UCLA encampments cleared as US police shut down Israel protests across nation

Since the Columbia protest began on April 17, both university administrators and national politicians have struggled to strike a balance between the requirement to protect free speech on campus, and concern about anti-Semitism and the disruption to student learning.

That uneasy compromise has been overlaid with division over the conflict in Gaza itself, and Joe Biden’s decision to issue the United States’s “ironclad” support for Israel in its war against Hamas.

The war risks turning away many young liberals who voted for Mr Biden in 2020 and volunteered on his campaign to convince others to do the same.

In the face of opposition to his stance on Gaza, the US president has doubled down. Speaking from the White House before leaving for a campaign event on Thursday morning, the president told reporters he felt the need to address the night’s events.

“We’ve all seen the images, and they put to the test two fundamental American principles,” he said.

“The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld.”

In his most strident comments yet on the protests, which have consumed the US news cycle for close to a fortnight, Mr Biden spoke for three minutes to condemn the actions of the protesters while defending their right to assemble peacefully.

“Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations – none of this is a peaceful protest,” he chided the students.

“Threatening people, intimidating people, instilling fear in people is not peaceful protest. It’s against the law.”

No place for hate speech

Taking on the tone of a disappointed father, he added: “There should be no place on any campus, no place in America for anti-Semitism or threats of violence against Jewish students.

“There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind, whether it’s anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or discrimination against Arab-Americans or Palestinian-Americans.”

His impromptu speech was echoed by Isaac Herzog, president of Israel, who said he was concerned that US universities had been “contaminated by hatred and anti-Semitism”.

Mr Herzog sent a message of support to Jewish students amid a “dramatic resurgence in anti-Semitism and following the hostilities and intimidation… on campuses across the US in particular”.

So prominent was news coverage of the UCLA protests on Thursday morning that it all but eclipsed the other story that has riveted the country for weeks: Donald Trump’s first criminal trial in New York.

Before heading to the courtroom on Thursday, Mr Trump warned of a “radical Left revolution taking place” in the US, and placed responsibility at Mr Biden’s door.

“These are radical-Left lunatics, and they have got to be stopped now because it’s going to go on and on, and it’s going to get worse and worse,” he said.

“They take over countries, and we are not letting them take over the USA. We’re not letting the radical-Left morons take over this country. You can’t let that happen.”

As Thursday wore on, it seemed the approach taken by UCLA and Columbia in clearing the demonstrators had become the blueprint for colleges across the US.

Dozens of pro-Palestine demonstrators at Portland State University in Oregon had established their own encampment, fortified with wooden pallets in the same style as the protesters at UCLA. Police surrounded them and moved in to make arrests, as Dartmouth College in New Hampshire announced it too had sent in officers to remove protesters on Wednesday night.

From the White House down, the message to the latest wave of student protesters has become clear: leave the encampments, or expect to feel the weight of the law.

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