protesters' protection

Emerson College president offers to pay bail for anti-Israel protesters arrested at school

Jewish Emerson students said they’ve been harassed on campus, and faced chants calling for an intifada


Police move in to arrest pro-Palestinian supporters who were blocking the road after the Emerson College Palestinian protest camp was cleared by police in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 25, 2024.

The president of Emerson College became the latest university leader to face sharp criticism for his handling of the anti-Israel encampment protests after he offered to pay bail for protesters arrested at the Boston liberal arts school and requested that they not be prosecuted. 

Following the arrest last week of 118 “Gaza solidarity encampment” protesters, who camped out in tents for weeks in the middle of campus, Emerson President Jay Bernhardt sent a campus-wide email last week saying that the school “has continued to be supportive in multiple ways – sending staff to all the precincts and posting bail for arrested students, canceling and modifying classes so our community could process what had occurred, and providing additional care and support for our community to heal.” 

“The College will not bring any campus disciplinary charges against the protestors and will encourage the district attorney not to pursue charges related to encampment violations,” Bernhardt, who is Jewish, wrote.

Roni Moser, an Israeli freshman at Emerson, said in a speech at a pro-Israel rally in Boston on April 28 that the encampments have been the “climax” of the anti-Israel rhetoric that has engulfed the Boston campus since Oct. 7. While Emerson’s undergraduate enrollment is only about 4,000 students, its Students for Justice in Palestine account has more than 6,000 followers. 

Moser said that the protesters have “written hateful speech on walls and screamed violent chants repeatedly.” 

“People have the right to protest. People shouldn’t have the right to use such violent and antisemitic speech,” she said, pointing to slogans that have been thrown around campus including “Long live the intifada” and “Israel is antisemitic.” 

“Jewish students were personally harassed, to the point where many had to be removed from campus, and temporarily placed in hotels,” Moser said, adding that “friends of mine were called terrorists.” 

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Bernhardt to “reverse this decision” and for “the Suffolk district attorney to enforce the law.”

“The president of Emerson is going out of his way to make sure students who broke the law and violated Emerson’s own policies face no consequences,” Greenblatt said in a statement. 

Several universities around the country have recently struck deals with anti-Israel protesters to quell the turmoil on college campuses — including giving protesters a seat at the table regarding investment decisions, which Jewish leaders warn could further poison the atmosphere for Jewish students. But at most schools, the concessions have been largely symbolic. 

Greenblatt said that in Emerson’s case, “This capitulates to the most extreme voices and rewards their disruptive conduct. The Emerson community deserves better.”

In a follow-up letter to students on Monday, Bernhardt announced that the university “will establish a campus bias rapid response team.” 

“I deeply regret that despite our best efforts, our students’ activism resulted in police action over their encampment, especially in the heartbreaking way it occurred,” Bernhardt wrote. 

He went on to say that, “Regarding financial divestment, the Board of Trustees has considered this request and may continue to do so further in the future.” 

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