Watch CBS News

College protesters vow to keep demonstrations as schools shut down encampments amid reports of antisemitism

Colleges struggle with how to handle protests
Colleges struggle with how to handle growing protests 02:33

Hundreds of students protesting the Israel-Hamas war at college campuses across the nation vowed to keep their demonstrations going despite some universities moving to shut down the encampments after reports of antisemitic activity among the protestors.

As the death toll mounts in the war in Gaza, protesters nationwide are demanding that schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say are enabling the conflict. 

Meanwhile, some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

Over 100 arrested in Northeastern University protest

Early Saturday, police in riot gear cleared out a student encampment on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston. The school said the demonstration, which began two days ago, had become "infiltrated by professional organizers" with no affiliation to the school.

Police clear a pro-Palestinian encampment at Northeastern University. CBS Boston

The school said in a statement that antisemitic slurs, including "Kill the Jews," were used.

"We cannot tolerate this kind of hate on our campus," said the statement, which was posted on the social media platform X.

As workers pulled down tents and bagged up the debris from the encampment, several dozen people across from the encampment chanted, "Let the Kids Go," and slogans against the war in Gaza. They also booed as police cars passed and taunted the officers who stood guard over the encampment.

The Huskies for a Free Palestine student group disputed the university's account, saying in a statement that counterprotesters were to blame for the slurs and no student protesters "repeated the disgusting hate speech."

Students at the protest said a counterprotester attempted to instigate hate speech but insisted their event was peaceful and, like many across the country, was aimed at drawing attention to what they described as the "genocide" in Gaza and their university's complicity in the war.

Massachusetts State Police said about 102 protesters were arrested and will be charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

University of Pennsylvania seeks to disband encampment 

The University of Pennsylvania took similar action to Northeastern on Friday, when interim President J. Larry Jameson called for an encampment of protesters on the west Philadelphia campus to be disbanded, saying it violates the university's facilities policies, though about 40 tents remained in place Saturday morning.

The "harassing and intimidating comments and actions" by some protesters violate the school's open expression guidelines as well as state and federal law, Jameson said, and vandalism of a statue with antisemitic graffiti was "especially reprehensible and will be investigated as a hate crime."

A faculty group said Saturday that it was "deeply disturbed" by the university president's email, saying it included "unsubstantiated allegations" that "have been disputed to us by faculty and students who have attended and observed the demonstration."

The university's chapter of the American Association of University Professors said Jameson's statement "mischaracterizes the overall nature of an antiwar protest that necessarily involves strong emotions on both sides but has not, to our knowledge, involved any actual violence or threats of violence to individuals on our campus."

What sparked the college protests?

Student protesters say they are drawing attention to the war in Gaza, where an Israeli offensive has killed over 34,000 Palestinians, displaced about 80% of the population and pushed hundreds of thousands of people to the brink of famine. The war was triggered by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack into Israel, in which militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took another 250 people hostage.

Israel and its supporters have branded the protests as antisemitic, while critics of Israel say it uses such allegations to silence opponents. Although some protesters have been caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, organizers of the protests, some of whom are Jewish, say it is a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

Pro-Palestine protest, University of Minnesota campus, Minneapolis, Minn.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN. - APRIL 2024: Pro-Palestine supporters chant during a rally against the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza after the University of Minnesotas campus police cleared the Gaza Solidarity Encampment set up by the UMN Divest coalition Tuesday, April 23, 2024 at the University's Northrop Plaza (Northrop Mall) in Minneapolis, Minn. Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Columbia University protest enters 11th day

At Columbia University, whose encampment — now in its 11th day on the school's main lawn — inspired the wave of protests across the country, there have been reports of "outside agitators" who have infiltrated the protest "to spew hate and antisemitism," NYPD Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said in a post to social media.

"What may have started as a group of Columbia students wanting to express their constitutional right to protest has drawn crowds of outside agitators who are trying to hijack a peaceful protest and turn it something far more sinister," he said.

