Pro-Palestinian Campus Protests Decline After Crackdowns and Biden Criticism

Pro-Palestinian protests on US college campuses, sparked by Israel's war in Gaza, have led to over 2,200 arrests and clashes with police. President Biden has addressed the controversy, affirming the right to peaceful protest while denouncing violence and disorder.

Nasiru Eneji Abdulrasheed
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Pro-Palestinian Campus Protests Decline After Crackdowns and Biden Criticism

Pro-Palestinian Campus Protests Decline After Crackdowns and Biden Criticism

Pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses across the United States have significantly decreased in recent weeks following a wave of crackdowns by university administrators and police, plus pointed criticism from President Joe Biden. The demonstrations, which originated at Columbia University on April 17 before spreading to more than 43 colleges and universities nationwide, have led to at least 2,200 arrests.

The suppression of protests on college campuses raises concerns about the limits of free speech and the role of universities in addressing social and political issues. The outcome of these protests may also influence the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the global response to it.

The protests erupted in response to Israel's ongoing war in Gaza, which the Gaza Health Ministry reports has claimed the lives of over 34,000 Palestinians. Demonstrators are demanding that universities divest from companies they allege support the war and sever all business ties with Israel.

At Columbia University, the epicenter of the protests, police arrested more than 100 people as they dismantled a pro-Palestinian encampment. In a startling incident, an officer inadvertently fired his weapon inside an administration building, though no injuries were reported. UCLA also witnessed a major clash when police forcibly broke up a fortified encampment, arresting at least 200 protesters who had refused orders to disperse.

In an effort to prevent further disruptions, some universities, including the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, Rutgers University, and Brown University, have chosen to negotiate agreements with protesters. However, other institutions have taken a more aggressive approach, with police forcefully clearing encampments and conducting mass arrests.

President Biden addressed the controversy in a televised speech from the White House, affirming the right to peaceful protest while denouncing the violence and disorder that have marked some of the demonstrations. "We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent," Biden asserted. "In fact, peaceful protest is in the best tradition of how Americans respond to consequential issues."

The president also admonished protesters who have disrupted campus life and infringed upon the rights of other students. "Dissent is vital to democracy, but dissent must never lead to disorder or to denying the rights of others, so students can finish the semester and their college education," he stated. Biden stressed that while peaceful protest is protected,"violent protest is not,"adding that"destroying property is not a peaceful protest"and"threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not peaceful protest."

Biden dismissed calls from some Republicans to send in the National Guard to quell the unrest on campuses, maintaining that "there's the right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos." He also spoke out against antisemitism, proclaiming that "there's no place for racism in America."

Why this matters: University administrators and campus police have drawn criticism for their management of the protests. Some stand accused of not intervening swiftly enough or requesting backup when demonstrations escalated into violence. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom has vowed to conduct an independent review of the crackdown at UCLA.

Spring semester's conclusion brings uncertainty whether the lull in protests will persist or if demonstrators will regroup over the summer. The future trajectory of the protests may hinge on the course of the war in Gaza and the receptiveness of universities to addressing protesters' demands. For the moment, an uneasy calm has settled over campuses that only weeks ago were mired in conflict and controversy.

Key Takeaways

  • Pro-Palestinian protests on US college campuses have decreased after crackdowns and criticism from President Biden.
  • At least 2,200 arrests were made during the protests, which started at Columbia University on April 17.
  • Protesters demand universities divest from companies supporting Israel's war in Gaza and sever ties with Israel.
  • President Biden affirmed the right to peaceful protest, but denounced violence and disorder.
  • The future of the protests depends on the war in Gaza and universities' response to protesters' demands.