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Protesting Over Gaza, Columbia University Students Boo US House Speaker Mike Johnson


US House Speaker Mike Johnson was heckled and booed as he visited Columbia University. The university has been the epicentre of nationwide student protests over the war in Gaza. Johnson’s visit, which he said was meant to support Jewish students intimidated by some anti-Israeli demonstrators, took place shortly after the university extended a deadline from Wednesday morning to Friday morning to reach an agreement to remove an encampment that has come to symbolise the campus protest movement.

Speaking at the event, Johnson said that the “virus of antisemitism” had spread across campuses around the country. “As Columbia has allowed these lawless radicals and agitators to take over, the virus of antisemitism has spread across other campuses,” Johnson said from the steps of the university library, calling on violent protesters to be arrested and threatening to cut off federal funding to universities that fail impose order.

Such threats are unlikely to deter protesting students and law enforcement has often been needed to come in. In Texas on Wednesday, state highway patrol troopers in riot gear and police on horseback broke up a protest at the University of Texas in Austin and arrested 20 people.

The University of Southern California declared its campus closed and asked the Los Angeles Police Department to clear a demonstration. Police arrested students who peacefully surrendered one-by-one, hours after campus police who took down an encampment were overwhelmed by protesters and requested LAPD help.

Other demonstrations took place at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge and California State Polytechnic in Humboldt.

Protesting students have demanded universities divest assets from Israel and seek to pressure the U.S. government to rein in Israeli strikes on Palestinian civilians.

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Before his press conference, Johnson met with about 40 Jewish students on campus, according to students who were there. These students said they were fearful to come onto the campus as they had been spat on and seen swastikas drawn on the walls.

Students at the encampment say their protest has been peaceful, and that outsiders not connected with their movement are behind any inflammatory confrontations off-campus.

“We regret that there’s no attention on this peaceful movement and politicians are diverting attention from the real issues,” said Mahmoud Khalil, a Palestinian student at Columbia who has been part of the negotiations with school administration.

(With inputs from  Reuters)