April 24, 2024

Columbia Protests

Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday as some of the most prestigious U.S. universities sought to defuse campus tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas. More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia’s green were arrested last week, and similar encampments have sprouted up at universities around the country.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is generally sympathetic towards the protests, arguing that they are largely peaceful.

“The day before her administration asked the New York police department to storm their campus and arrest their students, Minouche Shafik, the Columbia University president, testified before Congress… The Penn and Harvard presidents who had testified [last year] each lost their jobs soon thereafter; Shafik clearly entered the hearing room determined to keep her own…

“The police raid against Columbia students that followed the next day can be seen as an extension of the policy of appeasement and pre-emptive compliance with the anti-Palestinian, anti-student Republican right that Shafik adopted in her testimony… Shafik wanted to disperse the accusations by Republicans that her university was too deferential to a progressive cause. And so, she sicced the cops on a bunch of kids.”

Moira Donegan, The Guardian

“On Thursday morning the students marched in a circle, their chants demanding that Columbia divest from Israel in protest of the ongoing slaughter in Gaza, in which around 34,000 people — more than 1 percent of Gaza’s population — have died, most of them women and children. The protesters were taking up a good bit of space and making a fair bit of noise. They were, according to the university, trespassing… But they didn’t seem to be targeting, much less harming, any of their fellow students…

“[Shafik declared] the protests ‘a clear and present danger’ to the university. If there was danger, the police seemed to struggle to find it… The Police Department’s chief of patrol, John Chell, said that there were no reports of violence or injury. ‘To put this in perspective, the students that were arrested were peaceful, offered no resistance whatsoever, and were saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner,’ he said… ‘The only violence on campus was the police carrying people away to jail,’ one student told me.”

Lydia Polgreen, The New York Times

At the same time, many note that “To talk with many Jewish students who have encountered the protests is to hear of the cumulative toll taken by words and chants and actions that call to mind something ancient and ugly…

“I saw two cars circling on Amsterdam as the men inside rolled down their windows and shouted ‘Yahud, Yahud’—Arabic for ‘Jew, Jew’—’fuck you!’ A few minutes earlier, I had been sitting on a stone bench on campus and speaking with [Danny Shaw], who holds a master’s in international affairs from Columbia… He claims no hatred for Israel, although he suggested that the ‘genocidal goliath’ will of course have to disappear or merge into an Arab-majority state…

“He said he does not endorse violence, even as he likened the October 7 attacks to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising during World War II. Shaw’s worldview is consistent with that of others in the rotating cast of speakers at late-night seminars in the liberated zone… I could not shake the sense that too many at this elite university, even as they hoped to ease the plight of imperiled civilians, had allowed the intoxicating language of liberation to blind them to an ugliness encoded within that struggle.”

Michael Powell, The Atlantic

From the Right

The right is critical of the protests, arguing that Jewish students must be protected.

The right is critical of the protests, arguing that Jewish students must be protected.

“There’s no denying the antisemitism that has exploded on and around Columbia’s campus in recent days. Jewish students were harassed on the streets directly outside the campus early Friday by masked individuals yelling, ‘The 7th of October is going to be every day for you.’…

“Other protesters outside the campus shouted chants in support of Hamas, including, ‘We say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground,’ and ‘Hamas, we love you. We support your rockets, too.’ Others shouted references to Hamas’ military wing: ‘Al-Qassam, make us proud, kill another soldier now.’…

“One member of a group of Jewish students waving Israeli flags and singing songs by Jewish pop singer Matisyahu was assaulted and chased off campus on Saturday night after attempting to retrieve a flag stolen by a protester. Protesters told the student to ‘go back to Poland,’ and one masked individual stood before a group of people waving Israeli flags with a sign suggesting they were ‘Al-Qassam’s next targets.’”

Mary Trimble, Grayson Logue, and Peter Gattuso, The Dispatch

“The students, many of whom say they are protesting the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, are indistinguishable from an antisemitic mob. One protestor chanted, ‘We are Hamas!’ A group of these students loudly exclaimed, ‘Hamas, make us proud, kill another soldier now!’ This isn’t a peaceful protest against some of the Israeli government’s policies. It is a violent rabble actively placing Jewish students and faculty at risk…

“The longer we act as if college is about play-acting and performance, the longer such stunts will continue. Universities have an obligation to uphold students’ free speech rights—that much is true—but the primary reason students should attend an institution of higher learning is to learn something, not to express juvenile (and in this case, bigoted) political opinions. Violent antisemitic campus occupations not only defy any reasonable definition of free speech, they make it impossible for students to learn. Especially Jewish students…

“University leaders have an obligation to not only reaffirm their support for all students’ safety, no matter their religious affiliation, but also recommit their institutions to their core mission: educating students. Learning [doesn’t take place] by occupying the campus quad or screaming slurs at one’s classmates. It’s facilitated by professors who take their job seriously, challenging curricula that push students to study more intently, and a campus culture oriented not primarily toward student self-expression, but students’ moral and intellectual formation.”

Beth Akers and Joe Pitts, American Enterprise Institute

“As President Shafik pointed out, the protest was about disrupting campus life for everyone else and creating ‘a harassing and intimidating environment for many of our students.’ It’s the same for protests designed to prevent others from commuting to work, catching a flight or getting to class… The test now is if liberal elites—especially Democratic mayors—have the courage to enforce norms to protect the public, their own cities, and their own nominating convention.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

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