Hundreds of activists gather for an encampment on the University of Michigan's campus

Hundreds of activists gather for an encampment on the University of Michigan's campus calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, on April 24, 2024 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States.

(Photo by Adam J. Dewey/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Netanyahu Demands Harsher Crackdown on US Students as Campus Protests Spread

"Biden's partner in crimes against humanity is now endangering U.S. college students," said one Palestinian rights advocate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested Wednesday that he was dissatisfied with the arrests of hundreds of U.S. college students—some of whom were violently detained by large groups of police officers—in the last week at a growing number of protests against universities' complicity in Israel's massacre of Palestinians in Gaza.

Netanyahu called the students who have set up encampments in solidarity with Palestinians "antisemitic mobs" and accused them of attacking Jewish students and faculty—despite the fact that Jewish organizers have been among those protesting Israel's bombardment of Gaza and demanding a cease-fire.

"It's unconscionable. It has to be stopped. It has to be condemned and condemned unequivocally... More has to be done," said Netanyahu shortly after Texas state troopers on horseback arrived at the campus of the University of Texas at Austin and arrested at least 50 people, including a photojournalist.

Artist and author Eli Valley said Netanyahu's call for a more forceful response could endanger U.S. college students in the interest of distracting "from the horrors" the Israeli government is inflicting in Gaza.

The prime minister's comments also came as at least 93 people were arrested at the University of Southern California, and hours before more than 100 students were detained by Boston police officers at Emerson College.

The current surge in student protests comes after months of demonstrations across the country demanding that President Joe Biden push for a permanent cease-fire and end unconditional military aid for Israel, which has received billions of dollars in weapons from the U.S. since it began its latest attack on Gaza—and full-scale obstruction of humanitarian aid—in October.

Starting with a solidarity encampment at Columbia University last week, U.S. college students have called on their schools to divest from weapons manufacturers, tech companies, and other entities that work with the Israeli government, and have demanded a cease-fire.

More than 100 students were suspended from Columbia and its affiliate, Barnard College, and then arrested last week—but the New York Police Department's response, sanctioned by university president Minouche Shafik, didn't stop protesters from erecting another encampment that was still up on Thursday as student organizers and administrators held negotiations.

Al Jazeerareported Thursday that despite law enforcement's violent response to protesters, demonstrations have sprung up at dozens of schools.

"As a sheer tactical matter, mass arrests of the protesters seem to be having the opposite of its intended effect," observed MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes.

Netanyahu's call for a greater show of force against students exercising their constitutional rights, said Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom Husam Zomlot, is evidence that the prime minister "knows the tide is turning, and time is against him and his racist government."

On Thursday morning, new demonstrations were announced at the City College of New York, Northwestern University, Emory University, Georgetown University, and Princeton University.

Organizers of some of the protests said they would not dismantle their encampments until their demands, including for divestment from companies benefiting from Israel's policies in the occupied Palestinian territories, were met.

"We refuse to allow business to continue as usual in the face of Northwestern's complicity," said organizers with Educators for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Student Liberation Union at the university in Evanston, Illinois. "While Northwestern University rejects demands to disclose its investments, members of its Board of Trustees have served as executives of companies that supply arms to Israel. The university maintains partnerships like the Israel Innovation Project (IIP), whose research has strengthened the Israeli military-industrial complex and its capacity for surveillance and AI-powered apartheid. Our movement will not be stopped, nor will it be co-opted—we are committed to reclaiming our campus and reimagining what a university space should be until our following demands are met."

The groundswell of protest activity on college campuses, taking place just over six months ahead of the U.S. general election, led some observers to note that Biden may be sacrificing crucial support from young voters in the interest of continuing to support a foreign government's military operation that has killed at least 34,305 Palestinians.

"As usual, Netanyahu openly amplifies GOP messages," saidThe Atlantic senior editor Ronald Brownstein, "which should remind Biden he's tied himself to a partner [who is] hoping he loses."

Biden told reporters on Monday that he condemned "the antisemitic protests" without saying which student demonstrations have expressed support for antisemitism or how, and said in a statement on Sunday that "blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous—and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country"—but also didn't specify in the remarks what antisemitic activity the White House has observed at protests in support of Gaza.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Wednesday in an interview with a CBS News reporter that campus protesters demanding a cease-fire are practicing "left-wing fascism" and "challenging representative democracy" and called for their arrests.

On "All In with Chris Hayes" on Wednesday evening, Hayes pointed out that as politicians from across the political spectrum accuse student protesters of antisemitism and violence, "the actual issues raised by the protests and protesters, which include the status of the hostages in Gaza, Israel's ongoing war in Gaza, the 30,000+ deaths there, and how and when the war might be brought to a close, all remain completely unresolved."

"What is the endpoint here?" Hayes asked. "How many people have to die, how many is tolerable, how many tens of thousands, how many children? How will the hostages come home? With the specter of even more mass destruction looming ahead, how will the people of Gaza find anything approaching a habitable future?"

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