NYPD arrest dozens of pro-Palestine protesters at Columbia University

Officers in riot gear clear out tent encampment and detain dozens occupying the campus lawn

Gustaf Kilander
Washington DC
Friday 19 April 2024 14:07 BST
Related video: Columbia University protests: Accusations of anti-Semitism on campus

New York police arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University on Thursday, a day after its president testified about antisemitism on campus at a congressional hearing.

Officers in riot gear cleared out a tent encampment and detained dozens of protesters after they occupied a campus lawn.

Among the arrests was the daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Isra Hirsi earlier revealed that she had been suspended from Barnard College at Columbia for taking part in the protest against the war and the university’s investments in Israel.

“I’m an organizer with CU Apartheid Divest @ColumbiaSJP, in my 3 years at @BarnardCollege I have never been reprimanded or received any disciplinary warnings,” Ms Hirsi wrote on X. “I just received notice that I am 1 of 3 students suspended for standing in solidarity with Palestinians facing a genocide.”

The arrests come as more than 33,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the beginning of Israel’s counteroffensive to the Hamas 7 October 2023 attacks in which 1,200 people were killed in Israel and around 250 taken hostage.

New York Police officers arrest a protestor who participated in an encampment on the Columbia University campus (AP)

On Wednesday, university leaders told Congress they would push back against unauthorised student protests connected to the war in Gaza.

Police started to detain protesters shortly before 1.30pm, with others shouting “shame” as they were put on buses, The New York Times reported.

Columbia University President Nemat Shafik was asked during the hearing before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Wednesday if calling for the genocide of Jews violates Columbia’s code of conduct. She said it did. It was a repeat of a question that previously led to the dismissal of the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania after they appeared before Congress in December.

“One of the things I’ve said over and over is that antisemitism isn’t a problem for Jewish people to solve. It’s actually a problem for all of us,” Dr Shafik said.

During the hearing, Ms Omar asked Dr Shafik about a pro-Israel professor, Shai Davidai, who has criticised the university for not doing enough to shield Jewish students and has directed his criticism against the university president.

“As president, I’m used to being attacked,” Dr Shafik responded. “But attacking our students is unacceptable, and in that case, we’ve had more than 50 complaints about that professor.”

“The President of Columbia knows for a FACT that I’ve never attacked any of our students,” the professor wrote in response on X. “She knows I have been only speaking out against pro-Islamic Jihad organizations, their radical leaders, and terrorist-loving professors. She lied under oath.”

Dr Shafik outraged some students with her comments on Wednesday when she said that some of the chants often heard at pro-Palestinian protests were antisemitic.

Police officers stand guard as demonstrators protest in solidarity with Pro-Palestinian organizers on the Columbia University campus (REUTERS)

As arrests started on Thursday, Dr Shafik sent a letter to the Columbia community saying she “had to make a decision that I hoped would never be necessary”.

“Out of an abundance of concern for the safety of Columbia’s campus, I authorized the New York Police Department to begin clearing the encampment from the South Lawn of Morningside campus that had been set up by students in the early hours of Wednesday morning,” she added.

“I took this extraordinary step because these are extraordinary circumstances. The individuals who established the encampment violated a long list of rules and policies,” she wrote.

Police removed about 50 tents from the lawn on the Columbia campus while protesters called for amnesty for those who had been detained.

Demonstrators protest in solidarity with Pro-Palestinian organizers on the Columbia University campus (REUTERS)

Crowds showed up to support the encamped demonstrators overnight and into the morning, with many joining after the arrests were made.

By about 3.30pm in the afternoon, things had begun to calm down even as many protesters remained at the scene.

“They can threaten us all they want with the police, but at the end of the day, it’s only going to lead to more mobilization,” a student, Maryam Alwan, told The New York Times.

“Columbia has always had an incredible history of students fighting for a more just world and it’s good to see that tradition continue. As NYPD surrounds young activists, I hope their concerns are heard by school administrators and they not be criminalized,” Ms Omar wrote on X on Wednesday.

“Students who are participating in the unauthorized encampment are suspended. We are continuing to identify them and will be sending out formal notifications,” a Columbia University spokesperson told The Independent.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in