Columbia University returns to remote classes due to anti-Israel protests on campus

Columbia University returns to remote classes due to anti-Israel protests on campus

Columbia University moved its classes online after days of anti-Israel protests that shook its New York campus and provoked condemnation from the White House and City Hall.

The change is an effort to “de-escalate the rancor and give us all an opportunity to consider next steps,” Columbia President Minouche Shafik said in a statement. “Over the next few days, a working group made up of deans, university administrators and faculty members will attempt to resolve this crisis”including holding conversations with protesters.

Shafik is coming under increasing scrutiny after the university called police to clear a pro-Palestinian demonstration on the campus lawn. Protesters want the university to withdraw from any investments that “profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine.” But his critics allege that his actions have included anti-Semitic speech, as well as harassment and intimidation that make Jewish students feel unsafe.

Billionaire donor Robert Kraft on Monday urged university leaders to end the protests. “I am deeply saddened by the virulent hatred that continues to grow on campus,” he said in a statement. “I no longer trust Columbia to protect its students and staff and do not feel comfortable supporting the university until corrective action is taken.”. The Kraft Center, which serves as the university's Hillel, will welcome Jewish students and faculty on campus to gather peacefully, he said.

Campuses across the United States have been dealing with these types of protests and counter-demonstrations since Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel.. Since the attack, Israel has bombed Gaza, killing about 34,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

The current protests at Columbia come after Shafik testified before Congress last week in defense of measures she said the university was taking to protect Jewish students. He stated that five teachers had been “removed from the classrooms.” A Columbia administrator who also appeared before the commission said 90 students face disciplinary action for their behavior.

The protesters also ask “amnesty for all students and teachers disciplined or dismissed in the Palestinian liberation movement”according to a statement from a group of Columbia student organizers.

One day after Shafik's testimony, more than 100 Ivy League students were arrested for trespassing. Protesters had occupied a campus lawn for more than 30 hours and received multiple orders to disperse before arrests began, according to authorities.

“We have consciously put ourselves in danger because we can no longer be complicit in Columbia funneling our tuition and grant money to companies that profit from death”protest organizers said.

Demonstrations have continued both on and off campus, prompting similar protests at other colleges, including Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On Monday, Yale police arrested at least 40 protesters on campus, charged with first-degree criminal trespass, the Yale Daily News reported.

Columbia generally does not want police on its campus, and last week's arrest was “an exceptional case,” according to Mike Gerber, deputy commissioner for legal affairs at the NYPD. The police do not enforce the university's internal rules, and although some students have reported having their Israeli flags taken away, no physical harm has been reported against any student.officials said at a news conference Monday.

“While all Americans have the right to peacefully protest, calls for violence and physical intimidation against Jewish students and the Jewish community are patently anti-Semitic, unconscionable and dangerous”, declared Andrew Bates, Deputy Press Secretary of the White House. “They have absolutely no place on any college campus, nor anywhere in the United States of America.”

The escalation has raised concern among Columbia's Jewish community, and one of Hillel's rabbis, Elie Buechler, reportedly told a group of Jewish students before Passover to return home until the campus was safer. Columbia's Hillel issued a statement saying that students should remain on campus, but that the school should do more to protect them.

Columbia has about 5,000 Jewish students, representing 23% of undergraduates and 16% of graduates.according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“Distress does not give you the right to harass,” New York Mayor Eric Adams said after police made arrests last week. “We are not in a lawless city.”

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, criticized Shafik's leadership at the university and called for his resignation. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina, echoed Stefanik's sentiments, saying the school's failure to restore order “constitutes a serious breach of the University's obligations under Title VI, upon which federal financial aid depends.”

Foxx's letter cited multiple alleged cases of anti-Semitic speech, harassment and intimidation documented by videos, photographs and student stories.

Protest organizers responded to that criticism late Sunday, stating that they “reject any form of hatred or intolerance” and that they ““They are frustrated by media distractions focused on incendiary individuals who do not represent us.”

Harvard University restricted access to Harvard Yard until Friday to reduce the likelihood of disruptive protests, the university's student newspaper reported late Sunday. Restrictions include random checks of university IDs and bans on items such as tents and tables without prior authorization, reported the Harvard Crimson.

Yale President Peter Salovey responded to protests on his university's campus by saying Sunday that while Yale supports “freedom of expression and civil discourse”, “will take disciplinary action in accordance with its policies.”