to attend the protests or even held their classes at the encampments.

At the University of Michigan, pro-Palestinian pamphlets declared: “Freedom for Palestine means Death to America.” Chants of “Death to America” were reported across the country. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said that “what we are seeing is disgusting and unacceptable, and every leader and citizen of good conscience has to speak out: ‘This is not who we are in America.’”

Some universities have responded to disruptive protests by allowing protesters to impact the ability of all students to attend their classes as usual. The University of Southern California is restricting campus access and has canceled its main graduation ceremony. Columbia is providing virtual classes for students who do not feel safe walking on campus. Students do not have access to the libraries for final exams.

U.S. College Tent Encampments
Identical, brand-new tents popped up at encampments across the country, revealing a sophisticated and well-coordinated campaign. Credit: Courtesy.

Hundreds of students occupied two academic buildings—rebranding them “Intifada Hall”—at California State Polytechnic University at Humboldt. Despite condemning the “lawless behavior,” the university announced that it was closing its campus for the final two weeks of the semester, and students living in dorms were told not to leave their buildings.

Free speech, not violence: ‘Targeting Jews will never be tolerated’

University administrators have been adamant that they support free speech but do not condone violence. They have taken different measures in response to protests, ranging from preemptive actions to appeasing hateful agitators.

The University of Florida issued protest guidelines. It stated that “peaceful protests, including speech and signs, are constitutionally protected. Camping, putting up structures, disrupting academic activity or threatening others on university property is strictly prohibited.” The consequences for students and staff include suspension, termination and a three-year campus ban.

Pro-Hamas Sign Held by Protesters on U.S. Campuses
An anti-Israel protester at Columbia University holds a sign pointing to Jewish students as the next target for Hamas terrorists. The Izz al-Din al-Qasam Brigades is the formal name of the Iranian-backed Hamas “military” wing. Credit: Courtesy.

Columbia officials have allowed protesters to reign free despite multiple calls to leave and engaged in negotiations with them before calling in the New York City Police Department to restore order. An Israeli American professor at the university was denied access to campus, and many Jewish university students voiced that they felt “completely abandoned” by many campus administrators.

Police have arrested hundreds of demonstrators across the country. Students and professors passed resolutions condemning university presidents at some academic institutions that took decisive action to restore order.

U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries stated that “every American has the constitutional right to free speech and peaceful assembly in public. However, intentionally targeting Jews on the basis of their identity will never be tolerated.”

Iran, Hamas hail activists: ‘Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders’

Iranian-backed Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine are all U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations that signed a letter supporting the anti-Israel tent encampments. A senior Hamas leader stated that “today’s students are the leaders of tomorrow.” The PFLP declared: “We highly value the solidarity of our people in various American universities.” Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, also celebrated the protesters.

Several chapters of Student for Justice in Palestine share content from the Resistance News Network social-media channel. RNN is closely associated with Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups.

The Ohio State SJP chapter used the RNN group to enlist support, revealing a link between anti-Israel campus groups and Palestinian terrorist groups that support the destruction of Israel and the targeting of Jews everywhere. Many pro-Palestinian student groups openly praised the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel that resulted in the slaughter of 1,200 people, with some 250 men, women and children taken captive into Gaza.

Violently targeted: ‘We were chased and told to go back to Poland’

While many protests have been peaceful, Hamas supporters have physically assaulted Jewish students on several campuses. Lani Dawn, a Native American Jewish woman of Sioux and Lakota ancestry, wore a “rape is not resistance” shirt at an anti-Israel rally at the University of California, Los Angeles. She was surrounded and attacked by a mob:

I was physically assaulted by a UCLA student. He used a wooden stick to shove me from a ledge I was peacefully standing on. Campus police stood by and watched. UCLA faculty were involved in intimidating Jewish protesters and instigating or intentionally ignoring assaults.”

