Escalating protests expose three fault lines on American campuses

PRO-PALESTINIAN protests at American universities are escalating. In the early hours of April 30th more than 200 demonstrators at Columbia University barricaded Hamilton Hall, a building famously occupied by anti-war protesters in 1968. At the University of California, Los Angeles, scuffles erupted this week between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students. Police have arrested students in recent days at Virginia Tech, the University of Florida, Tulane University and elsewhere. The total number of campus arrests is now near 1,000, yet tented encampments—the signature motif of pro-Palestinian campus demonstrators—continue to bloom like spring flowers from coast to coast.

The blame game is also intensifying. University leaders are again in the firing line, accused by some of having brought the chaos on themselves by coddling student trespassers and allowing antisemitic speech to go unpunished. On April 29th 21 Democrats in the House of Representatives signed a letter to Columbia’s board demanding that it “act decisively” to disband the protest encampment there, arguing that its presence violated federal civil-rights law by creating an “impermissibly hostile and unsafe environment for Jewish students”. Yet teachers at Columbia and elsewhere are castigating their administrators for turning to the police. Student protests, they argue, should be handled as a teachable moment via negotiations and campus discourse.