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Pro-Palestinian protesters arrested at Yale, Columbia cancels in-person classes

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Dozens of people were taken into custody during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at Yale University on Monday, hours after Columbia canceled in-person classes to deescalate tensions on its New York campus, where police cracked down on a tent encampment last week.

Signs posted on fencing on the main campus are seen as demonstrators protest in solidarity with Pro-Palestinian organizers in a sit in on the Columbia University campus, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City, April 19, 2024. Reuters/Caitlin Ochs

Dozens of people were taken into custody during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at Yale University on Monday, hours after Columbia canceled in-person classes to deescalate tensions on its New York campus, where police cracked down on a tent encampment last week.

Demonstrators on Monday blocked traffic around Yale's campus in New Haven, Connecticut, demanding the school divest from military weapons manufacturers, prompting police to make arrests, video footage aired on social media showed.

More than 40 people were apprehended by police, according to the Yale Daily News, a student-run news site. Yale University officials could not be reached for comment.

Protests at Yale, Columbia and other university campuses across the nation began in response to the latest escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which began on Oct. 7 with a deadly cross-border raid by Hamas Islamist militants and Israel's fierce response in the Gaza enclave controlled by Hamas.

Human rights advocates have pointed to a general rise in bias and hate against Jews, Arabs and Muslims since Oct. 7. There was particular concern in recent days, with the Jewish holiday of Passover beginning on Monday.

In a statement on Monday, Columbia President Nemat Minouche Shafik said the university was canceling in-person classes and again denounced antisemitic language and intimidating and harassing behavior that she said had occurred on campus recently.

The decision to cancel classes on the New York campus followed the arrest of more than 100 protesters, some of whom set up dozens of tents in what the school said was an unauthorized demonstration that disrupted school activities.

"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," said Shafik, who last week testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee, defending the school's response to alleged antisemitism by protesters. "We need a reset."

Similar pro-Palestinian encampments were also set up at Boston's Emerson College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in neighboring Cambridge.

President Joe Biden said in a statement on Sunday that his administration has put the full force of the federal government behind protecting the Jewish community.

"Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country," he said.

Elie Buechler, an Orthodox rabbi at Columbia University and its affiliate Barnard College, told students in an online message that campus and city police cannot guarantee the safety of Jewish students, according to local media.

"It deeply pains me to say that I would strongly recommend you return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved," Buechler said in a WhatsApp message sent to hundreds before the start of Passover over the weekend.

Student organizers from the Columbia University encampment responded to the White House claims of antisemitism in the pro-Palestinian protests on campus. They said they were being misidentified and that some "inflammatory individuals" did not represent their movement.

"We are frustrated by media distractions focusing on inflammatory individuals who do not represent us," the anti-war Columbia protesters said in an emailed statement shared through a pro-Palestinian advocacy group called Institute of Middle East Understanding.

The student activists said they are demanding the school divest from corporations that profit from Israel actions in Gaza, transparency of the school's financial investments and amnesty for students and faculty disciplined over their calls for Palestinian liberation.

Columbia University officials could not be reached for comment.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago and Kanishka Singh in Washington D.C.

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