Columbia University protest: Over 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators, including Rep. Omar’s daughter, arrested

Written by on April 19, 2024


(NEW YORK) — More than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University were arrested Thursday afternoon and an on-campus tent encampment was removed after the school’s president gave the New York Police Department the green light to clear the protesters, officials said.

The demonstrators had occupied Columbia’s south lawn for over 30 hours “in violation of the university’s rules” and did not leave despite “numerous warnings,” New York City Mayor Eric Adams said.

Columbia President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik announced in a letter to the Columbia community Thursday that she has authorized the New York Police Department to clear demonstrators from campus, writing, “This morning, I had to make a decision that I hoped would never be necessary.”

“I regret that all of these attempts to resolve the situation were rejected by the students involved. As a result, NYPD officers are now on campus and the process of clearing the encampment is underway,” Shafik said.

She added, “I have always said that the safety of our community was my top priority and that we needed to preserve an environment where everyone could learn in a supportive context.”

Columbia also released a letter to the NYPD authorizing the action.

Around 1:30 p.m. ET, police moved in and arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters, placing their hands in zip ties and escorting them to buses. Other protesters chanted “Shame!” and “Let them go.”

Some 108 people were arrested for trespass without incident, officials said. Among those, two were also arrested for obstruction of governmental administration, officials said.

“Students have the right to free speech but do not have the right to violate university policies and disrupt learning on campus,” Adams told reporters during a press briefing Thursday evening.

Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar, was among those arrested for trespass and will be getting a summons, officials said.

Earlier Thursday, Hirsi said she was among several students suspended from Columbia University for participating in pro-Palestinian protests — a development that emerged a day after her mother and other members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce grilled the school’s president about growing antisemitism on the campus.

Hirsi, the daughter of the Minnesota representative, one of three Muslims in Congress, said on the social media platform X that she was one of three students suspended by the Ivy League college due to her involvement in the protests.

Hirsi, who described herself as an organizer for the Columbia University Apartheid Divest, a coalition of campus student organizations, said in a post on X that in her three years at Barnard College, one of four Columbia undergraduate colleges, “I have never been reprimanded or received any disciplinary warnings.”

“I just received notice that i am 1 of 3 students suspended for standing in solidarity with Palestinians facing a genocide,” Hirsi wrote in a series of posts on X.

In another post, she wrote, “those of us in Gaza Solidarity Encampment will not be intimidated. we will stand resolute until our demands are met.”

The Apartheid Divest coalition, according to its website, is demanding the university “divest its stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from the State of Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian human rights through its ongoing system of settler colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid.”

Columbia University did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

Protesters opposed to Israel’s war in Gaza continued demonstrating on campus Thursday, including some who have set up a tent encampment on the South Lawn of the upper Manhattan campus.

The demonstrations at Columbia also included pro-Israel supporters, who waved Israeli flags and held signs reading, “#End Jew Hatred.”

As demonstrators on both sides chanted and clanged pots, a U-Haul truck passed by with a sign demanding that Shafik, who was appointed president of the school in July 2023, resign from her position.

University officials sent out a warning Wednesday to student demonstrators camping on campus to clear out by 9 p.m. Wednesday or else the school would “take the interim measure of suspending you.”

“This notice is a final request from the University that you immediately cease your participation in this encampment and leave the campus,” the school’s letter to the protesters said.

At least five people were arrested Wednesday night at the college for disorderly conduct, according to the NYPD.

On Wednesday, Shafik was questioned for hours by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about antisemitism on the Columbia campus.

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., chair of the committee, opened the hearing by calling some elite U.S. colleges “hotbeds of antisemitism and hate.”

“Columbia University is one of the worst of those hotbeds and we’ve seen too little, far too late done to counter that and protect students and staff,” Foxx said. “Columbia stands guilty of gross negligence at best and, at worst, has become a platform for those supporting terrorism and violence against the Jewish people.”

In her opening statement, Shafik told the committee that Columbia “strives to be a community free of discrimination and hate in all forms and we condemn the antisemitism that is so pervasive today.”

She said a “major challenge” has been reconciling free speech with the rights of Jewish students to go to school in an environment free of discrimination and harassment.

“Regrettably, the events of Oct. 7 brought to the fore an undercurrent of antisemitism that is a major challenge and like many other universities Columbia has seen a rise in antisemitic incidents,” Shafik said.

During the hearing, Rep. Omar asked Shafik if she had specifically seen anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim demonstrations at Columbia.

In one of several moments in which Shafik appeared to struggle to answer members’ questions, Shafik said she had not seen those types of demonstrations.

Omar asked, “I wanted to get a clarification, earlier one of my colleagues asked you, have you seen anti-Muslim protests on campus?”

Shafik responded, “I have seen — we have had pro-Israeli demonstrations on campus.”

Omar asked again if Shafik had seen protests against Muslims, Arabs or Palestinians.

Shafik answered, “No, I have not.”

Omar continued, “Have you seen one against Jewish people? Have you seen a protest saying we are against Jewish people?”

Shafik replied, “No.”

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