Israeli prof says denied Columbia entry; Kraft halts donations

Dozens arrested at Yale; Columbia pauses in-person classes after ‘burn Tel Aviv’ calls

Riot cops clear protest encampment at Yale; Columbia head says classes to go remote to ‘deescalate the rancor,’ after calls of ‘go back to Poland’ and ‘burn Tel Aviv to the ground’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators face off in front of the entrance of Columbia University, which is occupied by pro-Palestinian protesters in New York on April 22, 2024. One of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators is holding up a poster of Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious Fatah commander convicted of masterminding terror attacks during the Second Intifada. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators face off in front of the entrance of Columbia University, which is occupied by pro-Palestinian protesters in New York on April 22, 2024. One of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators is holding up a poster of Zakaria Zubeidi, a notorious Fatah commander convicted of masterminding terror attacks during the Second Intifada. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Riot police arrested dozens of people during a pro-Palestinian demonstration at Yale University, hours after Columbia University’s president issued a last-minute announcement that classes on Monday would be held virtually in an effort to “deescalate the rancor” on campus, one of several rocked by anti-Israel protests.

Demonstrators on Monday blocked traffic around Yale’s campus in New Haven, Connecticut, demanding the school divest from military weapons manufacturers, prompting police to make arrests, video footage aired on social media showed.

More than 40 people were apprehended by police, according to the Yale Daily News, a student-run news site. Yale University officials could not be reached for comment.

Protesters could reportedly be heard chanting, “YPD (Yale Police Department) or KKK, IDF, they’re all the same” and chanting, “Arab blood is not cheap, for the martyrs we will speak.”

Posts on social media say the pro-Palestinian protesters have moved to a different location on campus, despite the arrests and the police presence.

The arrests follow several violent episodes during the days-long protest, with a Jewish student journalist who was reporting on the anti-Israel protest at Yale saying she was stabbed in the eye with a Palestinian flag.

According to The New York Post, the student, Yale Free Press editor-in-chief Sahar Tartak, was surrounded by taunting protesters after she was “singled out for wearing Hasidic Jewish attire.”

“There’s hundreds of people taunting me and waving the middle finger at me, and then this person waves a Palestinian flag in my face and jabs it in my eye,” Tartak was quoted as saying.

The unrest on Yale comes after antisemitic and anti-Israel incidents sparked a rabbi linked to the Columbia to urge Jewish students on Sunday to remain at home and US President Joe Biden had blasted the “blatant antisemitism” during the protests on campus.

Police arrest protesters at an anti-Israel demonstration at Yale University in Connecticut, April 22, 2024. (Screenshot, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In a statement issued at 1:14 a.m. local time on Monday, Columbia President Nemat Minouche Shafik said the university was canceling in-person classes while denouncing antisemitic language and intimidating and harassing behavior that she said had occurred on campus recently.

“Over the past days, there have been too many examples of intimidating and harassing behavior on our campus. Antisemitic language, like any other language that is used to hurt and frighten people, is unacceptable and appropriate action will be taken,” she said.

Shafik added that “tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas… We need a reset.”

Also Monday, an Israeli assistant professor at Columbia University’s business school said he was denied entry to the main campus.

Columbia University assistant professor Shai Davidai, is denied access to the main campus after his security card was deactivated, to prevent him from accessing the lawn currently occupied by pro-Palestine student demonstrators in New York, April 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

In a post on X, formerly, Twitter, Shai Davidai said the reason he was refused entry to campus was because the university “cannot protect my safety as a Jewish professor.”

“This is 1938,” he added, referring to the dismissal of Jewish staff from universities in Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the Holocaust.

In video footage of a confrontation between Davidai and Columbia University COO Cas Holloway, the assistant professor claimed he was being denied entry because of his Jewish identity.

“I have not just a civil right as a Jewish person to be on campus, I have a right as a professor employed by the university to be on campus,” he said.

“You cannot let people that support Hamas on campus and me, a professor, not go on campus,” he can be heard saying in the video.

