Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

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Pro-Palestinian supporters rally on the campus of Columbia University on April 22, 2024 in New York City. (AFP)
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Two student protesters converse at the Pro-Palestine protest encampment at the Columbia University campus in New York on Monday April 22, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 23 April 2024
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Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

  • Columbia University canceled in-person classes and police arrested dozens of students at New York University and Yale
  • Pro-Palestinian demonstrators set up encampments on other campuses around the country

NEW YORK: Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at Yale and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public on Monday as some of the most prestigious US universities sought to diffuse campus tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas.
The various actions followed the arrest last week of more than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia’s green, as schools struggle with where to draw the line between allowing free expression while maintaining a safe and inclusive campus.
In addition to the demonstrations at the Ivy League schools, pro-Palestinian encampments have sprouted up on other campuses, including the University of Michigan, New York University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The protests have pitted students against one another, with pro-Palestinian students demanding that their schools condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza and divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel. Some Jewish students, meanwhile, say much of the criticism of Israel has veered into antisemitism and made them feel unsafe, and point out that Hamas is still holding hostages taken during the group’s Oct. 7 invasion.
Tensions remained high Monday at Columbia in New York City, where the campus gates were locked to anyone without a school ID and where protests broke out both on campus and outside.
US Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from North Carolina who was visiting Columbia with three other Jewish members of Congress to view the encampment, told reporters after meeting with students from the Jewish Law Students Association that there was “an enormous encampment of people” who had taken up about a third of the green.
“We saw signs indicating that Israel should be destroyed,” she said after leaving the Morningside Heights campus.
A woman inside the campus gates led about two-dozen protesters on the street outside in a chant of, ” From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free! ” — a charged phrase that can mean vastly different things to different groups. Meanwhile, a small group of pro-Israel counter demonstrators protested nearby.
University President Minouche Shafik said in a message to the school community Monday that she was “deeply saddened” by what was happening on campus.
“To deescalate the rancor and give us all a chance to consider next steps, I am announcing that all classes will be held virtually on Monday,” Shafik wrote, noting that faculty and staff should work remotely when possible and that students who don’t live on campus should stay away.
Protests have roiled many college campuses since Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel, when militants killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. In response, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the local health ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between combatants and non-combatants but says at least two-thirds of the dead are children and women.
Prahlad Iyengar, an MIT graduate student studying electrical engineering, was among about two dozen students who set up a tent encampment on the school’s Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus Sunday evening. They are calling for a ceasefire and are protesting what they describe as MIT’s “complicity in the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” he said.
“MIT has not even called for a ceasefire, and that’s a demand we have for sure,” Iyengar said.
He also said MIT has been sending out confusing rules about protests.
“We’re out here to demonstrate that we reserve the right to protest. It’s an essential part of living on a college campus,” Iyengar said.
On Sunday, Elie Buechler, a rabbi for the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Learning Initiative at Columbia, sent a WhatsApp message to nearly 300 Jewish students recommending they go home until it’s more safe for them on campus.
The latest developments came ahead of the Monday evening start of the Jewish holiday of Passover.
Nicholas Baum, a 19-year-old Jewish freshman who lives in a Jewish theological seminary building two blocks from Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, said protesters over the weekend were “calling for Hamas to blow away Tel Aviv and Israel.” He said some of the protesters shouting antisemitic slurs were not students.
“Jews are scared at Columbia. It’s as simple as that. There’s been so much vilification of Zionism, and it has spilled over into the vilification of Judaism,” he said.
The protest encampment sprung up at Columbia on Wednesday, the same day that Shafik faced bruising criticism at a congressional hearing from Republicans who said she hadn’t done enough to fight antisemitism. Two other Ivy League presidents resigned months ago following widely criticized testimony they gave to the same committee.
In her statement Monday, Shafik said the Middle East conflict is terrible and that she understands that many are experiencing deep moral distress.
“But we cannot have one group dictate terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance their point of view,” Shafik wrote.
Over the coming days, a working group of deans, school administrators and faculty will try to find a resolution to the university crisis, noted Shafik, who didn’t say when in-person classes would resume.
Several students at Columbia and its sister school, Barnard College, said they were suspended for taking part in last week’s protests, including Barnard student Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Democratic US Rep. Ilhan Omar.
At Yale, police officers arrested about 45 protesters and charged them with misdemeanor trespassing, said Officer Christian Bruckhart, a New Haven police spokesperson. All were being released on promises to appear in court later, he said.
Protesters set up tents on Beinecke Plaza on Friday and demonstrated over the weekend, calling on Yale to end any investments in defense companies that do business with Israel.
Nadine Cubeisy, a Yale student and one of the protest’s organizers, said it was disturbing that “this university that I’m going to, that I contribute to and that my friends give money to is using that money to fund violence.”
In a statement to the campus community on Sunday, Yale President Peter Salovey said university officials had spoken to the student protesters multiple times about the school’s policies and guidelines, including those regarding speech and allowing access to campus spaces.
School officials said they spoke with protesters over several hours and gave them until the end of the weekend to leave Beinecke Plaza. The said they again warned protesters Monday morning and told them that they could face arrest and discipline, including suspension, before police moved in.
A large group of demonstrators regathered after Monday’s arrests at Yale and blocked a street near campus, said Bruckhart. There were no reports of any violence or injuries.
Last week, the University of Southern California took the unusual step of canceling a planned commencement speech by its 2024 valedictorian, who had publicly supported Palestinians. The university cited security concerns in a decision that was praised by some pro-Israel groups but criticized by free-speech advocates.