Pro-Hamas Protests on U.S. Campuses
An anti-Israel protestor at George Washington University in the nation’s capital holds a sign calling for the Final Solution against Israel, similar to the Nazi’s Final Solution for Jews. Protesters at other universities displayed flags, marched with posters and wore clothes of different terrorist organizations. Credit: Courtesy.

Columbia student Jonathan Lederer was hit in the face and chest by objects thrown at him and his friends while holding Israeli flags. One of the protesters seized his flag and attempted to light it on fire. “We ended up being chased out of campus and told to ‘go back to Poland’—a poignant reminder that even in America, antisemites wish to condemn Jews like me to our ancestors’ tragic fate.” The Nazis murdered 3 million Polish Jews and built death camps in Poland, including Auschwitz. “Go back to Poland” is seen by many Jews as code for ‘Jews go to Auschwitz.’

In another disturbing incident, a pro-Hamas protestor held a sign pointing to Jewish students as the next target for Hamas terrorists. The students were simply holding Israeli and American flags. UCLA student Eli Tsives, wearing a Star of David, was blocked on his way to class by pro-Hamas protesters. Alarmingly, 77% of 18- to 24-year-old Americans recently surveyed believe that it is safe for Jewish students to openly wear Jewish symbols on campus, versus only 37% of all Americans.

Vile threats: ‘Kill the Jews’

Many Jewish students across America are increasingly afraid to step foot on campus. Northeastern University in Boston reported that “Kill the Jews” was heard at a campus protest. Pro-Hamas protesters—students and non-student activists—repeatedly declare that they only oppose Zionists, yet their attacks are intentionally aimed at Jews.

Columbia protest organizer Khymani James made several statements proving his hateful contempt for Jews: “Zionists don’t deserve to live.” He told a university administrator in January that he didn’t think any of his statements were problematic. His comments came to light during the protests, and days later, Columbia finally banned him from campus.

Pro-Palestinian Protests at U.S. College Campuses
There has been a notable difference between pro-Hamas and pro-Israel protests since the Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Credit: Courtesy.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and her daughter, Isra Hirsi, a student at Barnard University who was arrested for trespassing and subsequently suspended, were seen supporting and embracing protest organizer James, who stated that if he was in a fight with a Zionist, “I fight to kill.” Omar praised the activists for their “bravery and courage.” The Anti-Defamation League condemned her for invoking a blood libel against Jewish students.

Many pro-Palestinian protesters repeat anti-Jewish propaganda and advocate violence. Ironically, while they falsely accuse Israel of committing genocide, many of their chants support the Hamas goal of committing the genocide of Jews:

  • “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”—recently recognized by the U.S. House as an anti-Jewish statement—often used as a call for the eradication of Israel.
  • “Globalize the intifada” and “Long live the intifada”—reference the campaign of terror attacks against Israelis, including bombings of buses, restaurants and malls—now a call to attack Jews around the world. At Australia’s Sydney University, 5-year-olds led chants of “Intifada, Intifada.”
  • “We are Hamas. We will repeat Oct. 7, 10,000 times. Resistance by any means necessary.”
  • “Burn Tel Aviv to the ground.”
  • “Hitler was right.”

New legislation needed: ‘Recent events are painful to witness’

Reps. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) are planning to introduce the College Oversight and Legal Updates Mandating Bias Investigations and Accountability (COLUMBIA) Act, which would allow the U.S. Department of Education to impose a third-party monitor for antisemitic activity on any campus receiving federal funding.

Lawler is the lead House sponsor of the bipartisan Antisemitism Awareness Act is expected to be voted on soon. The bill would direct the Department of Education to treat attacks against Jewish students as a civil-rights violation and use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism to determine violations. The American Zionist Movement, ADL, Conference of Presidents, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women and StandWithUs are a part of a coalition of dozens of groups urging its passage.

