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US: Duke University students stage walk-out during Jerry Seinfeld speech

Dozens of students staged a walk-out during their commencement ceremony in protest against the comedian's pro-Israel stance
US comedian Jerry Seinfeld addresses Duke University students during the 2024 graduation ceremony (Screengrab/Duke University)

American comedian Jerry Seinfeld might be known for his wry observational humour, but for some of the students graduating from Duke University, there's a glaring matter he has failed to spot.

In the latest example of campus protest against Israel's ongoing war on Gaza, dozens of Duke University students walked out of their commencement ceremony on Sunday as the comedian was introduced as guest speaker.

Seinfeld, known for his role in the hit eponymous sitcom, has been vocal in his support for Israel amid its ongoing military assault on Gaza, which has left over 35,000 Palestinians dead, the majority women and children.

Videos posted on social media from the graduation ceremony showed loud disapproving boos, as well as chants of "free Palestine" with some students waving Palestinian flags as they walked out before Seinfeld’s speech.

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The graduates continued their chants outside Duke University's Wallace Wade Stadium, calling for the university to divest from companies doing business with the Israeli military.

The comedian, who was given an honourary degree by the university, did not mention the student protests taking place across the country nor the Israeli assault on Gaza in his speech.

While some social media users maintained that the walkout was an act of antisemitism, others countered that it was in protest of the comedian's "unconditional" support of Israel's attacks on Gaza.

In December last year, the celebrity and his wife Jessica Sklar visited Kibbutz Be’eri near the separation fence between Gaza and Israel to show solidarity with Israel and the victims of the Hamas-led attack on 7 October.

Jerry Seinfeld's wife has also recently come under fire for donating thousands of dollars to a pro-Israel counterprotest at the University of California, Los Angeles, where a mob attacked the pro-Palestine encampment while police reportedly watched on and did not intervene.

The couple has also been slammed for attending a so-called "fantasy camp" run by Israeli forces in a West Bank settlement, which boasts a “shooting adventure, paintball, survival training, and self-defence” programme to tourists on its website.

"Seems like a pretty political statement by the university to use someone like Jerry Seinfeld, when his greatest relevancy over last year has been going on a propaganda trip to Israel in the midst of a genocide and having a wife who donated $5000 to the pro-Israel rally at UCLA," shared one user on X, previously Twitter.

"Jerry Seinfeld not only offered unconditional support for Israel’s attacks on Gaza, his wife not only donated to create counter-protests against ceasefire, but they visited illegal West Bank settlements for “fantasy camp” romanticising killing Palestinians as a family adventure," added another.

The walkout is the latest in a series of protests at graduations as tensions remain high after universities' heavy-handed crackdowns on pro-Palestinian encampments over the past few weeks. Nearly 2,900 people have been arrested at colleges and universities across the US.

One video shared by a Columbia University student on Tiktok, shows a compilation of numerous students parading the Palestinian flag or wearing keffiyeh-patterned scarves, as they make their way to the stage, with one student choosing to rip up her diploma.

"We did say we will not stop," the author posted.

On Saturday, dozens of students similarly walked out on Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who spoke at Virginia Commonwealth University's graduation ceremony.

Students also disrupted their commencement ceremony at the University of California, Berkeley, waving the Palestinian flag and keffiyehs, while chanting and calling for the university to divest from Israel.

At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, pro-Palestinian students splashed red paint on the steps ahead of the graduation ceremony, while around 20 students turned their backs on Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin and stood quietly as she gave a speech at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

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