A Japanese graduate student at Yale University is calling for Israel to end its protracted military campaign in Gaza at a time of high tensions over the issue on U.S. campuses, with prestigious universities under pressure from donors and politicians to suppress anti-Israel protests.

Chisato Kimura, a leading member of Yale Law Students for Justice in Palestine, believes she must speak out for a cease-fire as a 24-year-old native of Japan, which has experienced the horrors of war after inflicting violence on its neighbors before and during World War II.

On Oct. 7, the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking hundreds of hostages. The Jewish state launched hostage-rescue efforts as well as sustained bombardment of the Gaza enclave in response, leaving nearly 30,000 Palestinians dead.

Chisato Kimura, a leading member of Yale Law Students for Justice in Palestine, talks about why she is calling for Israel to end its military campaign in Gaza at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, on Feb. 9, 2024. (Kyodo) 

Student protests against Israel's military campaign and Washington's role in supporting it sprang up on university campuses across the United States and have gone on as the bloodshed continues.

Amid contentious and often heated rhetoric, many have accused student protesters who oppose the Israeli government of taking antisemitic stances. Some wealthy donors and prominent lawmakers have publicly criticized universities over their handling of the unrest, saying campuses had become unsafe for Jewish students.

The fallout led to the presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania resigning their posts. Some donors announced the suspension of their annual contributions, while universities have imposed restrictions on campus protests.

Kimura, who took part in campus actions at Yale as a leader in her activist group, said in a recent interview that universities succumbing to the pressure "is really disappointing."

"It's just a silencing tactic that's being used to try to not only silence students directly, but also to get universities to silence students," she said.

According to Kimura, her university in New Haven, Connecticut, has changed the rules around posters on campus as part of an effort to "suppress certain types of speech."

Although she has been doxxed multiple times online by those seeking to intimidate and silence her, she considers the war a "litmus test" for her as a law student who pursues social justice. "If I were to stay silent when there's literally a genocide happening, I'd have no idea why I'm in law school," she said.

In an earlier attempt to discourage student protesters, a truck sponsored by a conservative media group was driven around the Yale campus in November with a digital billboard displaying activists' names and photos. U.S. media reported the group had also funded such trucks at other universities including Harvard.

Kimura noted that universities that curb speech critical of Israel's military campaign do not reflect the opinions of the general U.S. public.

In November, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 65 percent of Americans supported a cease-fire, while 16 percent disapproved. An Associated Press poll the following month found 61 percent of Americans disapproved of President Joe Biden's handling of the war, while 37 percent approved.

Kimura, born in Katano, Osaka Prefecture, western Japan, moved to Massachusetts with her mother at the age of 7. After her mother was unable to obtain a visa and returned to Japan in 2018, the immigration dilemma served as inspiration for Kimura to attend law school.

While the handling by the U.S. and Japanese governments of the conflict has disappointed Kimura, she has been inspired by seeing photos and videos of Japanese protesting the war.

"Japanese people have historically seen violence, they have seen the horrors of World War II. But also, Japan has a history of colonialism and perpetuating violence as well," Kimura said.

"For both of those reasons, I think it's really important for Japanese people to speak out," she said.

Related coverage:

U.S. vetoes U.N. resolution on Gaza for 4th time since conflict began