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Students at NYU, Yale, others face arrests, protests amid calls for Israel divestment

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

(NEW YORK) — Protests calling for the divestment of college and university funds from Israeli military operations have continued to spread on campuses across the country, including Yale University, New York University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University and more.

The student protests — some of which have turned into around-the-clock encampments and have led to hundreds of arrests — have erupted throughout the nation following arrests and student removals at Columbia University.

More than 100 protesters were arrested on April 18 at Columbia University, according to authorities, while others were suspended and removed from campus.

At New York University, more than 150 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on April 22, police said. At Yale, about 45 protesters were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing and were arrested on April 22.

The protests on campuses have been largely peaceful, according to school administrators, with some officials and protesters including the NYPD blaming unaffiliated individuals for instances of violence and offensive rhetoric.

Some students have said the on-campus tension have created concerns about safety, which some universities have responded by opting for remote or hybrid learning options.

“Students across an array of communities have conveyed fears for their safety and we have announced additional actions we are taking to address security concerns,” said Columbia University President Minouche Shafik. “The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days. These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas. We need a reset.”

Tensions have been high on college campuses nationwide since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel. The Israeli military then began its bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Since Oct. 7, Israeli forces have killed at least 34,183 people and injured 77,143 others in Gaza, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

In Israel, at least 1,700 people have been killed and 8,700 others injured, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Here’s a look at what’s happening elsewhere across the country:

Yale University

For the past week, hundreds of student protesters have been advocating for Yale’s divestment from military weapons manufacturers.

“We do have this opportunity as students at an institution like this, that if we can sway our institution to stop investing in weapons manufacturing that is contributing to the deaths of Palestinians, then we can maybe sway a lot of universities — or at least be a part of a movement, the tide turning against war and for peace,” Zoe Kanter, a student protester with Yale Jews For Ceasefire, told ABC News.

The university has policies against occupying outdoor spaces and warned students about the use of law enforcement and disciplinary action, including reprimand, probation, or suspension to clear the space.

University administrators said in a statement to ABC News that it “spent several hours in discussion with student protesters yesterday, offering them the opportunity to meet with trustees” in exchange for clearing the encampment.

Students declined their offer, telling ABC News that their demands are clear: disclose investments and divest money from Israeli weapons manufacturers. Students pointed to successful movements that motivated Yale University to divest from the fossil fuel industry and its holdings in U.S. companies conducting business in South Africa due to the South African government’s apartheid policy.

“It’s easy to look back at history and look back at the moral and political conflicts that have gripped the country and the world throughout history and discern what side you would have liked to have been on,” said student Elijah Bacal, another member of Yale Jews for Ceasefire. “But the hard thing is to, in the moment, seize on those opportunities to do the right thing and have the courage to stand up for what you think and know is right. I think we are on the right side of history here.”

University officials said that many of the students participating in the protests have done so peacefully, but are “aware of reports of egregious behavior, such as intimidation and harassment, pushing those in crowds, removal of the plaza flag, and other harmful acts.”

The statement continued: “Yale does not tolerate actions, including remarks, that threaten, harass, or intimidate members of the university’s Jewish, Muslim, and other communities.”

Early Monday at 6:30 a.m., almost 50 students were removed and arrested, according to the New Haven Police Department. A group of over 200 protesters later took their place, and the department told ABC News it has no plans to arrest any non-violent protesters.

In a letter to students from President Peter Salovey, he said the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility decided to not recommend a policy of divestment from military weapons manufacturers. The university school did not disclose if or how much the school invests in Israeli military forces.

“The ACIR—a committee of faculty, students, staff, and alumni—arrived at this conclusion after hearing from student presenters and engaging in careful deliberation,” Salovey said in the letter. “This is part of a formal process and relies on the university’s guide to ethical investing that has served Yale well for decades. Any member of the Yale community is invited to write to the ACIR or to attend future open meetings. There are available pathways to continue this discussion with openness and civility, and I urge those with suggestions to follow them.”

Yale Jews for Ceasefire told ABC News that they would like to see more openness from the administration: “It is impossible for us as a community to make a decision about divestment without transparency and disclosure .. and they weren’t open to that,” said student Gabriel Colburn, a member of Yale Jews for Ceasefire.

New York University

More than 150 people were arrested at New York University on Monday night, police said.

Students, faculty and others were arrested after school officials asked the New York Police Department for help clearing a plaza on NYU’s Manhattan campus, police said. Many of those arrested were “still being processed through the night and most, if not all, will be released,” the department said.

“There is a pattern of behavior occurring on campuses across our nation, in which individuals attempt to occupy a space in defiance of school policy,” Kaz Daughtry, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for operations, said in a social media post. “Rest assured, in NYC the NYPD stands ready to address these prohibited and subsequently illegal actions whenever we are called upon.”

The NYU Palestine Solidarity Coalition — a group that launched an encampment on campus Monday said — they were met with “violent arrests of NYU students and faculty members by the NYPD directly facilitated by NYU President Linda Mills,” and over 130 students and faculty were arrested, the group said in a statement Tuesday.