UK’s Labour pledges to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process

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UK’s Labour pledges to recognize Palestinian state as part of peace process

MANCHESTER: Britain’s opposition Labour Party, which is far ahead in polls before a July 4 election, pledged on Thursday to recognize a Palestinian state as a contribution to a renewed peace process.
“Palestinian statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people,” said Labour’s election manifesto — the collection of policies it would enact if it forms the next government.
“We are committed to recognizing a Palestinian state as a contribution to a renewed peace process which results in a two-state solution with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.”
The current Conservative-led government has previously said Britain could formally recognize a Palestinian state before the end of a peace process, and that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip must be given “the political perspective of a credible route to a Palestinian state and a new future.”
In May, Spain, Ireland and Norway officially recognized a Palestinian state, prompting an angry reaction from Israel, which has found itself increasingly isolated after more than seven months of conflict in Gaza.

NATO defense ministers thrash out new security aid and training support plan for Ukraine

Updated 13 June 2024
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NATO defense ministers thrash out new security aid and training support plan for Ukraine

  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Ukraine’s beleaguered armed forces need longer-term predictability about the kinds of weapons

BRUSSELS: NATO defense ministers gathered Thursday hoping to agree on a new plan to provide long-term security assistance and military training to Ukraine, after Hungary promised not to veto the scheme as long as it’s not forced to take part.
The ministers are meeting over two days at NATO headquarters in Brussels in the last high-level talks before a summit hosted by US President Joe Biden in Washington on July 9-11, where the military organization’s leaders are expected to announce financial support for Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Western allies are trying to bolster their military support as Russian troops launch attacks along the more than 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line, taking advantage of a lengthy delay in US military aid. European Union money was also held up by political infighting.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who is chairing Thursday’s meeting, said that Ukraine’s beleaguered armed forces need longer-term predictability about the kinds of weapons, ammunition and funds they can expect to receive.
“The whole idea is to minimize the risk for gaps and delays as we saw earlier this year,” Stoltenberg told reporters. The hold-up, he said, “is one of the reasons why the Russians are now able to push and to actually occupy more land in Ukraine.”
Since Russia’s full-fledged invasion in February 2022, Ukraine’s Western backers have routinely met as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, run by the Pentagon, to drum up weapons and ammunition for Kyiv. A fresh meeting was held at NATO headquarters on Thursday.
While those meetings have resulted in significant battlefield support, they have been of an ad-hoc and unpredictable nature. Stoltenberg has spearheaded an effort to have NATO take up some of the slack.
The idea is for the 32-nation military alliance to coordinate the security assistance and training process, partly by using NATO’s command structure and drawing on funds from its common budget.
Stoltenberg said he hopes Biden and his counterparts will agree in Washington to maintain the funding level for military support they have provided Ukraine since Russia launched its full-fledged invasion in February 2022.
He estimates this at around 40 billion euros ($43 billion) worth of equipment each year.
On Wednesday, Hungary announced that it would not veto the plan as long as it’s not forced to take part.
“I asked the Secretary-General to make it clear that all military action outside NATO territory can only be voluntary in nature, according to NATO rules and our traditions,” Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said. “Hungary has received the guarantees we need.”
The world’s biggest security alliance does not send weapons or ammunition to Ukraine as an organization, and has no plans to put troops on the ground. But many of its members give help on a bilateral basis, and jointly provide more than 90 percent of the country’s military support.
The other 31 allies see Russia’s war on Ukraine as an existential security threat to Europe, but most of them, including Biden, have been extremely cautious to ensure that NATO is not drawn into a wider conflict with Russia.
NATO operates on the basis that an attack on any single ally will be met with a response from them all.


