Pro-Palestinian protesters at UCLA tussle with Israel supporters

By David Swanson and Rich McKay

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Protests at U.S. universities showed no sign of slowing over the weekend, with more arrests on campuses across the country and skirmishes between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators at UCLA, where a tent encampment was set up last week.

As the size of the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of California at Los Angeles expanded in recent days, counter-protesters have become increasingly vocal and visible on the campus, although both sides remained peaceful until Sunday.

That changed when some demonstrators broke through a barrier that the school had set up to separate the two factions, Mary Osako, UCLA's vice chancellor for UCLA strategic communications, said.

Members of both factions shoved one another and shouted slogans and insults, and in some cases traded punches. Pushing and shoving persisted for some time among pockets of demonstrators, but campus police armed with batons eventually separated the sparring groups.

"UCLA has a long history of being a place of peaceful protest, and we are heartbroken about the violence that broke out," Osako said in a statement.

Chanting had ceased by around 3:30 p.m. local time and pro-Palestinian protesters trickled back to the encampment, according to the Reuters photographer at the scene.

Los Angeles police were not involved in quelling the disturbance, a representative of the campus police said, and no arrests had been made.

The dueling demonstrations on the UCLA campus involved at least some people from outside the university, according to an earlier statement by the university, which said it had allowed two groups on campus to express their views.

Members of the Harriet Tubman Center for Social Justice planned to support the right of students to protest, according to the statement, while Stand in Support of Jewish Students, in partnership with Israeli-American Council, planned to oppose hatred and antisemitism on campus.


In the past two weeks, pro-Palestinian protests have spread to college campuses across the U.S., triggered by the mass arrest of over 100 people at Columbia University more than a week ago.

Since then, hundreds of protesters from California and Texas to Atlanta and Boston have been arrested as they emulated the encampments used by Columbia students to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Administrators, including those of Columbia, have said the protests, as unauthorized, break school rules, disrupt learning and have fostered harassment and antisemitism.

Protesters are demanding a ceasefire in the war with Hamas and the divestment of university assets in companies involved with the Israeli military, and an end to U.S. military assistance to Israel.

Student leaders have acknowledged that isolated incidents of antisemitism and harassment have occurred but blame outsiders they say have sought to hijack their movement.

The Columbia campus was peaceful on Saturday, a school spokesman said, but crackdowns took place at a handful of other campuses.

More than 200 people were arrested at a handful of schools, including Washington University in St. Louis, where 2024 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

"They are sending in the riot police and basically creating a riot in an otherwise peaceful demonstration. So this is just shameful," Stein said in a statement.

Washington University said in a statement that those arrested would face trespassing charges.


The nationwide protests have caught the attention of President Joe Biden. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on ABC News on Sunday the president acknowledges that many Americans have strong feelings about the war in Gaza.

"He respects that and as he has said many times, we certainly respect the right of peaceful protest," Kirby said. "People should have the ability to air their views and to share their perspectives publicly, but it has to be peaceful."

At the same time, Kirby said, the president condemns antisemitism and condemns hate speech.

At USC, the administration last week canceled the main commencement ceremony after a decision to call off the valedictorian speech by a Muslim student, who responded by saying she was being silenced by anti-Palestinian hatred.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said on Sunday she believed that cancelling the commencement, with 65,000 people expected to attend, was a decision that USC "had to make."

"They just did not feel that it was going to be safe," Bass said on CNN's "State of the Union."

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and David Swanson in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty, Matthew Lewis and Diane Craft)