NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 24: Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA) (R) speaks during a press conference at Columbia University on April 24, 2024 in New York City. Johnson visited the campus as school administrators and pro-Palestine student protesters made progress on negotiations after the school set a midnight deadline for students to disband the encampment there, and agreed on a 48-hour extension. Johnson called for the resignation of Columbia University President Minouche Shafik. (Photo by Alex Kent/Getty Images)

by P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, May 4: The United States House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would expand the  definition of anti-Semitism even as university students across the country have risen to condemn Israel’s genocide in Gaza. 

The anti-Semitism bill passed by a margin of 320 to 91 is seen as a reaction to the ongoing anti-war protests unfolding on US university campuses. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

If the bill were to become law, it would codify a definition of anti-Semitism created by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Al Jazeera reported.

The anti-Semitism law would allow the federal Department of Education to restrict funding and other resources to campuses perceived as tolerating anti-Semitism.

But critics warn IHRA’s definition could be used to stifle campus protests against Israel’s war in Gaza, which has claimed the lives of 34,568 Palestinians so far.

Students Movement Against Israel

In the US, at least 17 student protesters were arrested and charged with trespassing after police were called to the University of Texas at Dallas to take down an anti-Israel encampments that were established on campus in violation of the school’s code of conduct.

In Florida, among other states, police have dispersed campus rallies with tear gas. In Wisconsin, photos showed officers detaining a Madison professor with blood smeared on his forehead, the Washington Post reported.

In California, masked men attacked a pro-Palestinian encampment on a Los Angeles campus. Students criticized police for not intervening sooner. Fifteen injuries, including a hospitalization, were reported after officers quelled the violence.

In Portland State University, students barricaded themselves in a library and spray-painted “FREE GAZA” on the wall. 

Since mid-April, student groups have pushed for institutions to cut ties with Israel and companies supporting its military campaign against Hamas that has killed about 34,000 people in Gaza. 

In Columbia and City Universities in New York, over 300 protesters were arrested. In the last 14 days 1,700 had been taken into custody, the Post said.

Columbia has opted to maintain a police presence on campus — an unusual move that surprised Edward Davis, a former commissioner of the Boston Police Department who now runs a security consultancy.

“It’s an indication that this is not a problem that’s going to go away quickly,” he said.

Protesters, his office added, had ignored “several” commands to disperse.

In Wisconsin, four police officers and three sheriff’s deputies were injured while trying to shut down illegal camping, according to a spokesperson from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Authorities arrested nearly three dozen protesters. At least two Wisconcin University Madison professors, who were detained, described injuries on social media or in interviews from the scene.  

The striking visuals of officers flooding college campuses have triggered condemnation from labour leaders and left-leaning politicians, the Post said.

“When I was 11, I was a victim of police brutality just for being Black in America,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) said on X. “Now I see that brutality being inflicted on peaceful students at Columbia and across the country.”

Counter Protests

At the University of California (Los Angeles), counter-protesters tried to tear down makeshift barricades surrounding an encampment and aimed fireworks at where students were camping.

Some of the pro-Palestinian activists tried to defend themselves with lumber and pepper spray. 

New York City officials said Wednesday that 109 people were arrested at Columbia and 173 people at City College in Manhattan.

Several Republican lawmakers have urged President Biden to call on the National Guard to dismantle encampments.

Former President Donald Trump said: “To every college president, I say: remove the encampments immediately. Vanquish the radicals and take back our campuses for all of the normal students who want a safe place from which to learn.”

Trump called protesters “raging lunatics and Hamas sympathizers” and added: “Your towns and villages will now be accepting people from Gaza and various other places.”

UK Anti-Israel Movement 

University students in the UK have risen specifically against their institutions’ defence-related deals with Israel. 

The “Newcastle Apartheid off Campus” said that students were outraged after Newcastle University apparently signed a partnership with Leonardo SpA, a defence and security company that they claim is responsible for producing the laser targeting system for the Israel Defence Forces’ F-35 fighter jets being used in the war in Gaza.

The Telegraph reported that though the student union had passed motions with 95% of people in favour of calling on the university to end its ties with Leonardo, and multiple ‘Leonardo off Campus’ protests on its campus, the university had not listened to students’ concerns.  

The University of York said in a statement that it “no longer holds investments in companies that primarily make or sell weapons and defence-related products or services”. 

This followed prolonged pressure and protests from students and staff since the beginning of the war in Gaza in October 2023.

In Manchester, 50 students demanded that the university end its partnership with BAE Systems and other arms companies, cut its ties with Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and stop all “unethical research”.

 The “Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine” began an encampment in solidarity with Palestinians. The SCCP is a coalition of staff, students, and alumni from the universities of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam. 

The SCCP said there was a mass walkout from lectures, followed by a demonstration, and that many students were prepared to camp “indefinitely” in tents outside the student union. 

This followed an encampment at the University of Warwick, which began last week.

A first-year student told the Telegraph: “The courage that those students have shown faced with extreme violence from the police – it’s like a call that needs to be answered and picked up across the world.”



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