Are outsiders infiltrating the pro-Palestinian university protests?

National News

Amid a dizzying array of clashes with pro-Palestinian demonstrations and campus encampments, schools that cracked down on protesters over the weekend have given different justifications for his or her actions, while others have sent mixed signals with their inaction.

Behind this was a central query facing university leaders across the country: When does an indication cross the road?

Universities cited damage to property, external provocateurs, anti-Semitic statements or just ignoring warnings as reasons for clearing camps and arresting students. Student groups have strongly disputed or questioned lots of these claims.

Northeastern University in Boston, Washington University in St. Louis, Indiana University Bloomington and Arizona State University had law enforcement officials reply to demonstrations on Saturday, leading to greater than 200 arrests. At other schools – including Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and Cornell University – tensions were icy on Sunday as leaders warned of possible consequences for protesters but had not yet implemented them.

There were also counter-protests on Sunday, including on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Penn and UCLA, where there have been physical confrontations between demonstrators but no major violence was reported.

Calm reigned at Washington University on Sunday, a day after campus law enforcement officials made 100 arrests. Administrators said a gaggle violated university policy by starting to establish camp on the east end of campus. Police officers arrested individuals who refused to depart the country “after repeated requests,” those responsible wrote.

“No one has the right to interfere with the ability of people in our community to learn and work,” they said.

More than 800 people have been arrested since April 18, when New York police cleared a camp in Columbia.

At Northeastern, where 102 protesters were arrested earlier Saturday, a university spokesman said the demonstration was “infiltrated by professional organizers” and that somebody had used “vicious anti-Semitic slurs.” The protesters denied each claims.

Many school leaders have insisted that folks outside their colleges are fueling the confrontations, although there’s little evidence to support their claims. In many cases, the groups of protesters were primarily students and university employees, but there was one notable exception Saturday at Washington University. Of the 100 arrests, only 23 were students and 4 were employees, the university said in a press release on Sunday.

Arizona State officials said 15 students were among the many 72 protesters arrested Friday, even though it was unclear what number of were staff or faculty.

However, at other universities the influence of outsiders was not clear.

About 200 people attended a pro-Israel demonstration in Penn on Sunday, just just a few hundred yards from a pro-Palestinian camp. Noah Rubin, a junior who spoke on the pro-Israel rally, said not all pro-Palestinian protesters were Penn students.

“We have documented a number of individuals who have a history of violence in Philadelphia,” he said, but gave no further details. A spokesman for the camp didn’t reply to a request for comment on Rubin's allegation.

Some schools have tried to limit the influence of outsiders. For example, Harvard has tried to limit access only to those that show a university ID card. At Northeastern, officers had asked protesters for his or her student IDs earlier within the week before Saturday's campus arrests. Some demonstrators showed them, others refused. At Columbia, which closed its doors, protesters on the opposite side added to the sense of chaos, with many shouting anti-Semitic chants and threatening students.

Protesters arrange a camp on the University of Mary Washington in Fredricksburg, Virginia, on Friday, but after the demonstration opened to the general public, university officials, citing safety concerns, asked organizers to take down their tents, which they did earlier within the evening . The peaceful protest continued until Saturday, when “outside influence” pushed to expand the camp again, Troy Paino, the university's president, said in a press release Sunday.

When the tents were put back up on Saturday afternoon, the organizers were asked to depart, in response to the university. Twelve remaining protesters, including nine students, were subsequently arrested.

But while administrators at some schools have tried to point the finger at protesters from outside the community, it has often been their very own students who’ve been arrested. At Emory University in Atlanta, 20 of at the very least 28 people arrested Thursday had ties to the varsity, although officials had insisted early on that nobody involved within the encampment was affiliated with the university.

Emory President Gregory Fenves said in a press release Sunday that a peaceful protest Saturday was disrupted by some people spray-painting “hateful messages” on the outside partitions of a constructing and vandalizing other structures.

“Emory is bridging a divide between individuals who want to express themselves peacefully and those who want to use our campus as a platform to promote discord,” Fenves said, adding that such incidents “must be dismissed and condemned.”

The high-profile conflicts have led to further demonstrations, including on campuses where protests were dispersed earlier this yr.

At Stanford University, where a previous camp was demolished in February, protesters arrange a second camp on Thursday. The administration said in a press release Friday that it had delivered letters to about 60 students warning them that “failure to engage in conduct that violates university policy” could lead to disciplinary motion and even arrest.

But on at the very least one campus with a close-by camp, the University of Pittsburgh, Sunday's graduation ceremony was held as planned with none problems.

Protesters then marched near campus. As they tried to get onto the lawn of the university's Cathedral of Learning constructing, they were stopped by a line of law enforcement officials. According to a university official, greater than 100 protesters remained there for hours and two were arrested by campus police.

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