Jerry Seinfeld’s Duke commencement speech sparks walkout over his support for Israel

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Dozens of students in the United States walked out of Duke University’s commencement ceremony on Sunday as some chanted “free Palestine” to protest its guest speaker, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has supported Israel throughout the war in Gaza, according to a video posted on social media.

Figures in robes and caps, some waving Palestinian flags, were seen filing out of crowds of graduates assembled on the grass in the North Carolina University’s football stadium in the video posted on X. Reuters was able to verify the video’s date and location.

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The video also showed several attendees leaving the viewing stands, including a person wearing a keffiyeh, an emblem of solidarity with the Palestinian cause.

Others shouted “Jerry! Jerry!” as the actor received an honorary degree, and Seinfeld delivered his speech without major interruptions.

“A lot of you are thinking, ‘I can’t believe they invited this guy.’ Too late,” he said, after vowing to “defend” the concept of privilege.

“I say, use your privilege. I grew up a Jewish boy from New York. That is a privilege if you want to be a comedian,” he added.

“We understand the depth of feeling in our community, and as we have all year, we respect the right of everyone at Duke to express their views peacefully, without preventing graduates and their families from celebrating their achievement,” said Duke spokesperson Frank Tramble in a statement.

Seinfeld visited Israel and has vocally supported it since Oct. 7 when militant group Hamas killed 1,200 people and abducted 252 others, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies. Meanwhile, Israel’s military operations have killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to health officials in the Palestinian enclave.

The White House said on Tuesday that US President Joe Biden welcomes peaceful protests at college commencement ceremonies where he and other administration officials will speak.

The walkout at Duke’s graduation was the latest manifestation of protests that have roiled US campuses as students call for universities to divest from arms suppliers and other companies profiting from the war, and amnesty for students and faculty who have been disciplined or fired for protesting.

The protests have prompted US universities such as Columbia in New York and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to cancel their main graduation ceremonies this month. Other colleges and universities have relocated or modified commencement ceremonies.

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