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Pro-Palestinian students sanctioned by Columbia for refusing to leave encampment

Photo: Yuki Iwamura Associated Press Negotiations between Columbia University and a group of students, underway since last Wednesday, have not resulted in an agreement to dismantle a tent “village” of some 200 people set up on a lawn on the leafy campus, in the northern Manhattan.

Ana Fernandez – Agence France-Presse and Inès Bel Aiba – Agence France-Presse in Washington

Published yesterday at 11:35 a.m. Updated yesterday at 7:53 p.m.

  • United States

Columbia University in New York, where a pro-Palestinian movement has started on campuses in the United States, began Monday evening to sanction students who refuse to leave, “except by force” a camp set up for ten days.

Part of the renowned university in northern Manhattan, this new wave of the movement of students and activists against Israel's war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has spread to numerous establishments, from California to New England. passing through the center and south of the country.

“We have started [administratively] suspending students, as part of this new step to ensure the security of our campus,” Columbia's vice president for communications, Ben Chang, announced to the press.

After a relatively quiet weekend on the campus, where a “village” of tents is set up, Columbia President Minouche Shafik issued an ultimatum on Monday morning expiring at 6 p.m. GMT. She urged 200 occupants of an encampment to leave, following the failure of five days of negotiations for an amicable solution.

< b>“Liberate Palestine”

These pro-Palestinian students and activists demanding that Columbia, a private university, cut ties with patrons or companies linked to Israel, then called to “protect the encampment”.

« We will not be dislodged, except by force,” Sueda Polat, a student leader of the movement, shouted at a press briefing, denouncing “a scare tactic that means nothing in the face of the deaths of more than 34,000 Palestinians.”

Dozens of young people marched, their faces hidden by sanitary masks, walking around the campus clapping their hands and chanting “Liberate Palestine”, according to a journalist from Agence France-Presse who counted around fifty people remaining in the small encampment in a relaxed atmosphere and without police presence.

Columbia had assured Friday that it would not call on the New York police to evacuate the tents.

But for Joseph Howley, professor at Columbia, the ultimatum issued by President Shafik is tantamount to “yielding to external political pressure.”

The wave of protest has been spreading across American universities for ten days. The movement started from Columbia where one hundred pro-Palestinian people were arrested on April 18.

Since then, hundreds of people — students, teachers and activists — have been briefly arrested, sometimes arrested and prosecuted in several universities across the country.

Images of riot police intervening on campuses, after being called to the rescue by university leaders, went around the world, recalling similar events in the United States during the Vietnam War.

Tense debate

The demonstrations have revived the debate, already tense and even violent since the Hamas attack in Israel on October 7, on freedom of expression, anti-Zionism, and which constitutes anti-Semitism.

This winter, the two presidents of Harvard and UPenn universities had to resign after being accused before Congress in Washington of not doing enough against anti-Semitism.

On the one hand, students and teachers accuse their universities of seeking to censor political speech, on the other several personalities , including elected officials in Congress, say activists are fueling anti-Semitism.

“Many of our Jewish students, and others, have felt an intolerable atmosphere in recent weeks. Many have left campus and it is a tragedy,” the Columbia president said in her statement.

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Minouche Shafik also affirmed that the university would not withdraw from its investments in Israel, which the protesters also demanded. But Columbia “offered to invest in health and education in Gaza,” she said.

But the leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives in Washington, Mike Johnson, denounced X as a “campus overrun by anti-Semitic students” and called on Ms. Shafik to resign.

On Sunday, the White House called on protests in support of Gaza to remain “peaceful” and condemned “anti-Semitic remarks.” President Joe Biden's spokesperson, Karine Jean-Pierre, recalled Monday that “freedom of expression must be within the framework of the law and the law.”

Over the weekend, 100 people were arrested on a university campus in Boston, and their encampment was dismantled, 80 at a university in Missouri, 72 on a campus in Arizona, and 23 others at Indiana University.

At the University of Texas at Austin, an illegal encampment was also dismantled and some people arrested.

The war was sparked by the unprecedented attack on October 7 on Israeli soil by Hamas commandos which led to the death of 1,170 people, mainly civilians, according to a report by Agence France-Presse based on official Israeli data.

In retaliation, Israel promised to destroy the Islamist movement, and its vast military operation in the Gaza Strip left 34,488 people dead, mostly civilians, according to Hamas.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116