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Striking deals to end campus protests, some colleges invite discussion of their investments

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
Posted at 4:09 PM, May 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-03 18:09:21-04

NEW YORK (AP) — Anti-war demonstrations ceased this week at a small number of U.S. universities after school leaders struck deals with pro-Palestinian protesters, fending off possible disruptions of final exams and graduation ceremonies.

The agreements at schools including Brown, Northwestern and Rutgers stand out amidst the chaotic scenes and 2,400-plus arrests on 46 campuses across the nation since April 17. Tent encampments and building takeovers have disrupted classes at some schools, including Columbia and UCLA.

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests

National

Police begin dismantling pro-Palestinian demonstrators' encampment at UCLA

The Associated Press
6:25 AM, May 02, 2024

Deals included commitments by universities to review their investments in Israel or hear calls to stop doing business with the longtime U.S. ally. Many protester demands have zeroed in on links to the Israeli military as the war grinds on in Gaza.

The agreements to even discuss divestment mark a major step on an issue that has been controversial for years, with opponents of a long-running campaign to boycott Israel saying it veers into antisemitism. But while the colleges have made concessions around amnesty for protesters and funding for Middle Eastern studies, they have made no promises about changing their investments.

“I think for some universities, it might be just a delaying tactic to diffuse the protests,” said Ralph Young, a history professor who studies American dissent at Temple University in Philadelphia. “The end of the semester is happening now. And maybe by the time the next semester begins, there is a ceasefire in Gaza.”

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
Officers stage near the site of a pro-Palestinian encampment, cleared by police overnight, on the UCLA campus Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Some university boards may never even vote on divesting from Israel, which can be a complicated process, Young said. And some state schools have said they lack the authority to do so.

But Young said dialogue is a better tactic than arrests, which can inflame protesters.

Talking “at least gives the protesters the feeling that they’re getting somewhere," he said. "Whether they are getting somewhere or not is another question.”

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Israel has branded the protests antisemitic, while Israel’s critics say it uses those allegations to silence opposition. Although some protesters were caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, protest organizers — some of whom are Jewish — have called it a peaceful movement to defend Palestinian rights and protest the war.

The University of Minnesota reopened Thursday after administrators said they reached an agreement to end an encampment in the heart of the Minneapolis campus.

Interim President Jeff Ettinger said demonstrators agreed not to disrupt final exams or commencements. In return, student organizations can address the university’s board at a meeting next week, where protesters are expected to demand divestment from Israel.

“While there is more work to do, and conversations are still planned with other student groups affected by the painful situation in Palestine, I am heartened by today’s progress,” Ettinger said in a statement.

Demonstrators at Rutgers University — where finals were paused due to the protests on its New Brunswick campus — similarly packed up their tents Thursday afternoon. The state university agreed to establish an Arab Cultural Center and to not retaliate against any students involved in the protest camp.

In a statement, Chancellor Francine Conway noted protesters' request for divestment from companies doing business with Israel and for Rutgers to cut ties with Tel Aviv University. She said the the request is under review, but “such decisions fall outside of our administrative scope.”

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
A group of pro-Palestinian protesters try to block a van carrying people detained by Portland police on Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Portland, Ore. Portland police cleared out a library on campus that protesters had occupied since Monday. Officers said they made 22 arrests Thursday. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

Protesters at Brown University in Rhode Island agreed to dismantle their pro-Palestinian encampment Tuesday. School officials said students could present arguments to divest Brown’s endowment from companies contributing to and profiting from the war in Gaza.

In addition, Brown President Christina Paxson will ask an advisory committee to make a recommendation on divestment by Sept. 30, which will be put before the school’s governing corporation for a vote in October.

Northwestern’s Deering Meadow in suburban Chicago also fell silent after an agreement Monday. The deal curbed protest activity in return for the reestablishment of an advisory committee on university investments and other commitments.

The arrangement drew dissent from both sides. Some pro-Palestinian protesters condemned it as a failure to stick to their original demands, while some supporters of Israel said it represented “cowardly” capitulation.

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
A tent is removed at the site of a pro-Palestinian encampment which was cleared by police overnight on the UCLA campus Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Seven of 18 members subsequently resigned from a university committee that advises the administration on addressing antisemitism, Islamophobia and expressions of hatred on campus, saying they couldn't continue to serve “with antisemitism so present at Northwestern in public view for the past week.”

Michael Simon, the executive director of an organization for Jewish students, Northwestern Hillel, said he resigned after concluding the committee could not achieve its goals.

Faculty at Pomona College in California voted in favor of the school divesting from companies they said are funding Israel’s war in Gaza, a group of faculty and students said Friday.

The vote Thursday is not binding on the liberal arts school of nearly 1,800 students east of Los Angeles. But supporters said they hope it would encourage the board to stop investing in these companies and start disclosing where it makes its investments.

Meanwhile, arrests of demonstrators continued elsewhere.

About a dozen protesters who refused police orders to leave a tent encampment at New York University were arrested early Friday, and about 30 more left voluntarily, according to NYU spokesperson John Beckman. The school asked the New York Police Department to intervene, Beckman said.

NYPD officers also cleared an encampment at The New School in Greenwich Village on the request of school administrators. No arrests were announced.

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
Pro-Palestinian supporters continue their encampment protest on Vanderbilt University campus Friday, May 3, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Authorities said a further 132 protesters were arrested when police broke up a pro-Palestinian encampment at the State University of New York at New Paltz starting late Thursday. And nine protesters were arrested at the University of Tennessee, including seven students who Chancellor Donde Plowman said would also be sanctioned under the school's code of conduct.

The student protest movement began April 17 at Columbia University, where student protesters built an encampment to call for an end to the Israel-Hamas war. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there. Israel launched its offensive in Gaza after Oct. 7, when Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages in an attack on southern Israel.

More than 100 people were arrested late Tuesday when police broke up the Columbia encampment. One officer accidentally discharged his gun inside Hamilton Hall during that operation, but no one was injured, NYPD said late Thursday.

Pro-Palestinian activists at Auraria Campus reject offer from anonymous donors

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Kathleen Foody reported from Chicago; Catalini from Morrisville, Pennsylvania; and Hill from Altamont, New York. Associated Press journalists around the country contributed to this report, including Ben Finley, Julie Watson, Carolyn Thompson, Kavish Harjai, Krysta Fauria, Leslie Ambriz, John Antczak, Lisa Baumann, Jae C. Hong, Colleen Long, Sarah Brumfield, Philip Marcelo, Steve Karnowski, Cedar Attanasio and Gene Johnson.


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