Home News Why Gaza protests on U.S. college campuses are so contagious

Why Gaza protests on U.S. college campuses are so contagious


Protest encampments and other demonstrations have grown on college campuses across the United States over the past week, with many of them met with mass arrests and other heavy-handed police actions, as well as intense media scrutiny. And demonstrations continue to spread.

But overseas campus protests have been sporadic and smaller, without sparking a broader student movement.

In the UK, for example, a small group of students temporarily occupied university buildings on the campuses of the University of Manchester and the University of Glasgow. But they never generated national news or sparked a larger wave of demonstrations.

The wave of protests may also spread to foreign universities. There were some early signs this week. Students set up a protest camp on the campus of the University of Sydney in Australia on Wednesday. Classes at the elite Paris university Sciences Po were canceled on Friday due to student protests.

But that still leaves one question: Why did this particular protest movement take off? Communication in American Universities First. Experts say the answer has more to do with the partisan political backdrop in Washington than events in Gaza.

Protests, like many forms of group behavior, are contagious.

One way to understand how protest movements spread is the “applause model,” said Omar Wasow, a political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies how protest movements influence politics.

In a theater auditorium, “if some people in the front stand up, then other people start to stand up and the whole auditorium becomes like a waterfall,” he said.

Under the circumstances, it’s no surprise that Columbia started “cheering” last week, he said. The university’s proximity to national media in New York and its status as an Ivy League school gives it a prominent position akin to being in the front row of an auditorium, he said. As a result, pro-Palestinian protests there have attracted wider attention than elsewhere.Additionally, the campus is home to a large number of Jewish students, many of whom say they are fearful of anti-Semitism Harassment or attack from protesters. Expressions of this fear prompted increased media coverage and political scrutiny.

More than 100 demonstrators Arrested Columbia University called in police to clear an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters on April 18, fulfilling a promise made by school president Nemat Shafik to Congress that she was prepared to punish unauthorized protests on campus Activity.

But when the arrests came, they triggered further actions in solidarity with the protesters and counterreactions from those who saw the protests as anti-Semitic or who wanted to express support for Israel, a wave that quickly spread across the country.

“The conflict there contributed to this huge ripple effect, with other campuses joining in and other media outlets across the country and around the world taking notice,” Wasow said.

Without the arrests, the incidents would not have attracted as much attention, said Daniel Schlozman, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies social movements and party politics in the United States.

But the arrests were more than just an isolated decision by a university president. They are the result of the specific political and legal context in the United States that makes Colombia the most likely place to elicit “cheers.”

“Basic politics is about finding issues that unite one side and divide the other,” Schlozman said. For Republicans, the war in Gaza has become a particularly powerful example.

Republicans are generally unanimous in their support for Israel. Republicans have also long viewed colleges as bastions of left-wing ideology, seeking to portray them as incubators for radicalism on race and gender issues and as hostile environments for anyone who does not adhere to those ideologies.

By contrast, Democrats are far more divided on issues such as Israel, the war in Gaza and when and whether anti-Israel protests will turn into anti-Semitism.

So for Republican lawmakers, criticizing college presidents for failing to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism is a useful political issue that threatens to deepen divisions among Democrats — which, not surprisingly, they have been pursuing vigorously .

Schlozman said college presidents are soft targets in many ways.

“Within the university, administrators are trying to appease multiple constituencies: donors, protesters, faculty,” he said. “But these alliances don’t play out perfectly in national politics.” Actions that might calm tensions within a campus community can invite political scrutiny from the outside — and vice versa, as arrests on campuses across the country this week illustrate .

Last December, Republican congressmen Roast University President At the hearing, they addressed the protests against the war in Gaza that led to the eventual resignations of the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. Columbia University President Shafiq had reason to fear for her job when she was summoned to Congress last week and vowed to punish student protesters if necessary. That night, she called the campus police.

It’s unclear what role congressional inquiries played in her decision. But her actual motives matter less than the impression it left on people on all sides of the issue that Republican pressure led to mass arrests. Schlozman said it was like a “bat signal” for different sides of the issue.

For Republican politicians who have turned criticism of campus protests and anti-Semitism into a sensational event, the arrests send a message: “Look, we won. We can divide our opponents’ coalitions,” He said.

For students and others who may sympathize with the protesters but have not joined them, the shock of the arrests may inspire action rather than passive support. For teachers and others in the political center, it was anger over the arrests themselves, not the underlying political dispute over the war in Gaza, that led many to join the protests.

In other countries, by contrast, campus protests and anti-Semitism have so far not become political flashpoints. (Of course, there were massive demonstrations against the war and anti-Semitism in cities around the world.) University of Glasgow Occupied a campus building for 15 days but left after negotiating with senior university officials. The story barely made local news.

In France, brief burst of political anger last month A Jewish student claimed she was banned from university events because of her religious beliefs, but the situation quickly passed when other students, some of whom were Jewish, offered different versions of the event.

Although several university presidents were summoned to the French parliament to discuss campus anti-Semitism, the resulting discussions received little media attention — a far cry from the closely watched hearings in the United States.

Ultimately, Professor Vasso said, nonviolent protest is most effective when it creates some kind of “drama.” In other countries, campuses may be relatively quiet due to the lack of drama.

But now that the cheers have begun, that may change.

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