New York police arrest NYU protesters as US campus tensions rise

Police arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at New York University in Manhattan on Monday, as authorities stepped up efforts to quell student protests amid scrutiny over antisemitism on US campuses.

New York Police Department officers moved in on the NYU protesters at about 8.30pm, after a deadline for people to clear an area of the campus passed earlier on Monday.

Police arrested at least two dozen people amassed in streets at the university, in the city’s Greenwich Village area. Hundreds of people had gathered to protest against Israel’s war in Gaza.

The crackdown at NYU came hours after New York’s Columbia University announced it was switching to online classes as president Minouche Shafik attempted to defuse protests at the Ivy League college’s campus.

Police also arrested pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, earlier on Monday. On Friday, more than 100 were arrested at Columbia, in the first such intervention for more than three decades. Columbia and Yale have said participating students would be suspended.

The arrests at Columbia last week have also sparked student protest encampments at other universities including at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts and Emerson.

Columbia, a focal point for demonstrations partly because of its elite reputation, New York City location and strong tradition of Palestinian studies, has come under intense political pressure regarding the protests. Student groups have been calling for divestment of universities’ funds from companies linked to Israel, as well as making broader demands for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Announcing the shift to remote learning on the eve of the Jewish festival of Passover, Shafik said: “The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days. These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas. We need a reset.”

Peter Salovey, Yale’s president, said he was “aware of reports of egregious behaviour, such as intimidation and harassment, pushing those in crowds, removal of the plaza flag, and other harmful acts. Yale does not tolerate actions, including remarks, that threaten, harass or intimidate members of the university’s Jewish, Muslim, and other communities.”

Shafik last week was questioned by Republican lawmakers in Congress over Columbia’s efforts to tackle antisemitism, and stressed efforts to punish faculty and staff involved. However, Virginia Foxx, the Republican chair of the House education committee, said lawmakers still had “serious concerns regarding misleading and inaccurate statements from [her] testimony”.

Some faculty at schools, including Columbia, have questioned universities’ actions in banning student groups and in requesting police intervention, and called for clarification of the policies applied and the detailed evidence to justify suspensions.

Several of the US’s most elite universities have faced damaging controversies related to protests over the war in Gaza, which has led to the resignations of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

Multiple Jewish students and organisations have launched legal actions against Columbia and other higher education institutions for allegedly failing to act sufficiently against antisemitism, while a number of Palestinian groups have also raised concerns over Islamophobia.

Democrats have come under pressure from many younger and Muslim voters for continued US support for Israel.

US President Joe Biden weighed in for the second time in as many days on the protests spreading across campuses on Monday: “I condemn the antisemitic protests. That’s why I have set up a programme to deal with that. I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.”

In a letter to students and faculty explaining the shift to online classes at Columbia, Shafik said: “Over the past days, there have been too many examples of intimidating and harassing behaviour on our campus. Antisemitic language, like any other language that is used to hurt and frighten people, is unacceptable and appropriate action will be taken.”

New York’s Democratic mayor Eric Adams said on X: “I am horrified and disgusted with the antisemitism being spewed at and around the Columbia University campus. Hate has no place in our city, and I have instructed the NYPD to investigate any violation of law they receive a report about and will arrest anyone found to be breaking the law.”

Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots football team, said he was stopping donations to his alma mater Columbia until it ended the protests and took efforts to protect its students and staff. He created the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, and has provided support including the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life on campus.

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