Netanyahu decries pro-Palestine university protests over Gaza as ‘horrific’ and ‘antisemitic’

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the protests taking place across US universities against his country’s war in Gaza, arguing the “horrific” demonstrations are “antisemitic” and reminiscent of the dark years just before Hitler came to power.

“Antisemitic mobs have taken over leading universities. They call for the annihilation of Israel. They attack Jewish students. They attack Jewish faculty,” Mr Netanyahu said in a video address on Wednesday. “This is reminiscent of what happened in German universities in the 1930s. It’s unconscionable. It has to be stopped.”

Protests have taken place at multiple prominent US universities including Yale, Columbia University, New York University, University of Southern California, and the University of Texas, Austin.

Riot police were called to multiple campuses on Wednesday, and scores of students have been arrested in the last two weeks.

US House Speaker Mike Johnson echoed Mr Netanyahu’s criticisms during a visit to Columbia on Wednesday, where he was greeted with a chorus of boos from gathered demonstrators.

The Republican official called on the university’s president, Minouche Shafik, to resign.

“We just can’t allow this kind of hatred and antisemitism to flourish on our campuses, and it must be stopped in its tracks. Those who are perpetrating this violence should be arrested. I am here today, joining my colleagues and calling on President Shafik to resign if she cannot immediately bring order to this chaos,” he told the crowd.

Protests have been ongoing since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war in October, and campus conduct has ranged from peaceful demonstrations, line-straddling chants that some interpret as genocidal and others see as about freedom, to outright hateful comments and attacks on students of Jewish and Muslim backgrounds.

At Columbia alone, the university has experienced a wide range of different actions in the swirling debate around the ongoing war

According to a lawsuit, since last year, Jewish and Israeli Columbia students have been “spat at, physically assaulted, threatened, and targeted on campus and social media with epithets such as ‘fuck the Jews,’ ‘death to Jews,’ ‘filthy Jew,’ and Nazi.”

Others, however, say the demonstrations at Columbia, and in particular a protest encampment that formed at the university last week, have been peaceful and focused on criticising the war itself and the university’s financial ties to those fueling the Israeli military effort.

Not only that, but numerous Jewish students themselves are part of the encampment criticising the war in Israel.

“There has been this discourse that Columbia is this hotbed of antisemitism, but it’s just a bunch of nerds sitting on the ground playing games, chanting and doing homework. There was a Passover Seder held on Monday,” PhD student Jonathan Ben-Menachem, who is Jewish, told The Independent. “It’s crazy how bad faith that discourse has become.”

“There’s never any substantive response to people like me who are anti-Zionist Jews,” another student named Sarah noted. “There’s a long tradition of Jewish anti-Zionism. I have so much love for the Jewish people of my community, we just have a political dispute, and that’s it.”

Columbia staff have also criticised how the university responded to the protests, with some faculty calling on the university’s president to be censured about roughly 100 students were arrested last week following the decision from Columbia officials to call the NYPD onto campus.

In recent days, headlines about the protests on campuses have overshadowed news of the actual war itself, where more than 34,000 Gazans and more than 1,100 Israelis, mostly civilians in both cases, have been killed, and an alleged mass grave with bound corpses was found near two Gaza hospitals that’ve come under heavy fire.