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Police Loom as Pro-Palestine Students Occupy Columbia University – Mother Jones

Police Loom as Pro-Palestine Students Occupy Columbia University – Mother Jones
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Najib Aminy

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New York City Police gathered in force outside of Columbia University on Wednesday, after students convened in the pre-dawn hours to erect dozens of camping tents on a campus lawn. The demonstration backing Palestine was launched hours before president Minouche Shafik began testifying at a Congressional hearing addressing allegations of anti-semitism on campus in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.

The students are part of the Columbia University Apartheid Divest coalition, which formed after administrators suspended chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace this fall, claiming violations of campus safety and event planning rules.

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Organizers of the tent occupation drew inspiration from Vietnam-era protestors who, after Columbia announced plans to build a student gym by grabbing city parkland, occupied administrators’ offices in 1968 and demanded the university cut ties with a defense department think tank.

Today’s divestment coalition is similarly demanding the university’s board cut all funding ties with weapons manufacturers that have been supplying Israel, as well as, according to organizer Isra Hirsi, extend amnesty to pro-Palestinian students who have been punished for past campus actions.

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“I never expected to see this many people here,” said Hirsi, a Barnard student who is the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar, “despite the fact that they know the risks of disciplinary action and arrest.” 

While Columbia’s grounds are usually open to all, it has largely closed the campus gates and barred public access following demonstrations this fall protesting Israel’s war in Gaza that the administration said were unsanctioned. (When I requested access, spokesperson Robert Hornsby denied me, claiming I couldn’t observe under a longstanding policy related to “our end-of-term campus preparations.”)

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Pro-Israel demonstrators are also expected to stage a rally near campus regarding Shafik’s testimony, setting up a day of tension and high police presence.





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