'Be grateful I'm not just going out and murdering Zionists'

Columbia protest leader banned from campus for saying ‘Zionists don’t deserve to live’

In video, Khymani James said he felt ‘very comfortable calling for those people to die,’ later apologized for ‘misspeaking’; university president’s conduct condemned by its senate

Khymani James, a leader of the anti-Israeli protests at Columbia University, seen in a January 2024 video in which he said 'Zionists don't deserve to live' (Video screenshot)
Khymani James, a leader of the anti-Israeli protests at Columbia University, seen in a January 2024 video in which he said 'Zionists don't deserve to live' (Video screenshot)

A video has surfaced of one of the leaders of the anti-Israeli protests at Columbia University stating repeatedly and emphatically that Zionists “don’t deserve to live” and should be killed.

“The existence of them and the projects they have built i.e. Israel, it’s all antithetical to peace. So yes I feel very comfortable — very comfortable — calling for those people to die,” Khymani James said in the January video.

“Be glad, be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists,” he added.

A university spokesman told CNN Friday that James had been banned from campus. The substance of the move was not immediately clear, nor was it clear whether James would remain a student at the institution.

Earlier on Friday James issued an apology for the video while justifying himself, saying he “misspoke,” adding that he regretted his comments which were “wrong,” and that “every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification.” He explained that he had been feeling “unusually upset” when he made the statements “after an online mob targeted my because I’m visibly queer and Black.”

ABC News said that hours earlier during a TV interview, James refused to apologize for the video in question.

Columbia has been the epicenter of college encampment protests against Israel and its war in Gaza that have swept through the US, with many Jewish students saying they have been made to feel unsafe due to antisemitic undertones at the demonstrations.

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

The January video of James was of a livestream he made during an online hearing held with university officials. This came following comments he’d made on social media that if he were to enter into a fight with a Zionist, he would be fighting “to kill.”

Asked in the video by an off-screen official whether he saw why his statements were problematic, James said “No.” He then said that “taking someone’s life in certain case scenarios is necessary and better for the overall world.”

He appeared to make most of the subsequent comments to his viewers at a point when the officials were not listening in.

“If we can agree as a society, as a collective, that people… some persons need to die, if they have an ideology that results in the death of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions — if there are people like that who exist, shouldn’t they die?” he said to the camera.

“Zionists — they are Nazis. They’re Nazis. They’re fascists. They’re supporters of genocide. Why would we want people who are supporters of genocide to live? I’m confused.”

He went on: “Zionists along with all white supremacists need to not exist because they actively kill and harm vulnerable people. They stop the world from progressing.

“And so be glad, be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists,” he said. “I’ve never murdered anyone in my life and I hope to keep it that way. I genuinely hope to keep it that way.

Students and faculty members from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Roosevelt College and Columbia College rally and march to show support for the Palestinian people in Gaza on April 26, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois (SCOTT OLSON / Getty Images via AFP)

“But when you have a whole bunch of Zionists and white supremacists and Nazis and fascists threatening your physical safety, one feels the need to remind them that one is not afraid two reach that point. And we know what that point is.”

In his statement on Thursday, James said other leaders of the Columbia protests had stressed that his comments “are not in line with [their] community guidelines. I agree with their assessment.”

The White House on Friday strongly condemned James’ comments.

“These dangerous, appalling statements turn the stomach and should serve as a wakeup call,” White House Deputy Press Secretary said. “It is hideous to advocate for the murder of Jews. President Biden has been clear that violent rhetoric, hate speech and antisemitic remarks have no place in America whatsoever, and he will always stand against them.”

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

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. It was the second time the administration backed off from a deadline in recent days.

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

Students and faculty members from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Roosevelt College and Columbia College rally and march to show support for the Palestinian people in Gaza on April 26, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois (SCOTT OLSON / Getty Images via AFP)

But on Friday Columbia students said that they had reached an impasse with administrators and intended to continue their encampment until their demands were met.

The announcement after two days of exhaustive negotiations came as Columbia’s president faced harsh criticism from faculty. The development puts more pressure on university officials to find a resolution ahead of planned graduation ceremonies next month — a problem that campuses from California to Massachusetts are facing.

As the death toll mounts in the war in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis worsens, protesters at universities across the country are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say are enabling the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

Student negotiators representing the Columbia encampment said that after meetings Thursday and Friday, the university hadn’t met their primary demand for divestment, although they had made progress on a push for more transparent financial disclosures.

“We will not rest until Columbia divests,” said Jonathan Ben-Menachem, a fourth-year doctoral student.

Meanwhile, Presiden Shafik faced a significant — but largely symbolic — rebuke from faculty Friday but retained the support of trustees, who have the power to hire or fire the president.

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik testifies during a US House Education Committee hearing about antisemitism on college campuses, on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 17, 2024. (Drew Angerer/AFP)

A report by the university senate’s executive committee, which represents faculty, found Shafik and her administration had “taken many actions and decisions that have harmed Columbia University.” Those included calling in police and allowing students to be arrested without consulting faculty, failing to defend the institution in the face of external pressures, misrepresenting and suspending student protest groups, and hiring private investigators.

“The faculty have completely lost confidence in President Shafik’s ability to lead this organization,” said Ege Yumusak, a philosophy lecturer at Columbia who is part of a faculty team protecting the encampment.

Police had clashed with protesters Thursday at Indiana University, Bloomington, were 34 were arrested; Ohio State University, where about 36 were arrested; and at the University of Connecticut, were one person was arrested.

California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, has been negotiating with students who have been barricaded inside a campus building since Monday, rebuffing an attempt by the police to clear them out. The campus remains shut down at least through the weekend.

On the other end of the state, the University of Southern California canceled the school’s May 10 graduation ceremony. The announcement was made a day after more than 90 protesters were arrested on campus. The university said it will still host dozens of commencement events, including all the traditional individual school commencement ceremonies.

Elsewhere in New York, about a dozen protesters spent the night in tents and sleeping bags inside a building at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The institute’s museum, which is in the building where the demonstrators set up camp, was closed Friday.

Protesters also stayed overnight at the encampment at George Washington University.

Pro-Israel demonstrators gather for the ‘Bring Them Home Now’ rally outside Columbia University, April 26, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

The university said in a statement Friday that those who remain are trespassing on private property and officials will pursue disciplinary actions against students involved in the unauthorized demonstrations.

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

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.

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