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Over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters arrested from New York's Columbia campus

Published 04/18/2024, 08:17 PM
Updated 04/19/2024, 01:32 PM
© Reuters. Police officers stand guard as demonstrators protest in solidarity with Pro-Palestinian organizers on the Columbia University campus, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City, U.S., April 18, 2024

(This April 18 story has been refiled to correct the day of arrest to Thursday, not Wednesday, in paragraph 1)

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) - More than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on Thursday on the campus of Columbia University after its president authorized New York police to clear an encampment set up by students demonstrating against Israel's actions in Gaza.

Columbia University President Nemat Minouche Shafik, who a day earlier came under fire from Republicans at a House of Representatives committee hearing on antisemitism on campus, said she had authorized police to clear an encampment of dozens of tents set up by protesters on Wednesday morning.

"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 ... " Shafik said in a statement.

Shafik said the protesters had violated the school's rules and policies against holding unauthorized demonstrations, and were unwilling to engage with administrators.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said police made over 108 arrests without violence or injuries. Police said the arrests were related to trespassing.

Columbia said it had started to suspend students who had participated in the tent encampment, considered an unauthorized protest.

"We are continuing to identify them and will be sending out formal notifications," a university spokesperson said by email.

At least three students - Isra Hirsi, Maryam Iqbal, and Soph Dinu - have received suspension notices from Barnard College, an affiliate of Columbia, for participating in the encampment, the pro-Palestinian advocacy group Institute for Middle East Understanding said.

Hirsi is the daughter of U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, who had expressed support for protesters during the hearing at which Shafik testified on Wednesday.

"Those of us in Gaza solidarity encampment will not be intimidated," Hirsi said on social media after being suspended.

The clash, reminiscent of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War at Columbia more than 50 years ago, is the latest in a series of demonstrations disrupting university campuses, bridges and airports since the latest escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began on Oct. 7.

Alongside the proliferations of protests, human rights advocates have also pointed to a rise in bias and hate against Jews, Arabs and Muslims in recent months.

The congressional committee on Wednesday accused Shafik of failing to protect Jewish students on campus, echoing accusations leveled against three other elite university leaders at a hearing last year that sent shockwaves through higher education.

She responded by saying the university was facing a "moral crisis" with antisemitism on campus, and Columbia had taken strong actions against suspected perpetrators.

Protesters at Columbia have demanded a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and an end to U.S. military assistance for Israel, as well as university divestment from companies profiting from Israel's incursion.

The encampment was organized by a student-led coalition of groups, including Columbia University Apartheid Divest, Students for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Separately on Thursday, about 500 demonstrators marched at the University of Southern California in support of Asna Tabassum, a Muslim student whose valedictorian speech was canceled by the university, which cited safety concerns.

Tabassum and her supporters say the university sought to silence her because of her opposition to the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Protesters marched with signs of "Let Her Speak" and chants of "Shame!" directed at the USC administration.

© Reuters. Police officers stand guard as demonstrators protest in solidarity with Pro-Palestinian organizers on the Columbia University campus, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York City, U.S., April 18, 2024. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

"It feels really important especially right now for the Jewish voice at USC, the anti-Zionist Jewish voice at USC, to be very loud and very present," said demonstrator Katya Urban, 23, part of the Jewish Voice for Peace contingent at USC.

Israel's assault on Gaza, which has killed over 33,000 people, according to the Gazan health ministry, was triggered by the Oct. 7 cross-border attack by Hamas militants that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.

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