Hamas Slams US Crackdown on Pro-Palestinian College Protests

A senior official of the Palestinian Hamas movement at war with Israel has expressed support for protests being staged in solidarity with Gaza at universities across the United States and condemned efforts to crack down on them in comments shared with Newsweek.

“We in the Hamas movement believe that any popular movement demanding an end to the aggression and genocide against our people are useful and supportive activities for our cause,” Hamas spokesperson Bassam Naim told Newsweek.

“They also refute the Zionist narrative,” he added. “The importance of this increases if these activities involve young people and university students, given that this reflects the vision of future generations.”

The campus rallies have stoked substantial controversy, with supporters asserting freedom of expression and assembly, while detractors accuse participants of stoking violence and hate speech. Both sides have expressed outrage at how schools are handling the issue, and the situation has only escalated as police have been called in to break up demonstrations at leading institutions.

With the White House increasingly forced to address the issue, Naim warned that attempts to suppress such gatherings would only further fuel student anger directed toward both the conflict in Gaza and their own government.

“The American administration’s attempts to suppress these activities will not change the reality of the situation, whether regarding the justice of the Palestinian cause or the brutality and racism of the Israeli occupation,” Naim said. “We believe that suppressing these activities will increase the youth’s adherence to their position and reveal the falsity of American democracy.”

Police, arrest, pro-Palestinian, protesters, in, New, York
Police intervene and arrest more than 100 students at New York University who continue their demonstration on campus in solidarity with the students at Columbia University and to oppose Israel’s attacks on Gaza, in New…

Fatih Aktas/Anadolu/Getty Images

Pro-Palestinian protests have long manifested at universities across the nation and have been particularly prevalent since the outbreak of the deadliest-ever war in Gaza, sparked by a Hamas-led surprise attack on Israel on October 7, 2023.

After police were called in last week to dismantle tents erected by protesters at Columbia University, arresting more than 100 people, however, a new wave of demonstrations surged across campuses nationwide, along with more intensive police responses.

“We know that this is a painful moment for many communities. We respect that, and we support every American’s right to peacefully protest. That’s something that we have been consistent about,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates told reporters on Tuesday.

“But as I said, when we witness calls for violence; physical intimidation; hateful, antisemitic rhetoric, those are unacceptable. We will denounce them,” he added. “The President knows that silence is complicity, and that’s why he uses the platforms he has to try and ensure that our fellow Americans are safe.”

Biden also briefly addressed the issue amid shouted questions during his visit Monday to Prince William Forest Park in Virginia. “I condemn the antisemitic protests, that’s why I’ve set up a program to deal with that. I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going with the Palestinians,” the president said before being cut off.

Newsweek has reached out to the White House for comment.

The U.S. protests also garnered a reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who likened them to scenes from 1930s Nazi Germany.

“What’s happening in America’s college campuses is horrific,” Netanyahu said in a video statement on Wednesday. “Antisemitic mobs have taken over leading universities. They call for the annihilation of Israel. They attack Jewish students. They attack Jewish faculty.”

The Israeli leader commended U.S. officials for responding proactively but said “more has to be done.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been forced to contend with growing discontent at home, as violent clashes erupted in Jerusalem on Wednesday between police and activists who are demanding the government do more to secure the release of more than 130 hostages still held by Hamas.

Months-long efforts to secure a ceasefire and hostage release deal have yet to reach a breakthrough and both Israel and Hamas have blamed one another for the failure to secure an agreement. On the ground, the war rages on and the death toll mounts.

Israeli officials estimate that more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the initial Hamas-led attack on Israel, with more than 600 soldiers killed in the ensuing ground offensive in Gaza. The Palestinian Health Ministry in Hamas-held Gaza has placed the death toll there at over 34,000, the majority of them being women and children.

Casualties are expected to only further rise as Israel prepares to conduct a ground offensive into the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Biden and his top officials have specifically called on their Israeli counterparts not to move forward with the incursion, citing concerns over the safety of more than 1 million Palestinians estimated to have taken refuge in the area, but Netanyahu has vowed to press on with the move with or without Washington’s backing.

Further exacerbating regional insecurity, tensions between Israel and its top foe, Iran, have soared in recent weeks after both countries engaged in unprecedented direct tit-for-tat against one another. Tehran has expressed ardent support for Hamas and other Palestinian factions battling Israel, as well as allied “Axis of Resistance” factions conducting attacks on Israel from Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

Speaking at the Government College University during his trip to Lahore, Pakistan on Tuesday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi also weighed in on the U.S. campus protest debate. Having been the target of repeated U.S. criticisms regarding the crackdown of protests in his country, he accused Washington and other Western powers of hypocrisy in their response to the issue.

“What we see in practice is that a large number of students are expelled from the university just for supporting the oppressed people of Gaza,” Raisi said. “Is this called freedom of thought!?”