Large-scale protests supporting Palestine emerge in US from late April to early May

Massive protests supporting Palestine have gripped the United States from late April to early May, with notable demonstrations by students and youth. On April 30, police in New York City entered a building occupied by protestors affiliated with Columbia University. Similar incidents may unfold at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). The sensitivity of the situation lies in the protestors being potential voters for the Democratic Party, particularly favoring its left wing. With the upcoming presidential elections in November, authorities are urged to restore order without intimidating voters.

Monday evening saw the detention of nearly 300 students from Columbia University and City College. Authorities claim the use of force was necessary as the actions had turned unruly. However, students in other regions dissent, organizing new protests, and compelling the police and supporters of Israel to become more active.

Hundreds of students in UCLA campus have been protesting against the war in Gaza, not just with placards but also erecting barricades. Similar actions were seen with New York students who were dispersed by campus security after torches and water bottles were thrown. Despite police intervention, students refused to halt their protest in the city. Clashes escalated as pro-Israel supporters attacked barricades late into the night, resulting in serious confrontations with pepper spray, road flares, and even fists and batons, leaving over 15 injured.

Efforts were made to avoid escalating the protests into violent encounters to strengthen security forces further. Despite some incidents, none ended in arrests. However, California Governor Gavin Newsom's openly critical stance did not alleviate the situation. He accused the police of being overly passive, though he himself was not arrested. It suggests the governor may have ordered a softer approach towards the students, possibly due to pre-election concerns, or perhaps due to the students' steadfastness in their protests.

Both Muslims and non-Muslims are among the protestors at California University (as well as Columbia). Leftists dominate among the latter. Inside the university, a makeshift camp has been set up, where students support each other with meals and even musical performances.

Protests are also ongoing in universities across the country. The immediate trigger for protests, as depicted by the students themselves, was the approval of aid packages for US allies, including Israel. University leadership likely played a significant role in organizing these rallies. For instance, UCLA's Chancellor Gene Blok criticized not the protestors but the pro-Israel attackers who raided the student dormitories at night, labeling them as "provocateurs" with "unacceptable" behavior.

The government, theoretically obligated to respond in some form, finds itself in a tight spot with these massive and notably aggressive protests, especially as American politicians are preoccupied with election campaigns. They remain relatively silent. Public sentiment in support of Palestine is significant in the US. However, pro-Israel sentiment is also strong. Thus, a careless remark could unsettle a significant portion of voters.

If Donald Trump, the former president, were to comment on Joe Biden's handling of the situation, it would likely be disparaging. The businessman and former White House leader suggests Biden can't even string two sentences together. Trump criticized the protestors, albeit in a softer tone and indirectly. He hinted that the students occupying Hamilton Hall would face less severe consequences compared to those involved in the Capitol Hill riot on January 6, 2021. Yet, Trump's supporters' demand for toughness against the protestors is not a determining factor.

The outcome and evolution of these protests, as well as the extent of student demands and actions, will heavily influence public opinion and potentially sway or repel voters. Presently, American society, according to sociologists, is pro-Israel. Older respondents, those aged 50 and above, are more likely to express pro-Israel sentiments. They are also more religious (with American Protestants known for their sympathies towards Israel), and among them, fewer are left-leaning compared to the youth.


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