Yale graduates stage pro-Gaza walkout at ceremony as California academic workers strike

Yale graduates stage pro-Gaza walkout at ceremony as California academic workers strike
Students at Yale walked out of a graduation ceremony in protest at the Gaza war while California academic workers went on strike in solidarity with students.
4 min read
Yale University students have set up an encampment for Gaza [Getty]

Scores of graduating students staged a walkout from Yale University's commencement exercises on Monday, protesting the Israeli war in Gaza, Yale's financial ties to weapons makers and its response to pro-Palestinian demonstrations on the Ivy League campus.

The walkout took place as 15 students were prevented from graduating from another top US university, Harvard, over their pro-Palestine activism.

The walkout began as Yale President Peter Salovey started to announce the traditional college-by-college presentation of candidates for degrees on the grounds of Yale's Old Campus, filled with thousands of graduates in their caps and gowns.

At least 150 students seated near the front of the audience stood up together, turned their backs to the stage and paraded out of the ceremony through Phelps Gate, retracing their steps during the processional into the yard.

Many of the protesters carried small banners with such slogans as "Books not bombs" and "Divest from war." Some wore red-coloured latex gloves symbolizing bloodied hands.

Other signs read: "Drop the charges" and "Protect free speech" in reference to 45 people arrested in a police crackdown last month on demonstrations in and around the New Haven, Connecticut, campus.

The walkout drew a chorus of cheers from fellow students in the crowd, but the protest was otherwise peaceful, without disruption. No mention of it was made from the stage.

Yale is one of dozens of US universities which have seen protests over the mounting Palestinian death toll resulting from Israel's ferocious and indiscriminate offensive in the Gaza Strip. At least 35,647 people have been killed in Gaza since October, most of them women and children.

At Harvard, 23 students have been placed on probation and five others suspended for their role in setting up a pro-Gaza encampment on the university grounds. 

15 of them will now not be able to graduate this year, despite faculty voting overwhelmingly voting to add them back to the list of degrees recommended for conferral.

The University of Southern California cancelled its main graduation ceremony altogether, and dozens of students walked out of Duke University's commencement last week to protest its guest speaker, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has supported Israel throughout the war in Gaza.

Academic workers strike at University of California Santa Cruz

Fallout from a violent attack weeks ago on pro-Palestinian activists encamped at the University of California, Los Angeles, reverberated on the UC Santa Cruz campus on Monday as academic workers there staged a protest strike organized by their union.

Also on Monday, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth College, an Ivy League university in New Hampshire, narrowly voted to censure president Sian Beilock, according to a college spokesperson, for her decision to call in police to dismantle a pro-Palestinian encampment on May 1. The censure vote does not directly endanger Beilock's job.

The police action resulted in the arrest of 89 people and some injuries.

Much of the student activism has been aimed at academic institutions' financial ties with Israel and US military programmes assisting the country as it continues its war on Gaza and violent occupation of the West Bank.

Many schools have called in police to quell the demonstrations, with thousands of students arrested.

At UC Santa Cruz on Monday, hundreds of unionized academic researchers, graduate teaching assistants and post-doctoral scholars went on strike to protest what they said were the university's unfair labour practices in its handling of pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

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The strikers are members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 4811, which represents some 2,000 grad students and other academic workers at UC Santa Cruz, and about 48,000 total across all 10 University of California campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Last week, the UAW 4811 rank-and-file voted to authorize union leaders to organize a series of "standup" strikes through the end of June on individual or groups of UC campuses rather than across the entire university.

The Santa Cruz strike marked the first union-backed protest in solidarity with the recent wave of pro-Palestinian student activists, whose numbers, according to the UAW, include graduate students arrested at several University of California campuses.

Union leaders said a major impetus for the strike was the arrest of 210 people at the scene of a pro-Palestinian protest camp torn down by police at UCLA on May 2.

The night before, a group of pro-Israel supporters physically attacked the encampment and its occupiers in a melee that went on for at least three hours before police moved in to quell the disturbance. The university has since opened an investigation of the incident.

The strikers also are demanding amnesty for grad students who were arrested or face discipline for their involvement in the protests.

UC Santa Cruz issued a statement saying campus entrances were briefly blocked in the morning by demonstrators, prompting the school to switch to remote instruction for the day.

The University of California has filed its own unfair labour practice complaint with the state Public Employee Relations Board asking the state to order a halt to the strike.

(Reuters and The New Arab Staff)