Students and pro-Palestinian activists face police

Students and pro-Palestinian activists face police as they gather outside of Columbia University to protest the university's stance on Israel on April 18, 2024 in New York City.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

'Shameful': Columbia Greenlights Police Crackdown on Anti-War Encampment

Even after dozens of students were arrested, hundreds "rushed to take the place of their classmates" and continued the protest.

The arrests of dozens of Columbia University and Barnard College students on Thursday "galvanized" other supporters of Palestinian rights on the campuses, as hundreds of students occupied the school's western lawn after New York City police filled at least two buses with protesters who had been detained for setting up an encampment.

"Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest," chanted hundreds of students as they marched around the area where organizers had set up a tent encampment early Wednesday morning.

Columbia President Minouche Shafik informed the campus community on Thursday that she had authorized the police to clear the encampment.

As it has been in the past, the school has become a center of anti-war protests—and crackdowns by school officials and the police—since Israel began its bombardment of Gaza in October.

Pro-Palestinian students and alumni have demanded that Columbia divest from companies that profit from Israel's apartheid policies in the occupied Palestinian territories and cancel its dual degree program with Tel Aviv University.

In response to pro-Palestinian demonstrations, Columbia in November suspended the campus chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine—an action that pushed the New York Civil Liberties Union and Palestine Legal to file a lawsuit on behalf of the students last month.

On Thursday, police and Columbia employees took down about 50 tents that had been up for more than a day and disposed of them in trash cans and alleyways—but The New York Times reported later that "demonstrators repitched a couple of tents, and ... recovered the main signage from the encampment as well," while hundreds of students were "still gathered and chanting on the south side of the grass."

The arrests came a day after Shafik testified before the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce about antisemitism on campus.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), whose daughter, Isra Hirsi, was among the Barnard students who were suspended on Thursday for participating in the encampment protest, questioned Shafik about whether antisemitic protests have actually taken place at Columbia, prompting the president to say there have not.

"There has been a rise in targeting and harassment against anti-war protesters, because it's been pro-war and anti-war protesters is what it seems, like, correct?" asked Omar.

"Correct," replied Shafik.

On Thursday, Omar posted on social media two images of protesters at Columbia: one from the encampment this week, and one from 1968, when students protested the U.S. war in Vietnam.

New York City Council member Tiffany Cabán was among those who condemned the university's crackdown on the protests on Thursday.

"Suspending and arresting Columbia/Barnard student activists and disbanding student organizations—including Jewish students and organizations—doesn't combat antisemitism or increase safety," said Cabán. "All it does is punish and intimidate those who believe in human rights for Palestinians. Shameful."

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