Campus Protests, Divestment, and Police Brutality


ICNA CSJ

Date published: Wed, 8 May 24


Protests across US university campuses have caused uproar amongst establishment society – and not for the reasons that should cause an uproar. Mainstream media, politicians, and policymakers have touted the protests with the brush of antisemitism, again weaponizing antisemitism to demonize those calling for an end to the genocide in Palestine. 

As with any pro-Palestine protest, protesters are smeared with claims of antisemitism, vandalism, being hateful, and are demonized. Demonstrations on college campuses have been taking place since Israel began its genocide in October. However, the most recent iteration of protests have caused university officials to partner with police departments to forcibly remove protesters. Protesters have sprung up encampments on university lawns, demanding their university divest from funding Israeli occupation and genocide. 

The BDS movement uses boycotts, divestments, and pressure to sanction as a tool to gain the recognition of the Palestinian peoples’ right to self determination, and to ensure Israel complies with international law. The BDS movement uses the example of South Africa, wherein forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions resulted in the end of the apartheid government of the nation. 

Divestment refers to the act of withdrawing investments. Students across the United States have been pressuring divestment targets, like Elbit Systems, Hyundai, CAT, Barclays, and Volvo, as well as universities. Universities are complicit in the overall occupation of Palestine as well as the recent genocide in Gaza. The Security Exchange Commission’s filings and portfolio reports highlight how a variety of American universities have financial ties to businesses profiting from Israeli expansion and the Israeli state. The Harvard Crimson, for example, published an analysis in 202 that showed that Harvard’s Investment Company had $194 million invested in one of 112 companies that have connections to Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. 

George Mason University, a university in Northern Virginia, has holdings in McDonalds and Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin is the world’s largest weapons manufacturer. In 2023, Israel paid $3 billion to Lockheed Martin for F-35 jets. These jets are used in Israel’s sieges on Gaza. 

A feature of many encampments is to rename the space the students are occupying – at George Washington University in DC, students renamed the campus “University Yard” to “Shohada’ Square.” At Columbia University, when students occupied the previously known Hamilton Hall, they renamed the space to “Hind’s Hall,” named after 5-year old Hind Rajab who was killed by Israel surrounded by other members of her family who were killed. The student protesters showcase a new wave in the discourse around Palestine and Israel – symbolically reflecting the anti-Vietnam War protests that took place in the late 1960s and 70s, which ultimately ended in the killing of four and wounding of nine armed college students by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. 

The outpouring of support for student protesters by those advocating for an end to Israeli genocide and occupation of Palestine has seemingly shocked mainstream American society, which is seen scrambling to demonize student protesters, claiming that Jewish students don’t feel safe on campus because of the protests. Middle East Eye reports that many Jewish students are not only participating in the protests, but are organizing them, and are witness to the weaponization of antisemitism.

In reality, the claims of violent chants and agitation are done by pro-Israel counter protesters. At UCLA, at a Zionist counter protest in front of the student encampment, Zionists chanted “LAPD, We love you!” A pro-Israel woman was recorded on video saying she hopes someone rapes students at the UCLA encampment. Zionist counter protesters attacked students at the UCLA encampment one night, where one student was hit in the head with a wooden plank by a Zionist attacker, and received 12 staples to the back of his head. 

At Ole Miss, dozens of counter protesters jeered and hurled slurs at a Black woman advocating for Palestine. In all of these cases, police have done nothing to stop the agitators. Instead, the night after the Zionist attack at UCLA, 200 student protesters at the encampment were arrested. At UT Austin, videos were recorded of police using extreme force on students. At Emory University, student protesters were shot with rubber bullets by police, as well as being sprayed with tear gas by police. Professors were shown being shoved to the ground for simply asking the police, “What are you doing?” Police used pepper spray on students at the GW encampment to clear out the encampment. 

 

Protesting is one of the basic American rights, yet increasingly, it seems that it is a right that is only permissible if one stays in line, not questioning the status quo, and not pushing for actual change. We applaud the brave students who are protesting for an end to divestment, occupation, and genocide.