“It’s Just Like McCarthyism”: NYU Students and Faculty Push Back on Protest Crackdown

NYU students and faculty protested in Washington Square Park on Tuesday after university officials brought the NYPD in to arrest 120 protesters the night before.Julianne McShane/Mother Jones

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.Less than 24 hours after police arrested 120 people at a pro-Palestine rally at New York University, students and faculty walked out of their classrooms to call out alleged lies from the administration used to suppress peaceful political protest on college campuses of Israel’s war on Gaza. 
Hundreds gathered on Tuesday afternoon at the southeast corner of Washington Square Park for a strike organized by the school’s Palestine Solidarity Coalition. Participants hoisted Palestinian flags into the air alongside signs lambasting NYU President Linda G. Mills and alleging censorship on campus. 
The night before, university officials requested police “clear the area” in front of the Stern School of Business, where about 50 students had set up a Gaza solidarity encampment Monday morning—one of at least 10 that we know of nationwide. Police arrested 120 people, 116 of whom were released with summonses for trespassing. (Another four face charges of resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration and were also released, an NYPD spokesperson told Mother Jones on Tuesday.)
NYU has explained its call to the NYPD as necessary to curb violence. A spokesperson said in a statement that officials sought “to avoid any escalation or violence,” and called the police after outside protesters allegedly breached barriers the university had set up and refused to leave. The university also alleged “disorderly, disruptive, and antagonizing behavior” and said “intimidating chants and several antisemitic incidents” had been reported.
But those who were at the plaza said they saw a mostly peaceful demonstration. 
“I was actually there at the moment that, supposedly, students stormed the plaza—and it actually seemed quite orderly to me,” Jon Ritter, Clinical Professor of Art History at NYU, told Mother Jones at the protest Tuesday, adding that organizers were asking students to show their university IDs before joining the crowd. 
“The way it’s being framed by the university as a kind of disorderly, violent act—I didn’t personally see that, and I feel like those are being used as precepts to cut down and stop the right of free speech and assembly by our students,” Ritter added. 

NYU professors Jon Ritter and Sibylle Fischer attended the Tuesday protest.
Julianne McShane/Mother Jones
Dylan, an organizer with the Graduate Student Union who declined to provide his last name, rejected the school’s characterizations of the events Monday. He told me that the action that night featured both Islamic prayers and a Passover Seder, and that there were “a lot of Jewish anti-Zionist” people taking part.
Lisa Duggan, a Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at NYU and a member of the Faculty for Justice in Palestine, also said the claims of antisemitism are “a ruse” like other, broader politically-motivated attacks on education.
“It’s like the way they use [critical race theory] in the red states…or for K-12, it’s like, ‘trans people in bathrooms.’ They’re using antisemitism here,” she told me in the park on Tuesday. Duggan said she believes administrators know the claims are “disingenuous,” but the officials are trying to keep their own jobs safe in light of mounting pressure from donors and politicians. 
“It’s just like McCarthyism…from the top down, dissent is deliberately misdescribed as threatening in order to excuse an attempt to control,” she added.
The protest on Tuesday in Washington Square Park was overwhelmingly civil. A few counter-protesters milled around; one muttered the pro-Palestinian protesters were “Nazis.” And there were a few demands for journalists to leave; chants of “press to the back” broke out several times, and at one point, an organizer pushed a cameraman away from the main speakers and told him to stand behind a fence “like a dog.” 
But, for the most part, it was a lot of politically-motivated students and faculty peacefully protesting—including some who are new to the cause. 

Brandon Bien, a senior at NYU studying history and philosophy, said he spent four hours at the Monday protest and that he didn’t witness anything “hateful or threatening.”
Julianne McShane/Mother Jones
“I see way more people mobilizing…people like me are just walking up and getting involved because they hold some sort of belief that’s in line to the movement,” Brandon Bien, a senior studying history and philosophy, told me. 
Dylan, the graduate student organizer, said that leaders fear disciplinary action, “but that’s not going to deter us.” 
“They’re trying to flip the script,” he said, “and we’re not going to let them.”
A spokesperson for NYU did not immediately respond to questions from Mother Jones on Tuesday evening.
Editor’s note: The author of this post attended New York University and taught at its Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.