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University students stage walkout over Jerry Seinfeld speech

Some students could be heard booing as they waved Palestinian flags

Andrea Cavallier
Monday 13 May 2024 08:29 BST
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Related video: Pro-Palestine protesters occupy Columbia university lawn

Dozens of students walked out on Jerry Seinfeld at Duke University on Sunday as he was about to deliver the commencement speech.

Videos, posted on social media, showed students leaving the stadium in North Carolina to protest Israel’s war in Gaza as Duke president Vincent Price introduced the comedian.

Some students could be heard booing as they waved Palestinian flags while others cheered: “Jerry! Jerry!”

Dozens of students walked out as Jerry Seinfeld delivered the commencement speech at Duke University on Sunday (AP)

Seinfeld has publicly supported Israel following the 7 October Hamas attack, and traveled to a kibbutz in December to meet with hostages’ families. He has been “uncharacteristically vocal” about his support during press calls for his new film, Unfrosted, The New York Times reported.

The comedian, who was receiving an honorary degree from Duke, largely stayed away from the issue at the centre of the protests during his speech. At one point, he mentioned his Jewish heritage which was met with applause from the crowd.

“I grew up a Jewish boy from New York,” he said. “That is a privilege if you want to be a comedian.”

Outside Duke’s stadium on the Durham campus, Gaza-supporting students chanted: “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.”

Small pro-Palestinian protests popped up across the country this weekend as colleges and universities from North Carolina to California held commencement ceremonies.

At Duke’s rival school, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, pro-Gaza demonstrators splattered red paint on the steps of a building hours ahead of the school’s commencement ceremony and chanted on campus while students wearing light blue graduation gowns posed for photos, the News & Observer reported.

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An estimated 100 students and family members left Virginia Commonwealth University’s ceremony during Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s speech in a show of support for Palestinians, while others held signs signaling opposition to his policies on education, according to WRIC-TV.

Gov Youngkin, who received an honorary doctorate at commencement, did not appear to address the students who left the event.

“The world needs your music,” he said, during his speech. “You, all of you, will be the symphony. Make it a masterpiece.”

Virginia Commonwealth University students walk out of graduation as Republican governor speaks on Saturday (National Students for Justice in Palestine)

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a small group of demonstrators staged what appeared to be a silent protest during commencement at Camp Randall Stadium. A photo, posted by the Wisconsin State Journal, showed about six people walking through the rear of the stadium, with two carrying a Palestinian flag.

Marc Lovicott, a spokesperson for campus police, said the group, believed to be students because they were wearing caps and gowns, “was kind of guided out but they left on their own.” No arrests were made.

The demonstration came after pro-Palestinian protesters on that campus agreed on Friday to permanently dismantle their two-week-old encampment and not disrupt graduation ceremonies in return for the opportunity to connect with “decision-makers” who control university investments by 1 July. The university agreed to increase support for scholars and students affected by wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

At the University of Texas, Austin, a student held up a Palestinian flag during a commencement ceremony and refused to leave the stage briefly before being escorted off by security.

UC Berkeley Law School graduates wear T-shirts that read ‘UC DIVEST’ as a form of protest during the UC Berkeley Law School commencement at the Greek Theater in Berkeley on Friday (ONLINE_YES)

And at the University of California, Berkeley, a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators began waving flags and chanting during commencement and were escorted to the back of the stadium, where they were joined by others, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. There were no major counterprotests, but some attendees voiced frustration.

“I feel like they’re ruining it for those of us who paid for tickets and came to show our pride for our graduates,” said Annie Ramos, whose daughter is a student. “There’s a time and a place, and this is not it.”

Saturday’s events were less dramatic than what happened on other campuses on Friday when police made dozens of arrests as pro-Gaza protest encampments were dismantled at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Those actions came hours after police tear-gassed demonstrators and took down a similar camp at the University of Arizona.

The Associated Press has recorded at least 75 instances since April 18 in which arrests were made at US campus protests. Nearly 2,900 people have been arrested at 57 colleges and universities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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