After weeks of nonstop coverage of destruction and death in the Gaza Strip, media across the wider Middle East have latched onto the demonstrations roiling American university campuses over the Israel-Hamas war.

For some, the protests and what they described as a heavy-handed police crackdown on them represent the double standards of life in the United States, which routinely calls on nations to respect dissent and free speech. However, across most of the Mideast, demonstrations of any kind remain illegal as many countries face warfare, economic challenges or other broad unrest.

The coverage included nearly breathless reporting from Iranian state television, which aired live video from the protests and police actions. Even soccer commentators brought it up during matches as one analyst later described it as “the death of liberal democracy.”

“The expansion of pro-Palestinian student protests to over 200 universities while full-fledged crackdown by police continues,” one newscast began, offering arrest figures as well.

The Iranian coverage of student protests in the U.S. comes despite state TV largely ignoring the mass demonstrations surrounding the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, which resulted in over 500 people dead and 22,000 detained.

The hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan, which routinely calls for the destruction of both the U.S. and Israel, used the student protests in the U.S. to try to discredit a BBC report alleging Iranian security services sexually assaulted and killed a 16-year-old girl during the Amini demonstrations.

“At a time when consciences around the world are protesting the suppression of students in America and other Western countries, and while the global outcry against the Israeli regime’s countless crimes is greater than ever, the BBC World Service, in a strange act of suicide, has published such a ridiculous report,” the newspaper said.

In Israel, where the normally rambunctious free press has largely rallied behind the war in Gaza, the images from the U.S. protests have prompted widespread concerns that public opinion has turned against Israel. Many commentators have dismissed the protests as antisemitic, a charge the protest leaders reject.

Israel’s public broadcaster Kan repeatedly aired images of the U.S. protests on May 1, and some have called on Israel to open its doors to Jewish academics and students who feel unsafe in the U.S.

“When antisemitic demonstrations calling for the destruction of Israel are raging on campuses around the world, the Council for Higher Education must make a decision to encourage academic institutions in Israel to proactively absorb Jewish students from abroad,” wrote Peretz Lavie, a professor emeritus and former president at Technion — the Israel Institute of Technology.

In the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, its Washington bureau chief Orly Azulai offered a different perspective.

“People in Israel fail to see the demonstrations correctly because they aren’t always shown them correctly and because it is easier not to see,” she wrote. “The same is true of the dead children in Gaza, the hunger, the shortage in medication and the destruction that overwhelmingly has left the Gaza Strip uninhabitable.”

She added: “We must not allow the extremists on both sides to win. There isn’t any other choice; we have to learn how to live together.”

Meanwhile, weekly protests in Israel draw thousands demanding the release of the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip and the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the Gaza Strip itself, some Palestinian protesters waved signs thanking individual American universities, while at least one man spray-painted his appreciation on the side of a tent.

In the hereditarily ruled United Arab Emirates, in which protests and political parties are illegal, one newspaper cartoon included an image of silhouetted university graduates marching into a police van, an American flag visible on its side. State media in neighboring Saudi Arabia broadly stayed away from the news, reporting instead on its own universities opening enrollment for the next academic year.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper carried an opinion piece by lawyer Rafia Zakaria, suggesting the student protests “may succeed in ushering in a new era in U.S. foreign policy.”

“For a long time, U.S. foreign policy prided itself on its ruthless realpolitik, whose architect Henry Kissinger died last November,” she wrote in a piece published on May 1. “Now a younger generation is calling into question the blatant hypocrisy that has been visible to the rest of the world for decades.”

The demonstrations even made it to state-run television in Afghanistan, now overseen by the country’s Taliban-controlled government.

“These protesters have made slogans against the attacks and genocide of the Zionist regime,” the broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan said.

Qatar’s Al Jazeera news network, which has focused extensively on the Israel-Hamas war and has seen its correspondents wounded and killed in the Gaza Strip, quoted prominently in its website a warning from an American as saying: “Our democracy is in danger.” Qatar as well is a hereditarily ruled sheikhdom.

The channel also provided context to the banner unfurled by demonstrators who seized Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall that renamed the building “Hind Hall” — after 5-year-old Hind Rajab whose panicked call to paramedics before her death in Gaza gained international attention.

Al Jazeera’s English-language broadcaster went live from New York and North Carolina, showing the breadth of the student demonstrations.

“It was just devastation,” said a Duke University protester identified as Abigail who spoke during a live report from the nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We were all being treated really horrifically by the police.”

Wearing a black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarf on air, Abigail added: “I want to speak directly to the people of Palestine, the people of Gaza if I may, and say just because this encampment was torn down doesn’t mean this is over.”

Jon Gambrell

Associated Press


Aaron E. Martinez (AP), David Carson (AP), Jae C. Hong (AP), John Hart (AP), Meredith Seaver (AP), and Ryan Sun (AP)