Columbia University: Gaza encampment told to clear out or face ‘alternative options’

President Minouche Shafik faces mounting calls for her resignation as protests continue across US campuses


A Pro-Palestine protestor is arrested at the gates of Columbia University on 22 April 2024 in New York City amid the days-long encampment by student demonstrators. (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators camped outside Columbia University have been given an 8am deadline to clear out or face “alternative options” as calls for president Minouche Shafik’s resignation intensify and student protests continue to rock elite university campuses across the US.

Negotiations between Shafik’s administration and the students encamped on Columbia University’s West Lawn are reaching a head while New York’s Republican delegation, along with the Columbia Jewish Alumni Association and several Democratic representatives, have called for Shafik’s immediate resignation.

On Tuesday, four days after hundreds of student activists began their encampment on the West Lawn of Columbia’s Morningside campus, Shafik said in a statement: “For several days, a small group of faculty, administrators, and University Senators have been in dialogue with student organisers to discuss the basis for dismantling the encampment, dispersing, and following university policies going forward.”

She added that the talks would face a midnight deadline to reach an agreement but, according to Columbia’s student newspaper the Columbia Spectator as of Wednesday morning, the university is continuing dialogue with student representatives “for the next 48 hours” following “important progress with representatives of the student encampment.”

Students at the encampment said on Tuesday that they will continue to occupy the West Lawn until their demands for “complete divestment” from anything related to Israel are met. The protesters are also seeking financial transparency into the university’s investments and amnesty from any disciplinary measures for students participating in the protests.

“This is what we are here for – calling for an end to genocide and for Columbia to financially divest from the violent Zionist settler entity,” a student who identified themself as W told CNN.

On Monday, Columbia University announced that classes would be held remotely, and Rabbi Elie Buechler, of the university’s Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative, urged Jewish students to leave campus amid rising aggression by pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

Despite the warning, the Columbia campus Hillel said in a statement, “We do not believe that Jewish students should leave” the campus but “the University and the City need to do more to ensure the safety of our students.”

The Hillel released another statement on Monday assuring Jewish students that the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life would remain open for Passover and added that the NYPD will be present throughout the holiday.

At Yale University on Monday, police arrested 47 pro-Palestine student protesters according to the student newspaper Yale Daily News. The students were reportedly demanding that Yale divest from military weapons manufacturers and were detained after refusing to vacate the Plaza where they had set up tents during the third night of their encampment.

Police also broke up an encampment at New York University’s campus on Monday, where some 133 protesters were reportedly arrested. Encampments have also been set up at the University of California at Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of Michigan, Emerson College and Tufts.

In a statement issued on Monday, Shafik said college leaders would be coming together to discuss a way to bring an end to “this crisis,” adding that she was “saddened” by the events on Columbia’s campus.

“Over the past days, there have been too many examples of intimidating and harassing behaviour on our campus. Antisemitic language, like any other language that is used to hurt and frighten people, is unacceptable and appropriate action will be taken,” the statement said.

Shafik, who appeared before Congress last week to defend her university’s efforts to combat antisemitism on campus, has been criticised for her failure to crack down on the protests. New York Rep. Ritchie Torres said in a statement that Shafik has “chosen to surrender control of Columbia to an antisemitic fringe.”

“If you cannot ensure the safety of your students, then you have no business serving as President of any university, let alone the alma mater of Alexander Hamilton,” Torres said. “What Columbia University needs is not an appeaser of antisemitism but a leader who will fight with moral clarity against it.”

He continued, “That Columbia University has failed its Jewish students so profoundly is an indelible stain on the soul of the institution. If the President of Columbia University cannot lead with moral clarity, then she should step aside for a true leader who can and will.”

In a statement released on Sunday to mark the start of Passover, President Joe Biden condemned the “blatant antisemitism” on display at college campuses: “Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses or anywhere in our country,” Biden said.

House Speaker Mike Johnson will meet Jewish students at Columbia on Wednesday and deliver remarks “regarding the troubling rise of virulent antisemitism on America’s college campuses,” according to his office.

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