British Colleges Are Handling Protests Differently. Will It Pay Off?

By John Mercury May 13, 2024

Palestinian flags fluttered in the breeze above two neat rows of orange and green tents on Thursday at Cambridge University, where students read, talked and played chess at a small encampment to protest the Gaza war.

There were no police officers in sight and not a lot for them to do if they did turn up, unless they felt like joining a wellness circle or a workshop on kite-making.

Pro-Palestinian encampments have spread to 15 universities across Britain in recent days, but there were few signs yet of the violent confrontations that have shaken American campuses.

That is partly because college authorities here are adopting a more permissive approach, citing the importance of protecting free speech, even if the government is not entirely thrilled about the protests. It may also reflect the less polarized debate within Britain, where polls suggest the majority of people believe Israel should call a cease-fire.

At Oxford University, the vibe was more campsite than confrontation, with around 50 tents pitched on a prominent green lawn outside the Pitt Rivers Museum.


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