College protests rage as bombs rain in Gaza


As Israel continues to bomb Rafah, protests and encampments in New York City calling for an end to the conflict continue undeterred.

The New York Police Department arrested about 170 people last week at City College of New York protest encampments, which included students, and some faculty, from Lehman College.

Following the arrests, police blocked off the campus, and school officials announced a transition to virtual classes, citing “contentious and violent” protests as the impetus.

But that description was not accurate according to Lehman College professor and program coordinator Stuart Chen-Hayes, who participated at the encampments three different times in two days, including delivering food to protesters from Riverdale businesses.

“These are peaceful protests,” Chen-Hayes told The Press. “There is absolutely no need for anybody to be going after peaceful protesters the way (our elected officials), have. And if there is non-violence stuff going on, there is no reason for any administrator bring in outside police forces to violently repress peaceful action.”

NYPD officials pointed the finger at “outside agitators,” saying 60 percent of protesters arrested were unaffiliated with the school. In published reports, a CCNY spokesperson said those figures applied to protesters both on and off campus.

Arrests were met with dozens of CUNY faculty on Monday calling for Chancellor Matos Rodriguez to get the charges dropped. Hundreds of CUNY faculty, including Chen-Hayes, also signed a pledge last week to participate in an unauthorized sick-out day in support of the Palestinian people.

Following the blocking of CCNY, several protesters set up encampments inside a campus building at Fordham University, a private college.

“I have no doubt that something will return to CCNY,” Chen-Hayes said. “I suspect that you’re going to start seeing actions on all the CUNY campuses. Why limit it to just one that is now cut off? Why not do it at all the CUNY campuses?”

Manhattan College’s director of the Holocaust, Genocide & Interfaith Education Center, Mehnaz Afridi, told The Press students have a right to protest, but criticized how they’ve delivered their message.

“I believe we have the freedom of speech, but not the freedom of hate,” Afridi said. “To make Jews uncomfortable or to use antisemetic slogans or be anti-Zionist without understanding the majority of Jews are Zionists, even if they don’t support Israel in the government, it’s really disheartening to see.”

Afridi cited a lack of leadership at Columbia University for the current state of encampment protests there. She compared the university unfavorably to Brown, where dialog about why students wanted divestment from Israel prevailed.

“I believe we should be sitting and dialoguing, even with people who say, ‘Oh, we don’t believe in the State of Israel,’” Afridi said. “Let’s talk about that. Let’s have a conversation instead of making so many people feel uncomfortable, including non-Jews.”

Councilman Eric Dinowitz, who visited Columbia University last month, told The Press he spoke to several rabbis and students who spoke about transferring or leaving permanently. He said one student told him she received a death threat following the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

“I think most every institution failed to meet the moment after Oct. 7,” Dinowitz said. “That was a moment where college administrators should have been keenly aware that emotions were going to run high and should have done more to give students the tools to have dialog.”

Dinowitz was critical of a “citywide day of rage” at Hunter College held on Holocaust Remembrance Day. He said it was disturbing for those wanting peace .

“There are some people there who just want to see peace, but that’s not at the core what they’re about, whether they know it or not,” he said.

“At the core, it’s using the same language as Iran and Hamas, ‘day of rage.’”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres, a consistently outspoken supporter of Israel, introduced legislation that would install a third-party antisemitism monitor on any college or university campus that receives federal funding.

Torres did not respond to a request for comment at press time.

Chen-Hayes said politicians are not listening to constituents, and not understanding violence by both the NYPD and in Rafuh is only making the protesters’ cause stronger.

“We are sick and tired of all of our money going toward endless wars abroad when it should be going national healthcare at home, it should be fully funding free college for students,” Chen-Hayes said.

More than 34,000 people in Gaza have been killed since Oct. 7, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Before bombing, Israeli defense officials said leaflets were dropped in eastern Rafah asking 100,000 people sheltering there to evacuate.

Israel Rafah conflict NYC protests City College arrests Lehman College protests peaceful demonstrations NYPD arrests campus security CUNY faculty virtual classes protest encampments Palestinian support anti-Zionist protests student protests campus activism Eric Dinowitz Ritchie Torres anti-Semitism monitor Stuart Chen-Hayes Mehnaz Afridi