Brown agrees to Israel divestment vote as House GOP digs in on antisemitism in a busy day for student protests

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The college protests across the nation saw a slew of headline-grabbing developments on Tuesday, including the takeover of a building at Columbia University, a new House-wide effort by Republicans to investigate antisemitism and a major victory for activists at Brown University.  

The big success of the day for pro-Palestinian protesters came out of Brown, where President Christina Paxson announced Tuesday that students will end their encampment after an agreement was reached between school administrators and leaders of the protest to hold an Israel divestment vote.

The school agreed to let five students meet with the Corporation of Brown University in May to argue why they should vote to divest from companies associated with Israel or its war in Gaza. The Advisory Committee on University Resources Management will also provide recommendations related to divestment by the end of September, and the board will vote on the policy in October.

In exchange, students have agreed to take down the encampment and not violate the Rhode Island school’s rules around protesting through the end of the academic year, including during commencement.

“Another provision of the agreement relates to the application of Brown’s conduct code to students involved in the encampment. The establishment of tents and other related activities have violated a range of policies, and while Brown will continue to follow its conduct processes related to unauthorized activities, University leaders agreed that ending the encampment will be viewed favorably in disciplinary proceedings,” Paxson said.  

“The agreement also makes clear that reports of bias, harassment or discrimination received during the encampment will continue to be investigated. In addition, if the University receives new information about any conduct violations related to or following the encampment, students won’t be exempt from conduct proceedings for those violations,” she added.  

Activists seize Hind’s Hall

Further south, in New York City, the day had began with a significant escalation of the pro-Palestinian protests when demonstrators took over Hind’s Hall at Columbia University, refusing to leave until their demands, which also include divestment from Israel, are met.  

“An autonomous group reclaimed Hind’s Hall, previously known as ‘Hamilton Hall,’ in honor of Hind Rajab, a Gazan martyr murdered at the hands of the genocidal Israeli state at the age of six years old,” CU Apartheid Divest, a coalition of pro-Palestinian student organizations at the school, said in a statement.     

The police said they would not interfere unless there was an immediate emergency or unless they were asked to by university officials.  

Columbia spokesperson Ben Chang said students occupying the building could be expelled after they brought in metal barricades and furniture to secure their position.

“Protesters have chosen to escalate to an untenable situation — vandalizing property, breaking doors and windows, and blockading entrances — and we are following through with the consequences we outlined yesterday,” Chang added, referring to a previous threat to suspend students who did not disperse from Columbia’s encampment.  

The actions at Columbia were condemned by the White House, and former President Trump tried to compare them to the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.  

“I wonder if what’s going to happen to them will be anything comparable to what happened to J6, because they’re doing a lot of destruction, a lot of damages, a lot of people getting hurt very badly,” Trump said.  

House antisemitism probe

Amid the troubles on campuses, House Republicans on Tuesday announced they were establishing a chamber-wide investigation into antisemitism, with multiple committees playing a role in the probe.  

Chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.)  announced her panel would hold another hearing on campus antisemitism, this time calling on the presidents of Yale University, the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), and the University of Michigan to attend.

“Republican leaders have a clear message for mealy-mouthed spineless college leaders. Congress will not tolerate your dereliction of duty to your Jewish students. American universities are officially put on notice that we have come to take our universities back,” Foxx said Tuesday. 

“Everyone affiliated with these universities will receive a healthy dose of reality. Actions have consequences. One of those consequences is that I’ve given notice to appear to Yale, UCLA and Michigan to appear before the Education and Workforce Committee on May 23 for a hearing on their handling of the these most recent outrages,” she added. 

And if the reforms that Republican lawmakers are looking for at universities aren’t made, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) threatened more actions would be taken to get the schools in line.

“Those are the policy changes that we’re demanding and if they don’t correct this quickly, you will see Congress respond in kind. You’re gonna see funding sources begin to dry up. You’re gonna see every level of accountability that we can muster and that’s what the work of these committees and these fine chairpersons are going to be involved in, and we’ll say stay tuned and you’ll see much more,” Johnson said.  

Progressive groups have demonstrators’ back

Progressive groups, however, are fighting back against the treatment of the protesters and the condemnations by the White House and lawmakers.

The college outreach arm of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) said lawmakers have been “smearing all protesters as hateful,” arguing most of the demonstrations have been peaceful.

The group also went after President Biden, saying that while they support his reelection, he deserves to be criticized for his handling of the college activists.

“The White House has taken the mistaken route of a bear hug strategy for [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] and a cold shoulder strategy for its own base and all Americans who want to see an end to this war. Each day that Democrats fail to stand united for a permanent ceasefire, two-state solution, and recognition of a Palestinian state, more and more youth find themselves disillusioned with the party,” it said.

More than 200 progressive organizations also released a statement Tuesday backing the student demonstrators.

“We commend the students who are exercising their right to protest peacefully despite an overwhelming atmosphere of pressure, intimidation and retaliation, to raise awareness about Israel’s assault on Gaza — with U.S. weapons and funding,” reads the statement, signed by groups such as the Sunrise Movement and Veterans For Peace.

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