Columbia begins suspending protesters after encampment talks break down


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Columbia begins suspending protesters after encampment talks break down

COLUMBIA PROTESTS. Students gather for a rally in support of a protest encampment on campus in support of Palestinians, despite a 2 pm deadline issued by university officials to disband or face suspension, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City, US, April 29, 2024.

Caitlin Ochs/REUTERS

(1st UPDATE) 'We have begun suspending students as part of this next phase of our efforts to ensure safety on our campus,' says a university spokesperson

NEW YORK, USA – Columbia University on Monday, April 29, began suspending pro-Palestinian activists who refused to disband an encampment of tents on its New York campus after the Ivy League school declared a stalemate in talks seeking to end the polarizing protest.

University President Nemat Minouche Shafik said in a statement that days of negotiations between student organizers and academic leaders had failed to persuade demonstrators to dismantle the dozens of tents they set up to express opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza.

The university sent protesters a letter on Monday morning warning that students who did not vacate the encampment by 2 pm ET (1800 GMT) and sign a form acknowledging their participation would face suspension and become ineligible to complete the semester in good standing.

“We have begun suspending students as part of this next phase of our efforts to ensure safety on our campus,” said Ben Chang, a university spokesperson, at a briefing on Monday evening.

In her earlier statement, Shafik said Columbia would not divest assets that support Israel’s military, a key demand of the protesters. Instead, she offered to invest in health and education in Gaza and to make Columbia’s direct investment holdings more transparent.

Protesters have vowed to keep their encampment on the Manhattan campus until Columbia meets three demands: divestment, transparency in university finances, and amnesty for students and faculty disciplined for their part in the protests.

“These repulsive scare tactics mean nothing compared to the deaths of over 34,000 Palestinians. We will not move until Columbia meets our demands or we are moved by force,” leaders of the Columbia Student Apartheid Divest coalition said in a statement read at a news conference following the deadline.

Hundreds of demonstrators, many wearing traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, marched in circles around the exterior of the encampment chanting, “Disclose! Divest! We will not stop, we will not rest.”

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Shafik faced an outcry from many students, faculty, and outside observers for summoning New York City police two weeks ago to dismantle the encampment.

Even though more than 100 arrests were made, students restored the encampment on a hedge-lined lawn of the university grounds within days of the April 18 police action.

Since then, Students at dozens of campuses from California to New England have set up similar encampments to demonstrate their anger over the Israeli operation in Gaza and the perceived complicity of their schools in it.

The pro-Palestinian rallies have sparked intense campus debate over where school officials should draw the line between freedom of expression and hate speech. Some pro-Israel counter-demonstrators have accused the other side of engaging in antisemitism.

Those protesting against Israel’s military offensive in Gaza have, in turn, asserted that their opposition to the Israeli government is being falsely equated with expressions of anti-Jewish hatred. Many Jewish students have themselves found common cause with the pro-Palestinian movement.

“The movement itself is not antisemitic,” said Nicholas Fink, a freshman history major at Columbia who has not participated in the protests.

He is one of a few dozen Jewish students who met privately with US House Speaker Mike Johnson during a campus visit by Republican members of Congress last week. Johnson and other congressional Republicans has claimed that Columbia has turned a blind eye to antisemitic rhetoric and harassment on its campus.

Protest at UCLA

At the University of California, Los Angeles, where opposing sides had clashed over the weekend, pro-Israeli activists set up a large screen and loudspeakers to play a tape loop of the October 7 cross-border attack on Israel by Hamas militants. The video appears aimed at countering pro-Hamas chants that seeped into campus protests in support of Palestinian civilians besieged in Gaza.

UCLA also stepped up security around a pro-Palestinian encampment, consisting of more than 50 tents surrounded by metal fencing near the main administration building on campus.

Civil rights groups have criticized law enforcement tactics on some campuses, such as Atlanta’s Emory University and the University of Texas at Austin, where police in riot gear and on horseback moved against protesters last week, taking dozens into custody before charges were dropped for lack of probable cause.

Protests, and arrests, flared anew on the Austin campus on Monday.

Campus police backed by Texas state troopers attempted to break up a large student protest using pepper spray and flash-bang charges, arresting at least 43 people, according to defense attorney George Lobb, who said he confirmed the number with court and jail staff processing the detentions.

Video posted on social media showed police pulling individual students from a gathering on a grassy area where demonstrators sat and locked arms, some of them shouting, “Let them go!” State troopers in riot gear stood guard behind the uniformed police.

Virginia Tech said on Monday that 91 protesters arrested on Sunday night at a student-led encampment had been charged with trespassing. Video posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting, “Shame on you” as some were taken into custody. –

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