The group said over 100 NYU students faculty and community members were released as of 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

“We want to underscore how this event demonstrated on a smaller scale the globalized violence of an institution like NYU,” NYU PSC said. “We recognize that this violence reflects institutional desperation to suppress the student movement, resistance and the truth.”

According to the university, protesters at NYU on Monday broke through barriers that had been set up around Gould Plaza, a square outside the Stern School of Business, the school’s Global Campus Safety department said in a statement.

Protesters began a demonstration in front of the business school “without notice to the university, and without authorization,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement.

Officials warned those who’d entered the square on Monday that they needed to clear the plaza by 4 p.m.

“If you leave now, no one will face any consequences for today’s actions—no discipline, no police,” safety officials said in a message delivered to those in the plaza. That message was also shared on the university’s official social media channels.

“The one safety requirement we made was that no additional protesters could enter Gould Plaza,” the message said. “With the breach of the barricades early this afternoon, that requirement was violated, and we witnessed disorderly, disruptive, and antagonizing behavior that has interfered with the safety and security of our community.”

The university said additional protesters suddenly breached the barriers that had been put in place and joined protesters in the plaza and that “many refused to leave” after being told to disband within an hour.

NYU officials appealed to the NYPD for help, according to a letter shared by Daughtry, the NYPD deputy commissioner.

The NYU PSC said its demands are for NYU to end all war profiteering and investment in what protesters are calling a “genocide,” a complete academic boycott of Israel, IOF-trained cops off of campus and that NYU protect free speech on campus and provide full amnesty to all students and faculty penalized for their pro-Palestine activism.

It is unclear if or how much the school invests in the Israeli military.

Harvard suspends Palestine Solidarity Committee

Harvard University suspended the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, a student group that has been under a spotlight, as debate raged on college campuses around the country.

The group said in a statement that it has faced “unprecedented repression” over the past six months, including doxxing, racist harassment and targeted administrative crackdowns.

“Harvard has shown us time and again that Palestine remains the exception to free speech. After standing idly by as pro-Palestine students faced physical and cyber harassment, death threats and rape threats and racist doxxing, Harvard has now decided to dismantle the only official student group dedicated to the task of representing the Palestinian cause,” the group said in a statement to ABC News.

Harvard University has not immediately responded to ABC News’ request for comment.

In January, top Harvard officials implemented new guidelines and restrictions for protests on campus amid heightened scrutiny regarding on-campus debate around the Israel-Gaza war, according to student newspaper the Harvard Crimson.

“Harvard can suspend our organization, but it cannot suspend our movement,” PSC said.

The group became the center of debates on college campuses after it released a statement on the conflict after the Hamas attack, saying the Israeli regime is “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence” — the group announced in a post on Instagram Monday.

“Today’s events did not occur in a vacuum. For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison. Israeli officials promise to ‘open the gates of hell,’ and the massacres in Gaza have already commenced. Palestinians in Gaza have no shelters for refuge and nowhere to escape. In the coming days, Palestinians will be forced to bear the full brunt of Israel’s violence,” the Harvard student groups said in their statement last October, after the Hamas attack.

Tuesday evening, Harvard announced the closure of the Harvard Yard through the end of the week. “Harvard Yard is closed to the public through Friday, April 26,” a Harvard web page for visitors read. “During this time no tour groups are permitted in the Yard.” The Harvard Crimson noted that the decision was made in anticipation of further protests

Massachusetts universities camp out

Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are also camping out in protest, calling for an end to the university’s funding to the Israeli Ministry of Defense that has been captured in past university financial reports, including projects such as “autonomous robotic swarms.”

“These are really direct ways in which MIT is complicit in this genocide that’s going on,” said student protester Quinn Perian, referring to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Perian is a member of the MIT Jews for Ceasefire group that is among those protesting on campus: “What we’ve seen is this community that’s formed around our demands that basic human dignity be recognized, as this community of fighting for liberation for all.”

In a statement to local news outlet WGBH, MIT said it is “aware of the tents, and are determining next steps with a focus on ensuring the campus is physically safe and fully functioning. MIT Police were on scene throughout the night and will continue to be present.”

MIT has yet to respond to ABC News’s request for comment.

Similar encampments have also taken over Tufts University.

In a statement, Tufts spokesperson Patrick Collins told ABC News that officials are “actively and closely monitoring the situation.”

“While students are permitted to express their views, including demonstrating on campus, we will hold accountable any community members who engage in conduct that violates university policy,” Collins said. “Regarding the students’ demands, our position on this has been clear and consistent for several years: We do not support the BDS movement.”

The BDS movement refers to a pro-Palestinian “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement against Israel’s policy in Palestinian territories.

Sanya Desai, a Tufts student and protester, pointed to Tufts’s celebration of former student activists who fought for Tuft to withdraw investments related to South African apartheid: “It’s very two-faced, and it’s very, very much painting an image of being on the right side of history.”

The movement against apartheid investments began in 1977 at Tufts and ended in 1989 when the university divested, according to the Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History.

Desai told ABC News she hopes Tufts won’t take 12 years to divest in Israeli military operations.

ABC News’ Alexandra Faul and Matt Foster contributed to this story.

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