Protester calls for Jewish students to 'go back to Poland'

Columbia drops midnight deadline for razing anti-Israel camp as 550 arrested across US

University President Minouche Shafik announces retreat, citing ‘progress’ in talks with students; Hezbollah terror group flag spotted at Princeton camp

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters gather at an encampment at Columbia University campus in New York on April 25, 2024. (Leonardo Munoz/AFP)
Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters gather at an encampment at Columbia University campus in New York on April 25, 2024. (Leonardo Munoz/AFP)

Columbia University backed off late Thursday from an overnight deadline for pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters to abandon an encampment there as more college campuses in the United States sought to prevent occupations from taking hold.

Police have carried out large-scale arrests in universities across the country, at times using chemical irritants and tasers to disperse protests over Israel’s war with Hamas. According to a Reuters tally, 550 have been arrested nationwide.

The office of New York-based Columbia University president Minouche Shafik issued a statement at 11:07 p.m. (0307 GMT Friday) retreating from a midnight deadline to dismantle a large tent camp with around 200 students.

“The talks have shown progress and are continuing as planned,” the statement said. “We have our demands; they have theirs.”

The statement denied that New York City police were invited to the campus. “This rumor is false,” it said.

A student, identifying herself only as Mimi, told AFP she had been at the camp for seven days.

A person sits among tents at an encampment set up by pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters on the campus of Columbia University in New York on April 25, 2024. (Leonardo Munoz / AFP)

“They call us terrorists, they call us violent. But… they’re the ones that called in the police when students were sitting in a circle,” she said. “The police are the ones with guns, the police are the ones with tasers, we only have our voices.”

Democratic lawmaker and Squad Rep. Ilhan Omar was seen visiting her daughter during the protest at Columbia.

A video uploaded to her Instagram account showed her greeting Isra Hirsi’s friends, including one Jewish pro-Palestinian activist wearing a yarmulke.

Hirsi was one of several students suspended after more than 100 anti-Israel protesters were detained by police last week at Columbia.

Student protesters say they are expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, where the death toll in the Israel-Hamas war has topped 34,305, according to the terror group’s health ministry — a figure that cannot be independently verified, and includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle.

Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7, when the Hamas-led onslaught that sparked the ongoing war killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern communities. Terrorists also took 253 hostages into Gaza.

Two hundred and sixty-one IDF soldiers have been killed in the Gaza offensive.

More than 200 people protesting the war were arrested Wednesday and early Thursday at universities in Los Angeles, Boston, and Austin, Texas, where around 2,000 people gathered again on Thursday.

On the New Jersey campus of Princeton University, officers swarmed a newly formed encampment, video footage on social media showed.

Images showed protesters waving flags of the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, which has been attacking Israel in support of Hamas in Gaza since October 8.

Riot officers in the southern state of Georgia used chemical irritants and tasers to disperse protests at Emory University in Atlanta.

Jail records showed 22 people arrested by Emory police were charged with disorderly conduct. Emory said it had been notified that 28 people were arrested, including 20 members of the university community, with some having been released by nighttime.

Photographs showed police wielding tasers as they wrestled with protesters on neatly manicured lawns.

The Atlanta Police Department said officers responding to the school’s request for help were “met with violence” and used “chemical irritants” in their response.

The spreading protests began at Columbia University, which has remained the epicenter of the student protest movement.

Free speech?

The protests pose a major challenge to university administrators trying to balance campus commitments to free expression against complaints that the rallies have crossed a line.

Pro-Israel supporters and others worried about campus safety have pointed to antisemitic incidents and allege that campuses are encouraging intimidation and hate speech.

“I’ve never felt more scared to be a Jew in America right now,” said Skyler Sieradsky, a 21-year-old student of philosophy and political science at George Washington University. “There are students and faculty standing by messages of hate, and standing by messages that call for violence.”

Demonstrators, who include a number of Jewish students, have disavowed antisemitism and criticized officials equating it with opposition to Israel.

“People are here in support of Palestinian people from all different backgrounds… (compelled by) their general sense of justice,” a 33-year-old graduate student at the University of Texas, Austin, who said he was Jewish and gave his name as Josh, told AFP.

Despite such assurances by activists, videos and testimonies have surfaced of apparent antisemitic incidents linked to the demonstrations.

Footage uploaded Friday showed a protester carrying a Palestinian flag yelling, “Go back to Belarus, go back to Poland, get the hell out of here” at Jewish students carrying Israeli flags at Columbia.

Coast to coast

At the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, 93 people were arrested for trespassing on Wednesday, authorities said, and the university canceled events at the May 10 graduation ceremony.

The ceremony, which usually attracts 65,000 people, made headlines this month when administrators canceled a planned speech by a top student after complaints from Jewish groups that she had links to antisemitic groups. She denied the charge.

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists and students from Emerson College block an alley where they have set up an encampment as police move in to clear it, in Boston, Massachusetts, on April 25, 2024. (Joseph Prezioso / AFP)

At Emerson College in Boston, local media reported classes were canceled Thursday after police clashed with protesters overnight, tearing down a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel encampment and arresting 108 people.

In Washington, students from Georgetown and George Washington University (GW) established a solidarity encampment on the GW campus Thursday.

Protests and encampments have also sprung up at New York University and Yale — both of which also saw dozens of students arrested earlier this week — Harvard, Brown University, MIT, the University of Michigan, and elsewhere.

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt said its campus could remain closed into next week due to protesters occupying buildings.

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden denounced “blatant antisemitism” that has “no place on college campuses.”

But the White House has also said the president supports freedom of expression at US universities.

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