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A Study Refutes Israeli Claims: American University Protests Were Peaceful

Misbar's Editorial Team Misbar's Editorial Team
20th May 2024
A Study Refutes Israeli Claims: American University Protests Were Peaceful
Police dismantle protest camps at University of California (Getty)

The non-profit organization ACLED, which monitors protests and political violence worldwide, discovered that 97% of ‘campus’ demonstrations in the United States, denouncing the Israeli war on Gaza since mid-April, have been peaceful. Only 3% of these protests experienced violence, involving clashes between protesters and Israeli supporters or between protestors and police.

According to analysis from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), out of 553 protests that took place on U.S. college campuses across the country between April 18 and May 3, fewer than 20 involved significant physical harm to people or property destruction.

Pro-Palestine Demonstrations remain peaceful

During the same period, the organization documented at least 70 instances of aggressive police raids against American university protests. These raids included the arrest of protestors and the use of dispersal tactics, including chemicals, batons, and other methods of force to break up the demonstrations.

According to the organization's data, nearly half of the American university protests witnessed clashes between demonstrators and police officers as they stormed protest camps on campus.

Since April, students at various U.S. universities have organized solidarity demonstrations with Gaza, voicing demands such as calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, divesting from Israeli companies and those supplying equipment to Israeli occupation forces, and severing ties with Israeli universities. These demonstrations have inspired student protests across the U.K. and Europe.

Tensions Escalated as University Presidents Summoned the Police

University presidents across the board summoned police to forcefully dismantle camps, particularly since last April 18, when 108 students were arrested at Columbia University. Subsequently, over 2,600 students were detained across more than 50 university campuses in the United States, as reported by the Associated Press.

University presidents asserted, “protestors were disrupting campus life, jeopardizing student safety, and fostering an oppressive and alarming atmosphere.” USC President Carroll remarked, “This situation will lead to an extremely perilous slope.”

U.S. President Joe Biden also criticized the university protests supporting Gaza, warning that “Dissent Must Never Lead to Disorder” and emphasizing that “Violent protests are not protected.”

On May 2, Biden further remarked, “Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing class and graduation cancellations – none of these constitute peaceful protest. Threatening and intimidating, and spreading fear among people are not forms of peaceful protests.”

The study, which examined over 550 protests at various American universities up to May 3, identified two instances of property damage severe enough to categorize the protests as violent. The first occurred when students at Portland State University vandalized the college library, breaking glass and setting fire to computers and furniture. The second incident, on April 30, involved protesters at Columbia University breaking windows while inside the university building.

In response, Kieran Doyle, the organization's North American Research Director, said, “We do not consider graffiti or spray painting as indicators of violent protests.”

Doyle further elaborated that peaceful protests are those devoid of serious physical violence or property damage. She delineated a violent demonstration as encompassing acts like “physical violence exceeding pushing or hitting, or property destruction involving window-breaking or worse.”

By this definition, the vast majority of the recent American campus protests have remained peaceful.

Just 3% of campus protests in the United States witnessed physical violence between pro-Palestinian and anti-protesters, along with some property damage or confrontations with police.

Assault on a Pro-Palestinian Rally at California University

The most notable act of violence in American university protests thus far occurred during a solidarity demonstration for Gaza at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Masked intruders attempted to close the camp and attacked students with projectiles, fireworks, and chemical tools. Law enforcement authorities either withdrew or failed to intervene during the hours-long altercation between the two groups.

The late-night attack at UCLA followed two prior instances of less severe violence at the same university, according to the study. This included reports published on April 28 of a brawl between protesters from both sides.

Other instances of violence during protests on U.S. college campuses included a May 1 “skirmish” between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrators at the University of California, Berkeley.

Police Raids on Protests Fueled Violence in the Camps

A significant portion of the public criticism directed at pro-Palestine student protests in the United States has focused not on physical violence but on the rhetoric employed by the protesters. This includes intense debates regarding when criticism of the Israeli government or Israel crosses into anti-Semitism or hate speech, as well as the emotional impact of these demonstrations on Jewish students on campus.

After the tumultuous week ending on May 3 and the subsequent nationwide law enforcement crackdowns, there have been ongoing discussions regarding the appropriateness of violent police interventions in response to student protests on campus.

It is worth noting that 3% of the protests classified as violent in the study resulted from clashes between demonstrators and police who stormed the protest camps. For instance, incidents occurred at the University of Texas at Austin on April 24, Emerson College in Boston on April 25, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on April 26, and Washington University in St. Louis on April 27. Campus officials reported three police officers injured, one with a “severe concussion” and another with a broken finger. Additionally, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison on May 1, a state trooper was injured after being struck in the head with a skateboard.

According to Doyle, the demonstration statistics in the United States are derived from her research team's analysis of hundreds of local media outlets, independent journalists, and verified social media accounts. The datasets are continuously updated with new information, and consistency checks are conducted by a separate methodologies team. In this context, Doyle mentioned that the evaluation of whether certain recent campus events qualify as violent is still ongoing.

Another study conducted by the organization, based on protest data up to April 26, showed that 99% of the demonstrations involving students were peaceful.

Reviewing all demonstrations related to Gaza war in the United States since October 7, 2023, the organization found that the police intervened with five times more force against pro-Palestinian student demonstrations compared to demonstrations involving pro-Israeli students, according to updated data until May 3. (This statistic is based on the percentage of demonstrations of each type in which the police intervened forcefully and not on the total number of protests.)

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