Watch CBS News

Pro-Palestinian protests leave American college campuses on edge

Pro-Palestinian protests continue on campuses
Pro-Palestinian protests continue on college campuses 02:46

New York — Tension gripped college campuses across the United States Tuesday morning as Jewish students marked the Passover holiday amid disturbing allegations of antisemitism at pro-Palestinian protests. The demonstrations have ramped up in recent days as Israel's devastating war against Hamas grinds on in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas-run Health Ministry says more than 34,000 people have been killed, most of them women and children.

In New York, Columbia University's president cancelled in-person classes Monday in response to the protests and said classes would be hybrid through the end of the semester.

With Passover beginning, the school said it had more than doubled its security presence to make Jewish students feel safe.

There were chaotic scenes overnight at Cal Poly Humboldt, in Northern California, meanwhile, as police in riot gear clashed with pro-Palestinian protesters who barricaded themselves inside a campus building. The group, in messages posted online, issued a series of demands for their university to disclose and cut all ties with Israel, and for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory and agree to a cease-fire in Gaza.

At one point, a live video streaming online showed police pushing and shoving against students as they tried to enter the building.

Protesters outside New York University were arrested Monday as NYPD officers broke up another protest there. 

NYPD officers detain protesters at New York University
NYPD officers detain pro-Palestinian students and protesters who had set up an encampment on the campus of New York University (NYU) to protest the Israel-Hamas war, April 22, 2024. ALEX KENT/AFP/Getty

CBS New York's Dan Rice reported at least two dozen demonstrators were taken by police onto four waiting buses, as officers dismantled and removed tents. The NYPD later confirmed 120 individuals were taken into custody; 116 were released with summonses for trespass, while four were issued desk appearance tickets on charges including resisting arrest.

Rice said at one point some protesters started throwing objects in the direction of police.

The demonstrations have spread to campuses from coast to coast, including University of California, Berkeley, where students set up an encampment overnight in Sproul Plaza.

Ongoing pro-Palestinian protests at UC Berkeley mirror protests at universities across nation 01:37

While most of the protesters voice support for Palestinians and anger at Israel's handling of the war — not at Jews — many Jewish students have said they fear for their personal safety after incidents of antisemitism.

Near Columbia University, antisemitic slogans including "go back to Poland" were heard among the protesters' chants. In one video, a demonstrator can be seen holding a sign near Jewish students that reads: "Al-Qassam's next targets."

Al-Qassam is the military wing of Hamas, which carried out the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, killing about 1,200 people and sparking the war in Gaza.

Some Jewish students say threatening messages like that have them petrified to even set foot on campus.

Police arrest pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University 04:46

At the University of Michigan, one student told CBS Detroit, "It's scary, it's terrifying. The sign says, 'Long Live the Intifada' ... not a comfortable feeling."

But many of the demonstrators at Columbia and other universities insist they reject antisemitism and are directing their anger at Israel and its policies.

"Many people you see here today are Jewish," one protester at Columbia told CBS News. "Many of the people arrested on Thursday were Jewish… anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two very different things."

That line has been blurred, however, by the actions of some of the protesters, and Adam Lehman, president and CEO of the world's biggest Jewish student organization, Hillel, said the antisemitic chants directed at students in recent days can evoke painful memories for those whose families escaped persecution in Europe just a couple generations ago.

"The issues that we are trying to address for Jewish students and other students are not about speech, they're about conduct. They are about targeted harassment," he told CBS News.

"Those Jewish students themselves, even though they're young, their family members, those who they're going to sit down with at the Seder table, in some cases, themselves experienced… aspects of the Holocaust," Lehman said. "So, when they see these chants as pro-Hamas chants, or as we saw at Columbia… someone indicating that Jews there would be the next Hamas targets, of course they feel it deeply, and they feel it in a post-traumatic sort of way we're working so hard to eliminate."

Speaking Monday, President Biden said he condemned "the antisemitic protests," but he added: "I also condemn those who don't understand what's going on with the Palestinians."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.