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Pro-Palestinian protests are spreading on US campuses

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Pro-Palestinian protests are spreading on US campuses

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The war in Gaza and the Israeli-Palestinian drama are shaking the major American universities. The climate is tense after the leaders of prestigious universities, from New York University to Yale and Columbia University, have asked for police intervention to clear out protest camps on campuses, operations which have seen the arrest of dozens of pro-protesters -Palestinians in a climate of heated controversy and divisions.

On the one hand, there are complaints of anti-Semitism and intimidation against Jewish students, raised by demonstrations where sympathies for Hamas were also echoed; on the other hand, claims of the right to peaceful expression and academic freedom, questioned by crackdowns that have rare precedents.

However, both the actions of the police and new calls for dialogue seemed at the moment incapable of restoring calm. As a precaution, Harvard closed access to Harvard Yard, in the center of campus, while tents were erected at MIT. Demonstrations and occupations, which coincided with the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover on Monday, also took place in Berkeley, California, where a dozen tents wave the “Solidarity with Gaza” flag, as well as at the University of Minnesota.

The unknowns emerge above all in New York, in the chain of events and positions taken in Columbia, the epicenter of the crisis. Last week, rector Nemat Shafik was the first to ask for the police to enter the university, which had never happened since the protests against the war in Vietnam in 1968, leading to around a hundred arrests and sanctions against numerous students. Now, in order to contain the risks, you have offered students the option of taking lessons remotely to complete the semester, which ends on April 29th.

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But the demonstrations continued and hundreds of professors and university employees, according to the New York Times, signed letters critical of the crackdown and raised possible symbolic censures of the rector by the university Senate. Shafik, who during recent congressional hearings had pledged to respond with determination to demonstrations considered illegal and to episodes of anti-Semitism, said he was aware of the “debate on whether or not to use the police on campus” and underlined that “better respect for rules would avoid the need to rely on others to keep our community safe.”

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