Conflicts: Arrests during Gaza demonstrations at universities in the USA

Conflicts: Arrests during Gaza demonstrations at universities in the USA

Hundreds of arrests have now been made during pro-Palestinian protests at dozens of universities in the USA – and criticism of the police’s actions. The government is trying to appease.

In view of the heated mood during pro-Palestinian demonstrations at several American universities, the US government has called for a renunciation of violence. “We understand that these protests are important,” National Security Council communications director John Kirby told ABC News. “But they have to be peaceful.”

The White House is leaving it up to local authorities to decide how to deal with the respective protests. However, peaceful demonstrators should not be injured. At the same time, Kirby emphasized: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the anti-Semitic language we have heard recently. We condemn all hate speech and threats of violence.”

Students and university staff at universities in more than two dozen US states are now protesting against the Gaza war. They accuse the US government of involvement in genocide because of its military aid to its ally Israel, demand solidarity with the Palestinians and demand that universities cut economic and academic ties to Israel.

There were again many arrests during the protests over the weekend. Since April 18, more than 800 people have been arrested across the country, according to the New York Times. In many cases, they were reportedly released quickly. However, a number of demonstrators were excluded from courses or are no longer even allowed to enter the campus grounds. There are also reports of clashes between demonstrators from opposing camps, such as at the University of California.

Discourse with nuances

Some of the protesters are accused of anti-Semitism and trivializing the Islamist Hamas, which denies the state of Israel the right to exist. Jewish students are concerned about their safety and no longer want to wear the Star of David on campus or speak Hebrew. At the same time, the discourse has nuances in a country with an estimated Jewish population of around 7.5 million people: Even among the demonstrators there are Jewish students and teachers with a critical attitude towards the Israeli government.

The situation represents a balancing act for universities: on the one hand, security on campus must be guaranteed, and on the other hand, the right to freedom of expression. The fact that the president of the elite Columbia University had a protest camp evacuated by the New York police backfired: the large-scale operation on April 18th not only led to outrage and more protests on site, but ultimately gave the impetus for demonstrations and setting up more camps at universities across the country.

Criticism of the police

Other university administrators have since also asked for police assistance. Critics consider the immense police presence at many universities to be disproportionate. People who had previously demonstrated peacefully were also arrested. Some of those affected also complained about brutal behavior by the officials.

There have been no widespread reports of injuries so far. Concern about – sometimes fatal – police violence is not entirely unfounded in the USA, including during protests and especially when it comes to actions against minorities. Batons and pepper spray were used excessively not only during the “Black Lives Matter” protests in 2020.

Political mood heated up

The situation is now being fueled from the outside by more radical voices who see an opportunity to make political capital out of it in the US election campaign. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine rejected the suggestion from some hard-right Republicans to send the National Guard to the affected universities – such measures could have a bad end, he warned. Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned why everyone doesn’t sit down at the table for a civilized discussion “instead of trying to dominate the conversation.”

Bernie Sanders, a non-partisan senator and staunch opponent of US military aid to Israel, also spoke out. He is Jewish himself and anti-Semitism must be condemned just like Islamophobia and all other forms of hate. But the actions of the Israeli government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are unacceptable given the devastating consequences for the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip. The International Criminal Court must clarify whether it is genocide, which many demonstrators already see as proven.

Source: Stern

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