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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 24 APRIL 2024

US denies ‘double standards’ on Israel; Columbia, Yale crack down on pro-Palestinian protesters

US denies ‘double standards’ on Israel; Columbia, Yale crack down on pro-Palestinian protesters
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Michael Reynolds)

The US was examining allegations of human rights and international law violations in Gaza — by both Israel and Hamas — and would not apply a double standard, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Washington on Monday.

The top US diplomat has responded to criticism that the US administration wasn’t putting enough pressure on Israel to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where Israeli forces are seeking to defeat Hamas following its 7 October attack.

Last week’s crackdown on pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University has further fired up students, who continued to occupy parts of the campus, and inspired similar protests at other elite institutions such as Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Blinken denies US human rights ‘double standard’ regarding Israel

The US was examining allegations of human rights and international law violations in Gaza — by both Israel and Hamas — and would not apply a double standard, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Washington on Monday.

“Do we have a double standard? The answer is no,” Blinken said in response to questions about the Biden administration’s handling of allegations of abuses by Israeli forces in Gaza, compared with those attributed to Hamas.

The top US diplomat’s comments follow criticism that the administration wasn’t putting enough pressure on Israel to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where Israeli forces are seeking to defeat Hamas following its 7 October attack. He spoke as reports emerged that the administration was planning to sanction an Israeli ultra-Orthodox army battalion over human rights abuses in the West Bank.

Read more: Netanyahu decries reported US plan to sanction army unit 

Blinken said the administration was engaged in a “very deliberate” process of assessing Israel’s actions under the “Leahy law” provisions barring the US government from assisting foreign security forces that engage in gross violations of human rights. He declined to provide a timeline for a formal assessment, but added that “we will have more to say” within days. 

“We are looking into reports — incidents that are brought to our attention, and we have a process to do that,” Blinken said. “Particularly if there are questions about whether US arms have been involved. And that is ongoing. We continue to be focused on that.”

Blinken spoke on Monday as the State Department released its 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which he called “a factual, systematic account of human rights records” around the world. The document contains a section on Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians.

“We apply the same standard to everyone,” Blinken said. “And that doesn’t change whether the country in question is an adversary, a competitor, a friend or an ally.”

Blinken said the administration would make its own determinations regarding potential violations in Gaza, and also touted Israel’s ability to examine its own actions, pointing to “many open investigations based on reports that have come forward with allegations about abuses of human rights or abuse of international humanitarian law, laws of war, et cetera.”

Democracies had a responsibility to police themselves and to uphold the same standards they demanded of others, he added.

“We have to do our best to collect the facts and follow the facts, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Columbia, Yale get tough on pro-Palestinian protesters

For the students, it was the ultimate betrayal: Their university had called in the police to arrest them for what they believed was a righteous protest on campus. 

That shock move by Columbia University leaders last week was intended to clear pro-Palestinian demonstrators who want the school to exit all investments that benefit Israel’s government. But instead, the crackdown has further fired up students, who continued to occupy parts of the campus, and inspired similar protests at other elite institutions such as Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The demonstrations mark a new flashpoint in the uproar that has roiled US campuses since the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas, and the subsequent retaliatory bombardment of Gaza by Israel. Some of the protests have featured anti-Semitic and intimidating chants and posters, which are fuelling a sense of dread and isolation among Jewish students. 

The protests, occurring hours before the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover at sundown, have drawn condemnation from the White House and billionaire university donors such as Robert Kraft. They have also raised concerns about the use of hardline tactics by schools against students.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul met the Columbia leadership, law enforcement and a group of students early on Monday to discuss balancing campus safety with the right to free expression.

“I was once a student protester. I protested institutions, I protested governments. I protested against apartheid. But I’ve never seen a level of protest that is so person-to-person, that is so visceral,” she said in a video posted on X.

“Students are scared, they are afraid to walk on campus. They don’t deserve that, they deserve to be in an environment that is free from discrimination as required by the state’s human rights laws.”

As the campus protests continued unabated after last week’s arrests, Columbia moved its classes online while other schools got tougher with demonstrators. At Yale, police arrested 60 people including 47 students early on Monday. President Peter Salovey cited “police reports identifying harmful acts and threatening language used against individuals at or near the protest sites”.

Harvard restricted access to Harvard Yard throughout Friday and suspended the Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC), a student group. The PSC was one of several organisations that had staged a rally in Harvard Yard in support of student activists at Columbia.

Interim President Alan Garber told the Harvard Crimson that he would not rule out a police response, but said the university has a “very, very high bar” for calling in law enforcement.

“If our policies were violated — particularly if we had concerns about violence or there were any threats to safety — we would not eliminate any option from consideration,” Garber told the Crimson on Monday.

The University of Pennsylvania revoked the registration of a pro-Palestinian campus organisation. About 150 protesters who were gathered at New York University’s Gould Plaza in Greenwich Village were arrested on Monday evening, ABC News reported.

At MIT, students established an encampment in front of Kresge Auditorium, a central building on the Cambridge campus that’s accessible from the street, and adorned the set-up with a large Palestinian flag. 

“We are here first and foremost to call for a ceasefire in Gaza,” said Prahlad Iyengar, a first-year graduate student participating in the protest.

Safiyyah Ogundipe, a senior, said the demonstrators were also seeking to pressure MIT to cut research ties that she said extended to Israel’s military. Almost 40 students slept at the encampment on Sunday night, she said. 

“A lot of us do research, a lot of us can’t even control where our funding comes from,” she said.