In a statement on the university's website Friday, school officials condemned the reports of antisemitism, calling them "intolerable."

"And the safety situation has become concerning, particularly with the involvement of individuals not associated with Columbia," said the letter, attributed to President Minouche Shafik, Provost Angela Olinto, and David Greenwald and Claire Shipman, co-chairs of the board of trustees.

"Chants, signs, taunts, and social media posts from our own students that mock and threaten to 'kill' Jewish people are totally unacceptable, and Columbia students who are involved in such incidents will be held accountable. We can report that one individual whose vile videos have surfaced in recent days is now banned from campus," the letter said.

In a statement Saturday evening on Columbia University's website, Ben Chang, a school spokesperson, said there was "no truth to claims of an impending lockdown or evictions on campus." The university canceled a planned press briefing Saturday, saying it was "a quiet day on campus."

Students representing the Columbia University encampment said Friday that they reached an impasse with administrators and intended to continue their protest.

The university's senate passed a resolution Friday that created a task force to examine the administration's leadership, which last week called in police in an attempt to clear the protest, resulting in scuffles and more than 100 arrests.

Though the university has repeatedly set and then pushed back deadlines for the removal of the encampment, the school sent an email to students Friday night saying that bringing back police "at this time" would be counterproductive.

Also Friday, Columbia student protester Khymani James walked back comments made in an online video in January that recently received new attention. James said in the video that "Zionists don't deserve to live" and people should be grateful James wasn't killing them.

"What I said was wrong," James said in a statement. "Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification."

James, who served as a spokesperson for the pro-Palestinian encampment as a member of Columbia University Apartheid Divest, was banned from campus Friday, according to a Columbia spokesperson.

Protest organizers said James' comments didn't reflect their values. They declined to describe James' level of involvement with the demonstration.

The decisions to call in law enforcement, leading to hundreds of arrests nationwide, have prompted school faculty members at universities in California, Georgia and Texas to initiate or pass votes of no confidence in their leadership. They are largely symbolic rebukes, without the power to remove their presidents.

But the tensions pile pressure on school officials, who are already scrambling to resolve the protests as May graduation ceremonies near. The University of Southern California, which had already canceled its valedictorian's speech, said it would not hold a graduation ceremony, citing safety concerns.  

Cal Poly Humboldt announces "hard closure" of campus

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, had given protestors who had barricaded themselves inside a building since Monday until 5 p.m. Friday to leave and "not be immediately arrested." The deadline came and went. Only some of the protesters left, others doubled down. After protesters rebuffed police earlier in the week, the campus was closed for the rest of the semester.

On Saturday afternoon, Cal Poly Humboldt announced in a statement that a "hard closure" of the campus was in place," and "anyone on campus without permission is subject to citation or arrest."

Students who live in campus residence halls "have permission to remain in the limited area of the hall they live in and dining facilities," the school said, but cannot be on other parts of campus. 

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests
A chalk statement is seen on the road leading to the George Washington University Yard as students protest the Israel-Hamas war, in Washington, Saturday, April 27, 2024. Cliff Owen / AP

Dozens arrested in Denver

In Colorado, police swept through an encampment Friday at Denver's Auraria Campus, which hosts three universities and colleges, arresting around 40 protesters on trespassing charges.

Denver mayor Mike Johnston visited the campus on Friday night for a brief conversation with pro-Palestinian protestors who have occupied the lawn in front of the Tivoli Student Union. He was peppered with questions and taunts as he called for an end to the encampment. 

"We are here to try to make sure we can help you all exercise to protest peacefully. We want this to be a campus where you can exercise your First Amendment rights and be respected to do that," said Johnston. "We also have to have a campus that can continue to operate here so our ask is we need to you all to be able to pull down the tents. That is against campus policy. You can continue to protest peacefully once the tents come down."

The protests have inspired students around the world.

In France, students at the Paris Institute of Political Studies, which counts President Emmanuel Macron among its many famous alumni, students blocked access to a campus building and classes went online as the wave of protests reached overseas.

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.