Colombia shifts to online classes to try to defuse Gaza protests

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Columbia University moved to online classes Monday as President Minouche Shafik tried to defuse growing protests and scrutiny of anti-Semitism around her campus linked to the war between Israel and Hamas.

Police also arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, on Monday. This came just days after more than 100 people were arrested Friday in Columbia, New York, in the first such raid in more than three decades. Both institutions said participating students would be suspended.

Colombia, a focal point of the protests in part because of its elite reputation, central location in New York, and strong tradition of Palestinian studies, has come under intense political pressure over the protests. Student groups have called for divestment of university funds from Israel-linked companies, as well as broader demands for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Announcing the move to remote learning on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, Shafik said in a statement: “The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days. These tensions were exploited and amplified by individuals unaffiliated with Columbia, who came to campus to pursue their own agendas. We need a reset.

Yale President Peter Salovey said in a statement that he was “aware of reports of egregious behavior, such as intimidation and harassment, shoving people in crowds, removing the flag from the place and other harmful acts”. Yale does not tolerate actions, including remarks, that threaten, harass, or intimidate members of the university’s Jewish, Muslim, and other communities.

Shafik was questioned last week by Republican lawmakers in Congress about Columbia’s efforts to combat anti-Semitism, and highlighted efforts to punish faculty and staff involved. However, Virginia Foxx, the Republican chairwoman of the House Education Committee, said lawmakers still have “serious concerns about misleading and inaccurate statements from [her] testimony”.

Some professors at schools, including Columbia, have questioned actions taken by universities to ban student groups and request police intervention, and have requested clarification of the policies implemented and the detailed evidence justifying the suspensions.

Several of the most prestigious universities in the United States have faced damaging controversies linked to protests against the war in Gaza, which have already led to the resignations of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.

Many Jewish students and organizations have launched lawsuits against Columbia and other higher education institutions, accusing them of failing to act sufficiently against anti-Semitism, while a number of Palestinian groups have also voiced their concerns. concerns about Islamophobia.

Democrats are under pressure from many younger and Muslim voters for the United States to continue supporting Israel.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates said Sunday: “While every American has the right to peaceful protest, calls for violence and physical intimidation aimed at Jewish students and the Jewish community are blatantly anti-Semitic. , unacceptable and dangerous – they have absolutely no place on a university campus. , or anywhere in the United States of America.

In a letter to students and faculty explaining the online change at Columbia, Shafik said, “Over the past several days, there have been too many examples of bullying and harassing behavior on our campus. Anti-Semitic remarks, like any other language used to hurt and frighten people, are unacceptable and appropriate action will be taken. »

Democratic New York City Mayor Eric Adams said on X: “I am horrified and disgusted by the widespread anti-Semitism on and around the Columbia University campus. Hate has no place in our city, and I have asked the NYPD to investigate any violation of the law they receive a report about and arrest anyone found to be breaking the law. .

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