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As Netanyahu compares U.S. university protests to Nazi Germany, young Palestinians welcome the support

Pro-Palestinian college protests intensify
Pro-Palestinian protests at U.S. colleges intensify 01:59

As pro-Palestinian protests spread on university campuses across the United States, leading to hundreds of arrests, young Palestinians in the war-torn Gaza Strip have told CBS News they appreciate the support from America. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has condemned the demonstrations as antisemitic and even compared them to rallies held in Germany almost 100 years ago, as the Nazi party rose to power on a wave of anti-Jewish hate.

Fida Afifi had been attending Al Aqsa University in Gaza City before the Palestinian territory's Hamas rulers sparked the ongoing war with their bloody Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel. The war forced her to flee her home to Rafah in southern Gaza, along with some 1.5 million other Palestinians.

She told CBS News on Wednesday that she welcomed the support for the Palestinian people's cause from young people almost 6,000 miles away in the U.S.

Fida Afifi, who was a student at Al Aqsa University in Gaza City before the war between Israel and Hamas forced her to flee, speaks with CBS News at a camp for displaced people in Rafah, in the far south of the Palestinian territory, April 24, 2024. CBS News

"I salute them, the American university students who are protesting against Netanyahu's government and the American government. That's kind of them and I admire them for that. I am calling on the world's students to rise against the government," she said.

Before the war, Essam el-Demasy said he was on the verge of earning his business degree. Speaking with CBS News next to a tent in a camp for displaced people in southern Gaza, he said he'd lost his "hopes and dreams."

"We thank all the students and everyone who stands with us in these times. We thank all the students all over the world and especially in the U.S. We thank every student who thinks of doing anything to help us," el-Demasy said. "We are living this war, which is like a genocide on all levels."

Essam el-Demasy, who told CBS News he was on the verge of earning a business degree at the Islamic University of Gaza before the war, speaks with CBS News at a camp for displaced Palestinians in southern Gaza, April 24, 2024. CBS News

There have been hundreds of arrests on campuses from New York to California and, while most of the protesters stress that they are demonstrating against Israel's war in Gaza and its decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory, Jewish student organizations say incidents of antisemitism have left people afraid to even venture onto their campuses.

In a video statement released Wednesday evening, Netanyahu, speaking in English, lambasted the protests in the U.S. as "horrific" antisemitism — even equating them to anti-Jewish rallies in Germany as the Nazi party rose to power in the decade before World War II and the Holocaust.

"What's happening in America's college campuses is horrific. Antisemitic mobs have taken over leading universities," Netanyahu claimed. "They call for the annihilation of Israel. They attack Jewish students. They attack Jewish faculty. This is reminiscent of what happened in German universities in the 1930s."

"It's unconscionable," said the veteran Israeli politician who, to secure his current third term in office two years ago partnered with some of his country's most extreme, ultra-nationalist parties to form Israel's most far-right government ever.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen in a screengrab from a video statement released by his office on April 24, 2024, in which he called pro-Palestinian protests sweeping U.S. university campuses "horrific" displays of antisemitism. Israeli government handout

"It has to be stopped," Netanyahu said of the widespread U.S. protests. "It has to be condemned and condemned unequivocally, but that's not what happened."

That couldn't be further from how young Palestinians, trapped in the warzone of Gaza, see the support of so many American students determined to make their voices heard despite the risk of arrest.

"The aggression is committing a genocide, killing, and hunger," Ahmed Ibrahim Hassan, an accounting student displaced from his home in northern Gaza, told CBS News. "We hope these pressures will continue until the aggression against us stops."

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