Since October 7, Davidai has emerged as a leading voice criticizing universities for permitting anti-Israel sentiment to flourish and bleed into antisemitism.

Pro-Israel demonstrators chant “Shame” in support of Columbia University assistant professor Shai Davidai, who was denied access to the main campus to prevent him from accessing the lawn currently occupied by pro-Palestine student demonstrators in New York on Monday, April 22, 2024. 
(AP Photo/Stefan Jeremiah)

More than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on Thursday on the campus after Shafik authorized New York police to clear an encampment set up by students demonstrating against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Anti-Israel sentiment, sometimes veering into downright antisemitism, has flared up on college campuses across the US throughout the war in Gaza that began on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and take over 250 hostages.

The vast majority of campus uproar has been over the ensuing war that Israel launched to defeat Hamas, which has taken the lives of over 34,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry controlled by the terror group. That figure 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.

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

“There is a terrible conflict raging in the Middle East with devastating human consequences. I understand that many are experiencing deep moral distress and want Columbia to help alleviate this by taking action,” said Shafik.

“We should be having serious conversations about how Columbia can contribute. There will be many views across our diverse community about how best to do this and that is as it should be. But we cannot have one group dictate terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance their point of view. Let’s sit down and talk and argue and find ways to compromise on solutions,” the university president added.

Pro-Palestinian supporters wave flags in front of the entrance of Columbia University which is occupied by pro-Palestine protesters in New York on April 22, 2024. (Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

A working group of school administrators and staff will meet in the coming days to try and form a resolution to the crisis, she said. The panel will continue dialogue with protest groups and identify actions that can be taken “to enable us to peacefully complete the term and return to respectful engagement with each other.”

Shafik said she recognized that her decision to deploy the NYPD last week had sparked debate and was happy to engage in such discussions. “But I do know that better adherence to our rules and effective enforcement mechanisms would obviate the need for relying on anyone else to keep our community safe.”

Over the weekend, Elie Buechler, an Orthodox rabbi at Columbia University and its affiliate Barnard College, told students in an online message that campus and city police cannot guarantee the safety of Jewish students.

“It deeply pains me to say that I would strongly recommend you return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved,” Buechler said in a WhatsApp message sent to hundreds before the start of Passover on Monday night.

The protests at Columbia, reminiscent of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War at Columbia more than 50 years ago, are the latest in a series of protests disrupting university campuses, bridges and airports since the latest escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began on Oct. 7.

The protests continued on Sunday, with footage showing young demonstrators chanting in support of Hamas, the killing of Israeli soldiers and “burn[ing] Tel Aviv to the ground.”

Students wearing yarmulkes reported being harassed and even physically assaulted by the anti-Israel protesters.

According to video shared by the Columbia chapter of the Chabad Hasidic movement, “Yehudi” — Arabic for “Jew” — and “go back to Poland” were among the invectives that demonstrators hurled at Jewish students returning to their dorm rooms.

“Even in recent days, we’ve seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses or anywhere in our country,” Biden said in a Sunday statement.

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a prominent Columbia alum and founder of the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism, announced in a statement Monday morning that he was halting his donations to the school because he’s “no longer confident that Columbia can protect its students and staff.”

“The school I love so much – the one that welcomed me and provided me with so much opportunity – is no longer an institution I recognize,” Kraft said.

The US Congress, spearheaded by Republican lawmakers critical of what they perceive as the liberal slant in American higher education, launched investigations into antisemitism at multiple schools, among them Columbia.

At a contentious December 6 hearing, the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT provoked significant ire when all three of them answered evasively after being asked whether calling for a genocide of the Jewish people was contrary to their institutions’ code of conduct.

Liz Magill, the president of Penn, resigned shortly thereafter. Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard, succeeded in securing her board of overseers’ vote of confidence, before she too quit her post after conservative activists revealed her already thin academic record contained numerous instances of plagiarism.

Reuters and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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