Columbia University says ‘progress’ made with Gaza protesters, encampment

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Columbia University’s senate votes to investigate school’s leadership on Gaza protests
WATCH: In the U.S., Columbia University's embattled president is reportedly facing a reprimand, after school leaders voted and approved a resolution calling for an investigation into the university's administration. Neetu Garcha reports – Apr 26, 2024

Columbia University said early Wednesday that it was making “important progress” with pro-Palestinian student protesters who set up a tent encampment and was extending a deadline to clear out, yet standoffs remained tense on campus.

Student protesters “have committed to dismantling and removing a significant number of tents,” the Ivy League university said in a statement. A smaller encampment remained on the upper Manhattan campus Wednesday morning.

Across the country, protesters at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, some 300 miles (480 kilometers) north of San Francisco, started using furniture, tents, chains and zip ties to block a building’s entrances Monday evening.

Click to play video: 'Pro-Palestinian protests intensify on U.S. university campuses'
Pro-Palestinian protests intensify on U.S. university campuses

Both campuses are part of intensifying demonstrations over Israel’s conflict with Hamas by university students demanding that schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies enabling its monthslong conflict. Dozens have been arrested on charges of trespassing or disorderly conduct.

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Columbia President Minouche Shafik had set a midnight Tuesday deadline to reach an agreement to clear the encampment. By about 3 a.m., the university said there was “constructive dialogue” and it will continue conversations for 48 hours.

The statement said student protesters “will ensure that those not affiliated with Columbia will leave. Only Columbia University students will be participating in the protest.”

Student protesters also will comply with city fire department requirements and “have taken steps to make the encampment welcome to all and have prohibited discriminatory or harassing language,” the statement said.

The university’s statement was released hours before U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson’s trip to Columbia to visit with Jewish students and address antisemitism on college campuses.

Click to play video: 'Israel-Gaza: Columbia students boo House Speaker Mike Johnson, dozens arrested across U.S.'
Israel-Gaza: Columbia students boo House Speaker Mike Johnson, dozens arrested across U.S.

At the University of Minnesota, Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar attended a protest late Tuesday, hours after nine protesters were arrested on the campus when police took down an encampment in front of the library. Hundreds had rallied in the afternoon to demand their release.

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“I am incredibly moved by your courage and bravery as a student body in putting your bodies on the line to stand in solidarity to end the genocide taking place in Gaza,” Omar told those gathered, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Omar’s daughter was among more than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia who were arrested Thursday in a move that inspired protesters nationwide to start encampments.

Also Tuesday night, police arrested more than 200 protesters blocking traffic during a non-college demonstration demanding a permanent cease-fire in Gaza at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, near the home of Sen. Chuck Schumer. The protest was organized by Jewish Voice for Peace on the second night of Passover, and protesters lay down a large circular banner depicting the food on a Seder plate.

At Cal Poly Humboldt, protesters chanted, “We are not afraid of you!” before officers in riot gear pushed into them at the building’s entrance, video shows. Student Peyton McKinzie said she was walking on campus Monday when she saw police grabbing one woman by the hair, and another student having their head bandaged for an injury.

“I think a lot of students are in shock about it,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Pro-Palestinian protests continue at US universities after arrests in New York'
Pro-Palestinian protests continue at US universities after arrests in New York

Three students have been arrested, according to a statement from the school, which shut down the campus until Wednesday. Students had occupied a second campus building Tuesday.

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Another encampment was set up Tuesday at the University of Rochester in upstate New York, where Omar Darwesh, a Palestinian senior, said he has lost relatives to the conflict.

“We’re not calling for the destruction of Israel; we’re never talking about threatening Jews. The focus is on us and what we need, and that’s being treated like a human. We have to find a way to coexist,” he told TV station WHEC.

University of Rochester officials said in a statement that the protesters must follow ground rules, including presenting university identification if asked.

The upwelling of demonstrations has left universities struggling to balance campus safety with free speech rights. Many long tolerated the protests, which largely demanded that schools condemn Israel’s assault on Gaza and divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel.

Now, universities are doling out more discipline, citing safety concerns as some Jewish students say criticism of Israel has veered into antisemitism.

Protests had been bubbling for months but kicked into a higher gear after last week’s arrests at Columbia.

By late Monday at New York University, police said 133 protesters were taken into custody and all had been released with summonses to appear in court on disorderly conduct charges.

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In Connecticut, police arrested 60 protesters, including 47 students, at Yale after they refused to leave an encampment on a plaza at the center of campus.

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Yale President Peter Salovey said protesters had declined an offer to end the demonstration and meet with trustees. After several warnings, school officials determined “the situation was no longer safe,” so police cleared the encampment and made arrests.

Harvard University in Massachusetts has tried to stay a step ahead of protests by locking most gates into its famous Harvard Yard and limiting access to those with school identification.

Literature doctoral student Christian Deleon said he understood why the Harvard administration may be trying to avoid protests but said there still has to be a place for students to express what they think.

“We should all be able to use these kinds of spaces to protest, to make our voices heard,” he said.

Ben Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said college leaders face extremely tough decisions because they have a responsibility to ensure people can express their views, even when others find them offensive, while protecting students from threats and intimidation.

The New York Civil Liberties Union cautioned universities against being too quick to call in law enforcement in a statement Tuesday.

“Officials should not conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism or use hate incidents as a pretext to silence political views they oppose,” said Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director.


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