On the West Coast, a few hundred students at the University of California at Berkeley set up more than a dozen tents at the campus hub of Sproul Hall, and unveiled a banner proclaiming “Gaza Solidarity Encampment Until UC Divests.” Their demands included the university’s divestment from companies with ties to Israel and a boycott of academic activities such as the University of California’s study abroad programme in the country.

The protesters said their goal was to draw attention to humanitarian concerns in Gaza. About 34,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in Israel’s counterattack in the region, according to the health ministry run by Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the US government.

Joseph Howley, a classics professor at Columbia, joined several hundred faculty members on Monday in a protest against the use of force against students and what he described as transgressions against academic freedom.

“I’ve never been prouder of our students for standing up for what they believe in,” he said.

As of midday Monday, at least three dozen multicoloured tents featured Palestinian flags and signs saying “Ceasefire Now” and “Jews for Free Palestine” at an encampment on the Columbia campus.  

The tumult has raised concerns among many in Columbia’s Jewish community, as well as major donors. Kraft, whose namesake centre at the school serves as the university’s Hillel, said he was “deeply saddened at the virulent hate” on campus.

“I am no longer confident that Columbia can protect its students and staff and I am not comfortable supporting the university until corrective action is taken,” he said in a statement.

Critics of the protests point to actions by demonstrators that are threatening toward Jewish students. Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, cited multiple alleged instances of anti-Semitic speech, harassment and intimidation documented by videos, photographs and accounts from students.

The protest organisers pushed back on that criticism late on Sunday, saying they “reject any form of hate or bigotry” and “are frustrated by media distractions focusing on inflammatory individuals who do not represent us”. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East crisis news hub

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  • virginia crawford says:

    Orwellian lies and doublespeak, with a straight face.

  • Luke S says:

    When the only things that the aggressors have left to say are “We’re looking into what we’re doing wrong” and “We don’t like the way some of you are complaining about what we’re doing wrong”, that says it all.

  • Troy Marshall says:

    I would like to hear soundbites of this anti-Semitism. Speaking out against Israeli IDF excesses; speaking out against the illegal occupation; speaking out against illegal settlements; that isn’t anti-Semitism.
    Threatening fellow students because of religious faith? That’s wrong.
    Glazer’s acceptance speech at the Academy awards; the letter written by fellow Jewish artists; this proves many of the Jewish faith are principled, are vocal and don’t have a blind spot when it comes to Israel.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      On point Troy, now imagine students who go to varsity to learn the facts about history and how it features in current wars, these facts form informed decisions the students take when they feel riots are the only way of being heard.
      The same countries accrediting those institutions want to almost say we didn’t accredit them to teach you that.
      We didn’t expect that from first world countries.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Well the ‘first world education’ is built around the fact that there was no colonialism, no slavery, no genocide of indigenous people, or in our case even ‘apartheid’ or no zionism! If it was … it was in the distant past, and time for ‘us’ to just ‘get over it’ and ‘move on’.! As one commentator said .. “in all wars there are winners and losers” .. implying the most ‘powerful’ have all the say, and can do as they please. In the case of Gaza … a genocide (with US et al) complicity, under the pretext of ‘self defense’ .

    • Mahendra Dabideen says:

      Well said

  • Troy Marshall says:

    The Washington Post ran a Gallup Poll ; results 27/03/2024
    As per poll, most American’s (52% against 39%) want to stop sending Israel military aid
    As per poll, most American’s (55% against 36%) don’t approve Israel’s military action in Gaza
    Back in November 50% of American’s approved of Israel’s handling of the war compared to 45% against
    The American government is ignoring public sentiment by sending more weapons to Israel
    The military-industrial complex isn’t in control of the narrative. The pro-Israeli lobby isn’t in control of the narrative. American students see themselves as the future and they are sending an urgent message. They are saying “no”.

    • Troy Marshall says:

      I have just read an article in “The Independent”.
      There are protesting students at Columbia who are of the Jewish faith. They are decrying political opportunists who have weaponised anti-Semitism by conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism.
      It’s Israel’s brand of Zionism and how it’s affected Palestinian statehood that has always been the problem.
      Palestine has been under military occupation since 1967. Hamas was only formed in 1987, and were voted into power in 2006.
      I don’t care for Hamas’s ideology; but Hamas fights for liberation. The West has done NOTHING for Palestinians. All the West does is enable oppression.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        And the US and its puppy UK (and various Euro allies – totaling 10% of world population – sometimes hubristically called the ‘international community’! ) have and continue to uncritically fund and endorse the occupation and subjugation of Palestinians. The steadily growing number of Jews (e.g. Gideon Levy) who support Palestinian emancipation, are simply branded ‘self-hating’ by the Zionists. Hence the desperation in the US led efforts to conflate anti-zionism with anti-semitism . The most embarrassing episode for the US was the USs sole veto in the SC of the Palestinian application, to membership of the UN! This from a state that has fancifully ‘claimed’ to be in favour of a 2 state solution for over 50 years !

        • Troy Marshall says:

          In 2006 after Hamas came to power a message was sent to George Bush Jnr, “Hamas would be willing to negotiate a two state solution based on the 1967 borders”. George Bush Jnr never replied.
          Despite the European Union sanctioning the 2006 elections as free and fair financial assistance to the PA was frozen. This was the result of pressure from the USA. Democracy USA style.
          In 2021 Hamas and Fatah agreed to work together during elections for a new Palestinian legislative assembly. There was a post election plan to transfer the control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority would then have a mandate to negotiate a two state solution based on the 1967 borders.
          The election never happened, Mahmood Abbas (Palestinian president) was pressured by Israel and the USA into cancelling the elections. Democracy USA style.

        • Ben Harper says:

          Hahahaha

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