Columbia University calls police to break up pro-Palestinian protest


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Columbia University sent New York police on Thursday to dismantle an unauthorized pro-Palestinian encampment, part of a growing crackdown by American institutions on protests sparked by the war between Israel and Hamas.

New York Mayor Eric Adams said police made 108 arrests. Columbia also suspended students who occupied part of its main campus for more than 30 hours. Officials said the last time the university called police was to break up a protest over race in 1987.

Minouche Shafik, president of Columbia, described what she called “this extraordinary measure” as a way to “support both the right to expression as well as the security and operation of our university” after protesters refused to disperse.

The harsh action came a day after she and other top university officials testified before a largely hostile congressional education committee, speaking out strongly against anti-Semitism and naming faculty members who are under investigation or have been fired.

Shafik’s comments on the Hill appeared intended to respond to aggressive questioning from Republican members of Congress who helped trigger the resignations late last year of the presidents of the universities of Pennsylvania and Harvard, who had testified at a previous hearing.

But the police intervention at Columbia risks further inflaming tensions at a time when Jewish and Muslim groups have launched lawsuits against several universities for failing to prevent incidents of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Polls show that many students and young voters have criticized Democrats, including President Joe Biden, for not putting more pressure on Israel to impose a cease-fire in Gaza.

Among the suspended students was Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Ilhan Omar, a Democratic lawmaker who raised concerns during Wednesday’s hearings about harassment of pro-Palestinian students on campus.

Shafik said the Columbia protesters had “violated a long list of rules and policies” and that their behavior “severely disrupts campus life and creates an environment of harassment and intimidation for many of our students.”

She said she introduced new policies reflecting four principles: “ensuring the safety of Columbia students and faculty; show care and compassion; balancing freedom of expression while ensuring that members of our community feel safe and welcome; and using education to solve the problem of anti-Semitism.”

Colombia suspended a number of students ahead of this week’s action and banned two pro-Palestinian student groups.

A statement from the student protesters read: “Despite threats from the university, the Gaza solidarity encampment will remain in place until Columbia University divests all of its finances, including the endowment, from corporations that profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine. »

They called for “more accountability and full transparency for all of Colombia’s financial investments.”

Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of the Congressional Education Committee, welcomed Shafik’s intervention but said the committee had “serious concerns about the misleading and inaccurate statements in yesterday’s testimony.”

Earlier this week, the University of Southern California canceled its planned commencement speech – recognizing a high-achieving student – ​​by Muslim student Asna Tabassum, after what she called security threats.


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