Pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protesters scuffle as Australian universities mirror US campuses

Active protests reported from campuses in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra

Arpan Rai
Friday 03 May 2024 12:54 BST
Related: Riot police raid Columbia University to dismantle Gaza protest

Pro-Palestine student protesters seeking action against Israel for its war on Gaza have filled Australia’s universities in scenes mirroring ongoing demonstrations across American campuses.

Active protests have been reported from campuses in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Canberra, with dozens of students camping on lawns like in the US. The students are asking university officials to sever all academic relations with Israel as well as research partnerships with arms manufacturers that are reportedly supplying weapons to the Israeli military.

At Australia’s oldest university in Sydney, students started encamping last Tuesday and said they would not leave until the administration met their demands. There were reports of a scuffle breaking out between the pro-Palestine students and a group of pro-Israel counterprotesters.

The university’s vice chancellor, Mark Scott AO, rejected their demands and said the institution is not looking to cut any academic ties with Israel.

He also said there is space for both sets of protesters at the university.

“They may strongly disagree with the matters that have been discussed. We can host that conversation and we should be able to do that in a non-threatening way,” he told ABC.

Mr Scott claimed that not all protesters were students and that some might not be committed to peaceful and productive engagement.

"We are working with security and police," he said.

At Melbourne University, tensions flared on Thursday after pro-Israel protesters gathered to demonstrate against pro-Palestine students who have been camping on the campus in Victoria for the past week.

The encamped students have said they are “under no misconception that it’s not a long fight, but we are here for the long run”.

In Adelaide, students have called for solidarity with the protesting students in the US. “Students across the US are really, really brave for continuing to come out,” a student named El Hall was quoted as saying by ABC News.

Australian authorities have said they fear the protests may go the same way as in the US.

“In the United States it has turned violent. People have bombarded and broken windows and turned these encampments into violence,” MP Josh Burns said. "I don’t want that to happen in Australia.”

There have been no reported arrests of student protesters or faculty members in Australia so far.

In the US police have arrested more than 2,100 people from pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campuses in recent weeks, sometimes using riot gear, tactical vehicles and flash-bang devices to clear tent encampments and occupied buildings.

A police officer accidentally discharged his gun inside a Columbia University administration building while clearing out protesters camped inside, authorities disclosed on Thursday.

Live TV footage of the police crackdown at the University of California at Los Angeles showed protesters under arrest, kneeling on the ground, hands bound behind their backs with zip ties, as explosions ring from flash-bang charges, or stun grenades, fired by police.

US president Joe Biden has denounced protests that turned violent on college campuses but defended the right to peaceful protest.

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