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Saturday, May 4, 2024

In deals to end protests, some colleges invite discussion of their investments

new york — 

Anti-war demonstrations ceased this week at a small number of U.S. universities after school leaders struck deals with pro-Palestinian protesters, fending off possible disruptions of final exams and graduation ceremonies.

The agreements at schools including Brown, Northwestern and Rutgers universities stand out amid the chaotic scenes and 2,400-plus arrests on 46 campuses nationwide since April 17. Tent encampments and building takeovers have disrupted classes at some schools, including Columbia University and the University of California-Los Angeles.

Deals included commitments by universities to review their investments in Israel or hear calls to stop doing business with the longtime U.S. ally. Many protester demands have zeroed in on links to the Israeli military as the war grinds on in Gaza.

The agreements to even discuss divestment mark a major shift on an issue that has been controversial for years, with opponents of a long-running campaign to boycott Israel saying it veers into antisemitism. But while the colleges have made concessions around amnesty for protesters and funding for Middle Eastern studies, they have made no promises about changing their investments.

“I think for some universities, it might be just a delaying tactic” to calm the protests, said Ralph Young, a history professor who studies American dissent at Temple University in Philadelphia. “The end of the semester is happening now. And maybe by the time the next semester begins, there is a cease-fire in Gaza.”

Some university boards may never vote on divesting from Israel, which can be a complicated process, Young said. And some state schools have said they lack the authority to do so.

In this photo taken from video provided by Stacey J. Spiehler, a pro-Palestinian protester is confronted by hecklers at the University of Mississippi, May 2, 2024, in Oxford, Miss. The hecklers vastly outnumbered pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

But Young said dialogue is a better tactic than arrests.

Talking “at least gives the protesters the feeling that they’re getting somewhere,” he said. “Whether they are getting somewhere or not is another question.”

Israel has called the protests antisemitic; its critics say the country uses such allegations to silence opposition. Although some protesters were caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, protest organizers — some of whom are Jewish — have called it a peaceful movement to defend Palestinian rights and protest the war.

Administrators at the University of California at Riverside announced an agreement Friday with protesters to close their campus encampment. The deal included the formation of a task force to explore removing Riverside’s endowment from the broader UC system’s management and investing those funds “in a manner that will be financially and ethically sound for the university with consideration to the companies involved in arms manufacturing and delivery.”

The announcement marked an apparent split with the policy of the 10-campus UC system, which last week said it opposes “calls for boycott against and divestment from Israel.”

Demonstrators at Rutgers — where finals were paused because of the protests on its New Brunswick, New Jersey, campus — similarly packed up their tents Thursday afternoon. The state university agreed to establish an Arab Cultural Center and to not retaliate against any students involved in the camp.

Protesters at Brown in Rhode Island agreed to dismantle their encampment on Tuesday. School officials said students could present arguments for divesting Brown’s endowment from companies contributing to and profiting from the war in Gaza.

In addition, Brown President Christina Paxson will ask an advisory committee to make a recommendation on divestment by September 30, which will be put before the school’s governing corporation for a vote in October.

Protesters react as a giant American flag is unfurled on Lisner Hall on the campus of George Washington University in Washington, May 3, 2024, as demonstrators protest against the Israel-Hamas war.

Northwestern’s Deering Meadow in suburban Chicago also fell silent after an agreement Monday. The deal curbed protest activity in return for reestablishing an advisory committee on university investments and other commitments.

The arrangement drew dissent from both sides. Some pro-Palestinian protesters condemned it as a failure to stick to their original demands, while some supporters of Israel said it represented cowardly capitulation.

Seven of 18 members subsequently resigned from a university committee that advises the administration on addressing antisemitism, Islamophobia and expressions of hatred on campus, saying they couldn’t continue to serve “with antisemitism so present at Northwestern in public view for the past week.”

Michael Simon, the executive director of an organization for Jewish students, Northwestern Hillel, said he resigned after concluding that the committee could not achieve its goals.

Faculty at Pomona College in California voted in favor of divesting from companies they said are funding Israel’s war in Gaza, a group of faculty and students said Friday.

The vote Thursday is not binding on the liberal arts school of nearly 1,800 students east of Los Angeles. But supporters said they hoped it would encourage the board to stop investing in these companies and start disclosing where it makes its investments.

Meanwhile, arrests of demonstrators continued elsewhere.

About a dozen protesters who refused police orders to leave an encampment at New York University were arrested early Friday, and about 30 more left voluntarily, NYU spokesperson John Beckman said. The school asked city police to intervene, he added.

NYPD officers also cleared an encampment at The New School in Greenwich Village at the request of school administrators. No arrests were announced.

Another 132 protesters were arrested when police broke up an encampment at the State University of New York at New Paltz starting late Thursday, authorities said.

And nine were arrested at the University of Tennessee, including seven students who Chancellor Donde Plowman said would also be sanctioned under the school’s code of conduct.

The movement began April 17 at Columbia, where student protesters built an encampment to call for an end to the Israel-Hamas war.

Over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there. Israel launched its offensive after October 7, when Hamas militants entered Israel and killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages.

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