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Pro-Palestinian protests on campuses subside as US graduation ceremonies marked by acts of defiance | National

A small contingent of Duke University graduates opposed pro-Israel comedian Jerry Seinfeld speaking at their commencement in North Carolina on Sunday, with about 30 of the 7,000 students leaving their seats and chanting “free Palestine” amid a mix of boos and cheers.

Some waved the red, green, black and white Palestinian flag. Seinfeld, whose eponymous sitcom was one of the most popular in American television history, was there to receive an honorary degree from the university.

The stand-up comedian turned actor who stars in the new Netflix film “Unfrosted” has publicly supported Israel since it invaded Gaza to dismantle Hamas after the organization attacked the country and killed some 1,200 people on Oct. 7. the south of Israel. The ensuing war has killed nearly 35,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters.

Students on campuses across the US responded this spring by setting up encampments and calling on their schools to cut ties with Israel and companies that support it. Students and others on campuses identified by law enforcement authorities as outside agitators have participated in Columbia University’s New York City protests against UCLA.

Police escorted graduates’ families past several dozen pro-Palestinian protesters who tried to block entrance to Sunday night’s commencement outside Pomona College in Southern California. After protesters set up an encampment on the campus’ ceremony stage last week, the small liberal arts school moved the event 30 miles (48 kilometers) from Claremont to the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. Tickets were required to attend the event, which the school said would include additional safety measures.

In April, police dressed in riot gear arrested 19 protesters who had occupied the president’s office at the university with about 1,700 students.

Protester Anwar Mohmed, a 21-year-old senior from Pomona, said the school has ignored repeated calls to consider divesting its endowment funds from companies linked to Israel in the Gaza war.

“We have been ignored by the institution time and time again,” Mohmed said outside the shrine on Sunday. “So today we have to say that it is not ‘business as usual’.”

At the University of California, Berkeley, a small group of pro-Palestinian protesters waved flags and chanted during commencement on Saturday and were escorted to the back of the stadium, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. There were no major counter-protests, but some attendees expressed frustration.

“I feel like they ruined it for those of us who paid for the tickets and came to show our pride for our graduates,” said Annie Ramos, whose daughter is in college. “There is a time and a place, and this is not it.”

The small student protest Sunday at Duke’s graduation ceremony in Durham, North Carolina, was emblematic of campus events across America Sunday, after weeks of student protests resulted in nearly 2,900 arrests at 57 colleges and universities.

This weekend’s kickoff events remained largely peaceful.

At Emerson College in Boston, some students took off their graduation robes and left them on stage. Others decorated ‘free Palestine’ on their mortar slabs. A woman stared at a camera broadcasting a livestream to the audience, unzipped her robe to reveal a kaffiyeh, the black-and-white checked scarf commonly worn by Palestinians, and showed a watermelon that was on her hand painted. Both are symbols of solidarity with those living in the occupied territories.

Others showed messages to a camera on stage, but the livestream quickly changed to a different view, so they weren’t visible for long. The chants during some of the speeches were difficult to decipher.

Protests at Columbia University, where student uprisings inspired others on campuses across the country, led the school to cancel its main graduation ceremony in favor of smaller gatherings.

The University of Southern California told its valedictorian, who publicly supported the Palestinians, that she could not deliver her keynote speech at the graduation ceremony due to security concerns. It later canceled the main graduation ceremony.

Graduation is more than a month away at DePaul University in Chicago. But as the school year ended, school leaders said they had reached a “standoff” with the school’s pro-Palestinian protesters, leaving the future of their encampment on the Chicago campus unclear.

The student-led DePaul Divestment Coalition, which calls on the university to rid itself of economic interests linked to Israel, set up the camp nearly two weeks ago. The group alleged that university officials walked away from the talks and tried to force students to sign an agreement, according to a student statement late Saturday.


Associated Press journalists Ryan Sun in Los Angeles, Sophia Tareen in Chicago and Kimberlee Kreusi in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.


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