Points to consider:

  1. Universities must protect all students, including Jews.

Many universities fail to provide security for their students who want to attend classes on campus. One University of Southern California student stated that her university “used to be a place where we learned and studied.” The University of Florida’s guidelines on prohibited conduct and its consequences are an example of preventing unrest. Other universities used law enforcement to clear out illegal protesters. Some administrations have actively looked for opportunities to promote civil discourse to diminish the hostile atmosphere on campuses. Others, especially Columbia, have allowed deadlines to pass.

  1. Free speech is acceptable; hate speech and violence are not.

Many protests have crossed the line of free speech, forcing local and national Jewish groups to protect Jewish and Israeli students from harassment and discrimination. Ideas and policies can be debated, and criticism of Israeli government policies is legitimate, but students must not be dehumanized, excluded or attacked on the basis of their ethnic, religious or national identity. It is unacceptable to deny all students full access to educational opportunities by blocking access to campus or by making students feel unwelcome. ADL CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt: “Freedom of speech isn’t the freedom to slander people, incite violence or sit in front of a campus Hillel screaming at Jewish students walking inside for a Shabbat dinner.” Not all criticism of Israel is antisemitic. Intimidation and violence against Jewish students are clearly antisemitic.

  1. Universities would not tolerate this hatred against any other minority group.

American universities would likely take swift action if other minority groups were harassed, intimidated and attacked on campus. USC student Brandon Tavakoli said: “I’ve never understood why, when there’s bigotry against Jewish students, we have to bring up a conversation about free speech, but when there’s bigotry against anyone else, we are clearly denouncing it as bigotry. It’s personally hurtful that I, as a Jewish student, have to prove that what I’m experiencing is intimidation, hatred and harassment. Jewish students just want to be like every other student on campus.”

  1. Jews are often intentionally targeted on Jewish holidays.

Targeted attacks on American Jewish students during Passover, unlikely a coincidence, are quickly spreading. Anti-Israel campus groups routinely push student government leaders to introduce, debate and vote on resolutions against Israel when many Jewish students are celebrating major holy days with their families. Detailed meeting notes from activists at Princeton University showed training and coordination between groups across the country. Attacks on Jewish holidays are just one of the links between the campus protesters and Palestinian terrorist groups. Hamas carried out its Oct. 7 attack on Simchat Torah, Hamas murdered 40 Israelis in the 2002 Passover seder massacre and Arab countries attacked Israel in 1973 on Yom Kippur.

  1. Many students do not understand what they are protesting.

While many students have a sincere concern about the Palestinian cause, there are students across the country who seem to want to jump on the protest bandwagon. They are joining in with their friends or allied groups to denounce Israel, Jews and America. An ignorant mob at Boston University announced that Israel and America are the biggest threats to world peace. Many of these students likely have good intentions but are consuming a steady diet of misinformation. In fact, many students and professors falsely subscribe to the view that Jews in Israel are “colonists” and that Israel must be destroyed despite archaeological and historical evidence proving that Israel is the ancestral homeland of the Jews.

  1. Boycotting Israel will not help the Palestinian cause or support peace.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel actually harms Palestinians. BDS attacks against SodaStream caused the company to relocate its main factory out of the West Bank, resulting in the loss of jobs for hundreds of Palestinians and eroding meaningful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. Hamza Howidy—a Palestinian peace activist from Gaza—called out American students for “endorsing Hamas ideology” and for failing to condemn Hamas violence against Palestinians. Hamza concludes “from their silence that they are protesting because of a hatred of Jews and Israelis.”

  1. Zionism is an integral part of Jewish identity.

Zionism is the belief that Jews have the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. Jews overwhelmingly support this. Zionism for Jewish students is not an opinion or a viewpoint. Zionism represents the historic fact that the Jewish people’s ethnic, national and religious identity was established thousands of years ago. Jews lived under Jewish rule in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea with a code of laws, a common language and a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Jewish students who embrace this heritage are increasingly treated as pariahs and are told by protesters that they must deny or disavow this part of their ancestral heritage to be accepted in student clubs and on campus.

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