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Campus Protests Spark Uproar From Palestinian and Jewish Communities

On Apr. 17, pro-Palestinian Columbia University students rushed to the campus’ lawn to set up a “Gaza solidarity encampment,” sparking a worldwide debate on the validity of free speech on college campuses. Inspired by Columbia’s protest, New York University students also set up an encampment in front of NYU Stern, which was quickly shut down by the New York City Police Department the following day.

To get the perspective of those involved in the recent campus protests in New York City, we traveled to New York University and The New School. 

“The fact [that] there’s cops everywhere makes students feel uncomfortable,” said one NYU student attending a pro-Palestinian protest. 

A “neutral” NYU senior said, “The way the NYPD came down both on NYU’s campus down here and in Columbia up there felt like an egregious violation of the First Amendment.” He also noted instances of “blatant antisemitism,” which “many Jewish students felt threatened by.” 

A freshman protester at The New School, just a few blocks away from NYU, said, “This is not about being Jewish; it’s about Zionism, and Zionism should not be equated to Judaism. I feel like that’s an insult.”

A Jewish NYU senior corroborated reports of antisemitism and said she felt ridiculed for her beliefs: “I feel very judged and looked down upon.” 

When asked about the reason behind the protesters’ face coverings, the student said, “They’re scared to be doing things because they know it’s wrong, but they’re doing it anyway.”

A pro-Palestinian student had a different take on the masks, saying, “[The administration] has technology that can ID you. Now, if you stand up against injustice, they can suspend you or expel you.”

NYU students have mixed views on whether the protests were peaceful or not. “[The protesters] yell foul things at me and my Jewish friends. . . and I don’t like to engage.”

Meanwhile, another student said, “If you look at the way the police did the raids both at Columbia and NYU […], it didn’t really feel like it was in response to some specific instance of violence.” 

Tensions between NYPD and protesters rose as police arrested over 40 students at an encampment at The New School. In response to the raid, dozens of faculty members at the university reinstated the encampment, marking the first ever faculty-led pro-Palestinian encampment on a college campus in the United States. 

“We are protesting Israel’s attacks on Rafah, Gaza, and all those places that are on stolen land,” said a New School student when asked about the goal of the demonstration. “At the school, what we’re protesting is the school’s investment in arms companies and companies that fund the IDF.” 

Both at NYU and The New School, student protesters insisted that their main priority was their school’s divestment from Israeli companies: “NYU is directly implicated in what is happening in Palestine,” said one protestor.

One of the faculty members who set up the New School encampment, an assistant professor, criticized the university’s role in the conflict, saying, “What we want here, in this encampment, is for the New School board of trustees to vote on divesting from 13 companies in Israel.”

Protesters quickly dismissed the argument that Israel’s attack on Gaza is a justified response to the Oct. 7 massacres. One student said, “I think on Oct. 7, the 1,000 deaths in Israel are really tragic and were a big loss on that community, but 30,000-40,000 Palestinians dead is a bit of an imbalance.”

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