Skip to Content
Morning Spew

Pro-Palestine Students Take Over a Columbia University Lawn

And more news for your Thursday.

A pro-Palestine student protest.
(Hell Gate)

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, hundreds of Columbia University students set up tents on a university lawn in support of Palestine, and they're not planning to decamp until they get what they want. According to a report from the Columbia Spectator, the Gaza Solidarity Encampment has already voted to spend another night on the lawn in spite of disciplinary threats from their school and a heavy NYPD presence on and around campus.

"The anti-apartheid movement and student organizing struggle at Columbia has been alive and well for over 60 years, and we carry all of those organizers with us as we come here today,” Catherine Elias, a student protester, told the Spectator. The history Elias is referencing includes a 1968 student uprising in protest of the Vietnam War which led to the occupation of campus buildings, as well as a 1985 blockade, the culmination of three years of student organizing, that eventually forced Columbia to commit to become the first university in the U.S. to divest from apartheid South Africa. Columbia University Apartheid Divest, one of the groups leading this week's encampment alongside the campus's Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace chapters—which are currently suing the university after being suspended from campus in November—positions itself as an explicit continuation of this history.

"Despite the administration’s best attempts to punish student activism, CUAD organizers have succeeded in passing divestment referendums and resolutions at Columbia College, Barnard College, the School of Law, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Student consensus in support of Palestine has never been more clear," student protesters wrote in a release about the action.

The pro-Palestine student groups are demanding that Columbia divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the cancellation of a dual-degree program with the University of Tel Aviv, and the firing of a business school professor accused of bullying pro-Palestine students, The university has already (partly) acquiesced to one demand: The administration has agreed to provide transparency on its investments with the University Senate executive committee, according to the Spectator.

The timing of the encampment coincides with an appearance on Wednesday by Columbia University President Minouche Shafik at a hearing ostensibly on antisemitism in front of the Republican-led House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce. Shafik apparently performed better, at least in the eyes of the committee, than former Harvard University President Claudine Gay and former University of Pennsylvania President M. Elizabeth Gill, who both resigned from their roles following backlash to their testimony for being insufficient in its condemnation of supposed antisemitism on their campuses. Shafik told the committee that 15 students have been suspended—including four who hosted an unauthorized "Resistance 101" event on campus in March—and a visiting professor has been permanently barred from teaching at Columbia, and that there are currently disciplinary cases ongoing at the university against individuals who've used the phrase "from the river to the sea," a ubiquitous slogan among pro-Palestinian activists.

U.S. Representative Ritchie Torres, the Bronx Congressman who's gained a reputation as a rabid supporter of Israel, tweeted a clearly doctored photo of the encampment from his personal account on Wednesday featuring two parachute emojis—an apparent attempt to frame student protesters as pro-Hamas by invoking the October 7 attacks on Israel. "Anti-Israel activists have set up at Columbia University a 'Liberated Zone' and a 'Gaza Solidarity Encampment,'" Torres wrote alongside the fake photo. "The only thing that needs liberating is Columbia University from the stupidity of its most rabidly anti-Israel students and faculty." The tweet has since been deleted.

Meanwhile, the student encampment has received support from at least one federal elected official—U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, who is also a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce and grilled Shafik on Wednesday, tweeted in support of the protesters. "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. In solidarity," Omar wrote.

The university has reportedly locked down its campus and leveled suspension threats at the students currently participating in the encampment. Around 7 p.m. on Wednesday night, according to the Columbia Spectator, the university handed out paper notices ordering protesters to decamp by 11 a.m. on Thursday lest they face sanctions. Participating Barnard students were reportedly handed a separate notice, threatening interim suspensions for protesters.

But the student activists in their tents do not appear to be moved. A few hours after Columbia handed out warning letters, just before 9 p.m., they voted unanimously to continue the occupation into Friday. At 4 a.m. on Thursday, hundreds more students flooded to the site of the encampment to protect their peers from mass arrest by the NYPD, locking arms and encircling the South Lawn, while more supporters gathered outside the school groups in solidarity. 

According to reporter Talia Jane, arrests began around 8 a.m. this morning.

UPDATED (4/18/24, 12:06 p.m.) : According to a press release from Columbia University Apartheid Divest, at around 10:30 a.m. three Barnard College students—Isra Hirsi, Maryam Iqbal, and Soph Dinu—were suspended for participating in the Gaza Solidarity Encampment. Two of those students, who live on campus, have been locked out of their housing.

Some links to watch carefully today: 

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Give us your email address to keep reading two more articles for free

See all subscription options

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Hell Gate

MAGA Loons, Drill Rappers, and Unlikely Voters: The Never-Ending Trump Rally Comes to the South Bronx

"If Trump is here, and he's asking for a second chance, I can't judge that."

May 24, 2024

Finally, NYC Gets the Bird We Deserve

All hail our new beady-eyed queen, Astoria the wild turkey! And more news to take you into the long weekend.

May 24, 2024

Is the NYPD Solving Crimes? Who Knows—Their Last Published Clearance Data Is From 2022

City law requires the NYPD to report its clearance rates quarterly. Under the Adams administration, it just…stopped.

See all posts