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Business News/ News / Columbia, Yale Get Tough on Pro-Palestinian Protesters
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Columbia, Yale Get Tough on Pro-Palestinian Protesters

For the students, it was the ultimate betrayal: Their university had called in the cops to arrest them for what they believed was a righteous protest on campus.

Columbia, Yale Get Tough on Pro-Palestinian ProtestersPremium
Columbia, Yale Get Tough on Pro-Palestinian Protesters

(Bloomberg) -- For the students, it was the ultimate betrayal: Their university had called in the cops to arrest them for what they believed was a righteous protest on campus. 

That shock move by Columbia University leaders last week was intended to clear pro-Palestinian demonstrators who want the school to exit all investments that benefit Israel’s government. But instead, the crackdown has further fired up students, who continue to occupy parts of the campus, and inspired similar protests at other elite institutions such as Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

The demonstrations mark a new flashpoint in the uproar that has roiled US campuses since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, and the subsequent retaliatory bombardment of Gaza by Israel. Some of the protests have featured antisemitic and intimidating chants and posters, which are fueling a sense of dread and isolation among Jewish students.

The protests, occurring around the Jewish holiday of Passover, drew condemnation from the White House and billionaire university donors such as Robert Kraft. They have also raised concerns about the use of hard-line tactics by schools against students.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul met early Monday with Columbia leadership, law enforcement and a group of students to discuss balancing campus safety with the right to free expression.

“I was once a student protester. I protested institutions, I protested governments. I protested against apartheid. But I’ve never seen a level of protest that is so person-to-person, that is so visceral," she said in a video posted on X. “Students are scared, they are afraid to walk on campus. They don’t deserve that, they deserve to be in an environment that is free from discrimination as required by the state’s human rights laws."

As the campus protests continued unabated after last week’s arrests, Columbia moved its classes online while other schools got tougher with demonstrators. At Yale, police arrested 60 people including 47 students Monday. President Peter Salovey cited “police reports identifying harmful acts and threatening language used against individuals at or near the protest sites."

Harvard restricted access to Harvard Yard through Friday, and suspended the Palestinian Solidarity Committee, a student group. The PSC was one of several organizations that had staged a rally in Harvard Yard in support of student activists at Columbia.

Interim President Alan Garber told the Harvard Crimson that he would not rule out a police response, but said the university has a “very, very high bar" for calling in law enforcement.

“If our policies were violated — particularly, if we had concerns about violence or there were any threats to safety — we would not eliminate any option from consideration," Garber told the Crimson on Monday.

The University of Pennsylvania revoked the registration of a pro-Palestinian campus organization. About 120 protesters who were gathered at New York University’s Gould Plaza in Greenwich Village were arrested by the police on Monday evening.

MIT Conflict

At MIT, students established an encampment in front of Kresge Auditorium, a central building on the Cambridge campus that’s accessible from the street, and adorned the set-up with a large Palestinian flag. 

“We are here first and foremost to call for a ceasefire in Gaza," said Prahlad Iyengar, a first-year graduate student participating in the protest. 

Safiyyah Ogundipe, a senior, said the demonstrators are also seeking to pressure MIT to cut research ties that she said extend to Israel’s military. Almost 40 students slept at the encampment Sunday night, she said. 

“A lot of us do research, a lot of us can’t even control where our funding comes from," she said. 

The protest was located near the Hillel building, while Monday’s Passover Seder was moved to a different location, said Talia Khan, president of the MIT Israel Alliance. Citing “significant fear among the Jewish community" after developments at Columbia and Yale, the alliance asked for remote classes to ensure student safety and called on the school to clear the encampment. 

“The fact that Jewish students are not going to be able to celebrate Passover in Hillel on campus today because of the encampment — it’s ridiculous," she said. 

MIT is “determining next steps with a focus on ensuring campus is physically safe and fully functioning," said Kimberly Allen, a school spokesperson.

On the West Coast, a few hundred students at University of California at Berkeley set up more than a dozen tents at the campus hub of Sproul Hall, and unveiled a banner proclaiming “Gaza Solidarity Encampment Until UC Divests." Their demands included the university’s divestment from companies with ties to Israel and a boycott of academic activities such as the University of California’s study abroad program in the country.

The protesters say their goal is to draw attention to the humanitarian concerns in Gaza. About 34,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in Israel’s counterattack in the region, according to the health ministry run by Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US government.

‘Ceasefire Now’ 

Joseph Howley, a classics professor at Columbia, joined several hundred faculty members on Monday in a protest against the use of force against students and what he described as transgressions against academic freedom.

“I’ve never been prouder of our students for standing up for what they believe in," he said.

As of midday Monday, at least three dozen multicolored tents featured Palestinian flags and signs saying “Ceasefire Now" and “Jews for Free Palestine." at an encampment on the Columbia campus. 

The area on the south lawn of the quad was staffed with volunteers wearing yellow-green vests who directed traffic and welcomed visitors. A special team of media-trained students answered questions from the press. 

“We will stay here until we are forcibly removed or the university meets our demands," said Catherine Elias, 26, a graduate student and one of the organizers.

The tumult has raised concerns among many in Columbia’s Jewish community, as well as major donors. Kraft, whose namesake center at the school serves as the university’s Hillel, said he was “deeply saddened at the virulent hate" on campus. 

“I am no longer confident that Columbia can protect its students and staff and I am not comfortable supporting the university until corrective action is taken," he said in a statement.

Critics of the protests point to actions by demonstrators that are threatening toward Jewish students. Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, cited multiple alleged instances of antisemitic speech, harassment and intimidation documented by videos, photographs and accounts from students. 

In one example cited by Foxx in a letter and widely shared on social media, a protester held up a sign in front of students holding Israeli flags that said they would be the “next target" of Hamas’s military wing. In another, demonstrators yelled “go back to Poland" at Jewish students trying to leave campus. 

The protest organizers pushed back on that criticism late Sunday, saying they “reject any form of hate or bigotry" and “are frustrated by media distractions focusing on inflammatory individuals who do not represent us." 

--With assistance from Katia Porzecanski, Eliyahu Kamisher, Laura Nahmias and John Lauerman.

(Updates tenses and number of arrests in 11th paragraph)

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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Published: 24 Apr 2024, 12:06 AM IST
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