Duke Students Walk Out of Commencement Over Seinfeld's Israel Support

Dozens of Duke University students walked out of comedian Jerry Seinfeld's commencement speech, protesting his public support for Israel. The students chanted "free Palestine" and displayed Palestinian flags, part of a larger trend of anti-Israel demonstrations on US college campuses.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Duke Students Walk Out of Commencement Over Seinfeld's Israel Support

Duke Students Walk Out of Commencement Over Seinfeld's Israel Support

Dozens of Duke University students staged a walkout during comedian Jerry Seinfeld's commencement speech on Sunday, May 12, 2024, in protest of his public support for Israel. The students chanted "free Palestine" and displayed Palestinian flags as they left the ceremony, while Seinfeld, who was receiving an honorary degree from the school, continued his speech without major interruptions.

Why this matters: The growing tensions on U.S. college campuses over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflect a broader shift in public opinion and activism, with potential implications for diplomatic relations and foreign policy. As the conflict continues to escalate, the debate is likely to have far-reaching consequences for international relations, academic freedom, and social justice movements.

Seinfeld has been a vocal supporter of Israel, especially since the October 7, 2023 Hamas attack that killed approximately 1,200 people in Israel and resulted in the kidnapping of 250 others. He and his wife have posted messages backing Israel on social media. In December 2023, Seinfeld visited Israel, meeting with freed hostages and representatives of families whose loved ones are still being held captive in Gaza.

The Duke University protest is part of a larger trend of anti-Israel demonstrations on college campuses across the United States. Students are calling for their schools to divest from companies that supply arms or profit from the ongoing war in Gaza, where Israeli military operations have led to the deaths of over 35,000 Palestinians since the conflict escalated in October. Protesters are also demanding amnesty for students and faculty members who have faced disciplinary action for speaking out against Israel.

On the same day as the Duke walkout, Johns Hopkins University reached an agreement with student protesters to permanently dismantle an anti-Israel encampment on its campus in Baltimore. In exchange, the university committed to a timely review of the protesters' demands for divestment from Israel and to concluding student conduct proceedings related to the encampment. Other recent campus incidents include a walkout during Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin's commencement speech at Virginia Commonwealth University and the vandalism of an interim chancellor's office at the University of North Carolina.

The Duke University commencement walkout highlights the growing tensions on U.S. college campuses over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the war in Gaza stretches into its eighth month with no end in sight, student activists are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to Israel's policies and their schools' perceived complicity. With high-profile figures like Jerry Seinfeld being caught in the crossfire, the debate over Israel and Palestine is likely to remain a contentious issue in higher education for the foreseeable future.