G7 leaders seek deal to use interest from Russian assets for Ukraine

Updated 13 June 2024
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G7 leaders seek deal to use interest from Russian assets for Ukraine

  • The Middle East, migration and artificial intelligence are also on the packed agenda
  • For a second year running, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend the summit, taking part in talks on Thursday

BARI: Group of Seven leaders will aim to boost funding for Ukraine in its war with Russia and offer a united face in confronting China’s political and economic ambitions at their annual summit in southern Italy on Thursday.
For a second year running, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will attend the summit, taking part in talks on Thursday, and he is due to sign a new, long-term security accord with US President Joe Biden.
The G7 leaders look likely to announce they have agreed at least in principle on plans to issue $50 billion of loans for Ukraine using interest from Russian sovereign assets frozen after its invasion of Ukraine to back the multi-year debt package.
“I think we will have the major tentpoles of this decided, but some of the specifics left to be worked through by experts on a defined timetable,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said of the discussions.
“I think we are on the verge of a good outcome here,” he added.
Officials acknowledge the plan is complex, with legal experts still having to thrash out the details that will need the backing of European nations, particularly Belgium, which is not in the G7.

Packed Agenda
With the Middle East, migration and artificial intelligence also on a packed agenda, the June 13-15 summit in the southern Italian region of Puglia would be taxing for leaders at the best of times, but most of them are also bowed down by their own domestic woes.
Only the host, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, is riding high after triumphing in Italy’s European election last weekend, but achieving meaningful results in the luxury Borgo Egnazia hotel resort will be a tall order.
Biden’s goal at the G7 was to reinforce the idea that the United States is best served if it is closely aligned with its democratic allies and partners, Sullivan said, when asked about the prospects of it being the president’s last summit given he faces a re-election battle in November.
Underscoring US determination to punish Moscow for its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Washington on Wednesday dramatically broadened sanctions on Moscow, including by targeting China-based companies selling semiconductors to Moscow.
By announcing new restrictions on Chinese firms on the eve of the G7 meeting, Biden is no doubt hoping to persuade Western allies to show greater resolve in confronting Beijing over its support for Russia and its industrial over-capacity.
Speaking ahead of the start of the summit, Sullivan said that China was a significant creditor to many heavily indebted countries.
“The G7 communique is not singling out or focusing on a single country,” he said, but added that China needed to play a constructive role in dealing with the debt burden.


Eight EU countries call for restricting Russian diplomats’ movement

Updated 13 June 2024
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Eight EU countries call for restricting Russian diplomats’ movement

PRAGUE: Eight European Union foreign ministers called on the EU to ban Russian diplomats from moving freely around the bloc and restrict them to countries where they are accredited, in a letter to EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
“Free movement of holders of Russian diplomatic and service passports, accredited in one host state, across the whole Schengen area is easing malign activities,” according to the letter, dated June 11, seen by Reuters.
The ministers said that intelligence, propaganda “or even preparation of sabotage acts are the main workload for a large number of Russian ‘diplomats’ in the EU,” and while expulsions were important, the threat remained.
“We believe the EU should strictly follow the reciprocity principle and restrict the movement of members of Russian diplomatic missions and their family members to territory of a state of their accreditation only,” they said.
“This measure will significantly narrow operational space for Russian agents,” added the letter, which was signed by ministers from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland and Romania.


French citizen Louis Arnaud held in Iran arrives in Paris

Updated 13 June 2024
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French citizen Louis Arnaud held in Iran arrives in Paris

  • Arnaud, a 36-year-old consultant, set off in July 2022 on a round-the-world trip that led him to Iran

PARIS: French citizen Louis Arnaud returned to Paris Thursday after being held in Iran since September 2022 and sentenced last year to five years in jail on national security charges.
Emerging from a small plane at Le Bourget airport outside Paris, a visibly tired but smiling Arnaud shook hands with Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne before embracing his parents, according to images aired on television.
Arnaud linked arms with his relatives as they entered a private room at the airport out of view of the cameras.
“I am very glad to welcome one of our hostages who was indeed held arbitrarily in Iran,” Sejourne said.
“Our diplomatic service is still at work” to free three other French citizens: Jacques Paris, Cecile Koller and a man named only as Olivier held in Iranian jails, he added.
Arnaud, a 36-year-old consultant, set off in July 2022 on a round-the-world trip that led him to Iran.
It was “a country he had long dreamed of visiting for the richness of its history and its welcoming people,” his mother Sylvie said several months ago.
But he was arrested in September 2022 with other Europeans accused of joining demonstrations over the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who died after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran for allegedly breaching the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.
While Arnaud’s traveling companions were soon released, he was kept in prison before his November sentencing for propaganda and harming Iranian state security.
Frenchman Benjamin Briere and French-Irish dual national Bernard Phelan were freed by Iran in May 2023 for “humanitarian reasons.”
Both had been severely weakened by a hunger strike.
Tehran, which holds around a dozen Western citizens, is accused by their supporters and rights groups of using the prisoners as bargaining chip in international negotiations.