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Two days of pro-Palestinian protests at KU, then resumption of the regular program

    After two days of pro-Palestinian protests at the University of Kansas, the Lawrence campus took on the feel of an austere, mundane summer day on Friday.  The rhetoric from Kansas politicians denouncing the protesters was white-hot.  (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
After two days of pro-Palestinian protests at the University of Kansas, the Lawrence campus took on the feel of an austere, mundane summer day on Friday. The rhetoric from Kansas politicians denouncing the protesters was white-hot. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

BY: TIM CARPENTER, Kansas Reflector

Students speak about solidarity with the victims of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza

LAWRENCE – The drumbeat of pro-Palestinian sentiment heard for two days on the flower-dappled lawns and academic buildings at the University of Kansas did not resume Friday as students apparently turned their attention to the immediate challenges of final exams .

There was no colorful protest banner hung next to Fraser Hall, where demonstrators took their posts on Wednesday to dramatize objections to the human and infrastructure toll of Israel’s overwhelming military assault on Gaza. The Israeli siege was a response to Hamas’ deadly raid on border towns in October. Supporters of Israel on campus, who draped themselves in the national Star of David flag, also took the day off.

Absent were the unequivocal messages demanding action to ‘Liberate Palestine’, ‘Let Gaza Live’, ‘End the Occupation’ and ‘Stop the Genocide’. The quest to establish a tent village similar to protest centers on campuses elsewhere was thwarted by KU’s policy banning overnight camping. Strong Hall, a campus landmark on Jayhawk Boulevard, no longer served as a magnet for protesters. It returned to its role as a place of quiet, plodding administrative activity.

It was so calm that Cole Bruening, a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Philosophy, brought this dog, Shep, to Wescoe Hall in an effort to teach the energetic dog to embrace the art of sitting still. He was of course aware of student demonstrations about the fighting between Israel and Gaza, but he chose not to participate.

“I don’t think about that much,” he said. “I know it’s a sensitive subject.”

Members of Students for Justice in Palestine at KU had made a series of demands that apparently did not warrant a public response from KU administrators.

The protesters, who represented students, faculty and staff, as well as other Lawrence residents, called on KU to disclose and divest of financial interests in the Israeli government. They called on KU to stop accepting grants from the U.S. Department of Defense. On Friday, KU announced that it ranked fifth nationally among the top research universities in the annual survey of military-friendly schools.

The final request from the protesters, who may return to action on Monday, was that KU respect their First Amendment rights to free speech and “grant amnesty” for behavior that could get them in trouble.

    Cole Bruening, a graduate teaching assistant in the philosophy department at the University of Kansas, was on campus Friday with his dog Shep.  They had the Wescoe Hall square to themselves as pro-Palestinian protesters took Friday off after two days of activism.  (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Cole Bruening, a graduate teaching assistant in the philosophy department at the University of Kansas, was on campus Friday with his dog Shep. They had the Wescoe Hall square to themselves as pro-Palestinian protesters took Friday off after two days of activism. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

‘Distorted thinking’

Republican U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, from the 1st District stretching from Colorado to Lawrence, said the protests on U.S. campuses were led by “misinformed mobs who believe that Hamas, a terrorist organization, is good for the people of Gaza. ”

“It couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “We see the rot of anti-Semitism staining our American colleges and universities.”

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican and former law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said KU should not side with “anti-Semitic terrorists” who support the Palestinian cause of independence. In a letter distributed by Kobach, he said the Kansas Board of Regents and KU Chancellor Doug Girod must enforce rules and regulations to prevent disruption of the university’s educational mission.

Kobach used fiery rhetoric while claiming that Kansas law prohibited KU from meeting the demands of “pro-Hamas” protesters. For example, he said, state law prohibits the university from making procurement or investment decisions that amount to a boycott of the government of Israel.

“As is often the case with uninformed, petulant loudmouths,” Kobach said in a rebuke of the activists, “they didn’t do their research. And their views are reprehensible.”

U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican and KU medical school graduate, said the protests at the university were a glimpse of what would happen if “we let the woke mob win” the presidential campaign between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in November.

“Joe Biden wants to give refugee status to thousands of Palestinians in Gaza – the same people who are screaming death at America,” Marshall said. “Why are university presidents and this president turning their heads away from the violent crimes that are happening? Why does this president want to bring in tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of refugees from Gaza?”

‘Stand up with Jewish students’

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who earned bachelor’s and law degrees from KU, urged U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to use their influence to restore order to restore campuses that were effectively closed by anti-Semitic groups.

“The failure of school administrators to protect Jewish students from discrimination and harassment violates federal law and is a reason for these schools to lose access to federal funds,” Moran said. “Embracing support for terrorists like Hamas violates federal immigration law and is grounds for deportation.”

U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, the Kansas Republican who served the 4th District around Wichita, echoed that sentiment. He said the volume of federal tax dollars funneled into universities and colleges across the United States meant campus administrators had a duty to “provide a safe environment for students to learn from.”

Rep. Jake LaTurner, the 2nd District Republican who announced in November he would not seek re-election, said violent anti-Semitic protests in the United States served the interests of Hamas terrorists who “brutally raped thousands of innocent Israelis on October 7 , kidnapped and murdered.”

“I stand with Jewish students across the country and fully support the right of our great ally Israel to protect and defend their freedom,” LaTurner said.