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Vanderbilt chancellor slams violent anti-Israel agitators on campuses: ‘Nothing to do with free speech’

Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said Thursday that while pro and anti-Israel demonstrations on his campus and others around the country are protected as free speech, violence at these rallies is not and should be punished by school authorities.

“So this has nothing to do with free speech,” Diermeier told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski when asked to weigh in on the violence that has marked some of the ongoing pro-Palestinian rallies at college campuses throughout the country.

While the raucous anti-Israel agitators at Columbia and New York universities have sucked up most of the headlines, Diermeier’s school has experienced chaotic anti-Israel rallies in recent months, one of which resulted in protesters breaking into a building and assaulting school staff.

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Students at Vanderbilt protested the administration’s removal of an anti-Israel, boycott, divestment and sanctions initiative from the student ballot in late March, with some forcibly entering a building that was closed for construction and assaulting a Community Service Officer who prevented their illicit entry. 

Multiple students were arrested and suspended following the rally. 

Diermeier, who recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal about how his school believes in the right for both sides on this issue to protest “respectfully,” told Brzezinski the March incident crossed the line and required serious consequences for the offending students.

Before condemning the violent protest, he noted that Vanderbilt has had “literally dozens of protests and discussions and vigils” since the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel, as well as “displays of the hostages in Israel” and “displays of the families being killed in Gaza” without issue.

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“All our students have been great,” Diermeier said, noting that the campus held a Passover meal that over 400 students attended.

“But we’ve had a small group of students that, as you just mentioned, broke into the administrative building that was closed for construction, and we took the appropriate action,” he added.

“Because while our students have the freedom to express themselves and to protest, that doesn’t mean that you can run into a closed building and injure security officers,” Diermeier continued. “So, as a consequence of that, we took the appropriate action – students went through student discipline as you just mentioned.”

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The chancellor concluded that these students had no right to commit these actions.

“So this has nothing to do with free speech,” Diermeier said. “This was just a violation, a blatant violation of university rules. And when you violate the rules there are consequences.”

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