Columbia suspends students for ‘Resistance 101’ event at which speakers praised Hamas

University president says ‘absolutely unacceptable… to promote the use of terror or violence,’ in significant response to anti-Israel activities rocking the campus since Oct. 7

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists outside Columbia University, February 2, 2024. (Luke Tress/JTA)
Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists outside Columbia University, February 2, 2024. (Luke Tress/JTA)

New York Jewish Week via JTA — Columbia University’s president said students have been suspended for an event last month that saw speakers praise Hamas and other terror groups.

Four students were suspended over the event, according to the Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper.

The student-led event, titled “Resistance 101,” drew harsh criticism, including from members of Congress who were already investigating the uptown university for alleged antisemitism on campus. The suspensions mark a significant step in Columbia’s response to anti-Israel activities that have rocked the campus since October 7.

Columbia President Minouche Shafik acknowledged in a statement that the “Resistance 101” event featured speakers who “support terrorism and promote violence” and that administrators had already prohibited the event twice.

“I want to state for the record that this event is an abhorrent breach of our values,” Shafik said in the statement.

She added, “I did not become a university president to punish students. At the same time, actions like this on our campus must have consequences. That I would ever have to declare the following is in itself surprising, but I want to make clear that it is absolutely unacceptable for any member of this community to promote the use of terror or violence.”

Despite the ban on the event, students held the discussion in a campus residential facility. In response, the university notified law enforcement and contracted an outside investigation firm, Shafik said.

The Spectator reported that four students were indefinitely suspended and evicted from university housing over charges from the university, including disruptive behavior, endangerment, violation of law and violation of university policy.

The suspended students were given 24 hours to vacate their university housing. They will not be able to attend classes, participate in extracurricular activities or access the campus on their own, the Spectator reported. A Columbia spokesperson declined to comment to the New York Jewish Week on the specifics of the suspensions.

Shafik said in her statement that the investigation was ongoing.

The pro-Palestinian groups National Students for Justice in Palestine, Samidoun and Within Our Lifetime issued a joint statement backing the suspended students. Leaders from the three groups all spoke at the “Resistance 101” event, and all three organizations have explicitly supported terrorism or Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, which launched the war. The organizations accused Israel of “genocide,” a charge common among pro-Palestinian activists that Israel vehemently denies.

“These attacks are an attempt to destroy students’ futures to suppress support for Palestinian liberation amid the ongoing Zionist-US perpetrated genocide in Gaza,” the groups’ statement said. It claimed, without citing evidence, that the “Resistance 101” event is “being used as a pretext by the Columbia University administration to dismantle student organizations fighting for Palestinian liberation in conjunction with the Zionist lobby and external right-wing pressure groups.”

During the “Resistance 101” event, speakers repeatedly backed Palestinian “resistance,” which in their view included open support for Hamas. One of the speakers, Khaled Barakat, a Palestinian writer and activist, referred to his “friends and brothers in Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP.”

“There is nothing wrong with being a member of Hamas, being a leader of Hamas, being a fighter in Hamas,“ said Charlotte Kates, Barakat’s wife and a coordinator for Samidoun, which was banned from Germany in November for supporting terrorism.

NYPD officers clash with pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters during a rally outside Columbia University in New York on February 2, 2024. (Yuki IWAMURA / AFP)

Since October 7, Columbia University has struggled to rein in anti-Israel student activists who violate university policies, mainly by holding unauthorized and disruptive protests. Jewish advocates have said the activism veers into antisemitism and creates a hostile atmosphere, and last month, a report from the school’s antisemitism task force said that Jewish students were experiencing “isolation and pain.”

The suspensions for the “Resistance 101” event appeared to be the most serious punishments Columbia has levied against activists in months. In November, the administration banned the campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and the anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace for violating university event policies.

Both groups remain suspended but continue to operate on campus as the lead organizations in a coalition of student groups called Columbia University Apartheid Divest — the group that organized the “Resistance 101” event. On Thursday, pro-Palestinian students and faculty held an unauthorized rally, chanting “globalize the intifada” while beating on drums. Shafik said the university was working to identify participants and that they would “face discipline.”

The administration’s actions come against the backdrop of government investigations of antisemitism at Columbia. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which has been investigating antisemitism on a number of campuses, said on X, above a clip from last month’s event, that “a taxpayer-supported institution’s members providing a forum to promote terrorism raises serious questions.”

New York Republican Representative Elise Stefanik, a member of the committee, said on X, “Unchecked student groups supporting the genocide of Jews and openly cheering on Hamas demonstrate exactly why the [committee] is investigating the once-respected school.”

Last year, the committee questioned the presidents of Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania about antisemitism, and the college presidents declined to state that calls for the genocide of Jews would necessarily violate campus policies. The presidents of Harvard and UPenn resigned in the ensuing uproar.

Shafik had declined to attend the hearing, citing a previously scheduled overseas engagement. The committee opened an investigation into Columbia and summoned Shafik to another hearing scheduled for this month.

The Biden administration is also investigating Columbia, and Jewish students have filed civil lawsuits alleging discrimination on campus.

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