Pro-Palestinian protesters camp across Australian universities

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Members of the Australian Palestinian community shout slogans at the Palestinian Protest Campsite at the University of Sydney in Sydney on 3 May 2024. (Ayush Kumar/AFP)

By Lewis Jackson Reuters

Hundreds of people protesting Israel’s war in Gaza rallied at one of Australia’s top universities on Friday demanding it divest from companies with ties to Israel, in a movement inspired by the student occupations sweeping U.S. campuses.

Pro-Palestinian activists set up an encampment last week outside the sandstone main hall at University of Sydney, one of Australia’s largest tertiary institutions.

Similar camps have sprung up at universities in Melbourne, Canberra and other Australian cities.

Unlike in the U.S., where police have forcibly removed scores of defiant pro-Palestinian protesters at several colleges, protest sites in Australia have been peaceful with scant police presence.

On Friday, protesters rallied to demand University of Sydney divest from companies with ties to Israel, echoing calls from students in the U.S., Canada and France.

Standing in the chanting crowd of more than 300 with his two-year old son on his shoulders, Matt, 39, said he came to show it was not just students angry at Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“Once you understand what is going on you have a responsibility to try and get involved and raise awareness and show solidarity,” he told Reuters, declining to give his last name.

Several hundred metres away from the Sydney university protest and separated by lines of security guards, hundreds gathered under Australian and Israeli flags to hear speakers say the pro-Palestinian protests made Jewish students and staff feel unsafe on campus.

“There’s no space for anybody else, walking through campus chanting ‘Intifada’ and ‘from the river to the sea’ it does something, it’s scary,” said Sarah, an academic who declined to give her name for fear of repercussions.

University of Sydney vice chancellor Mark Scott told local media on Thursday the pro-Palestinian encampment could stay on campus in part because there was not the violence seen in the U.S.

While several police cars were parked at the entrance to the university, no police were present at either protest.

Long a stalwart ally of Israel, Australia has become increasingly critical of its conduct in Gaza, where an Australian aid worker was killed in an Israeli attack last month.

Pro-Palestinian protesters said the government had not done enough to push for peace and led the crowd in chants against Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his government.

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