United States

Columbia University Protests Continue For 5th Day; Rabbi Tells Jewish Students To Stay Home

Protests at Columbia University have entered their fifth day, with over 100 arrests since demonstrations began last Wednesday. Primarily pro-Palestinian, protesters criticize Columbia's response to the Israel-Hamas conflict and demand divestment.

Demonstrators pray outside an entrance to the Columbia University campus as they protest in solidarity with Pro-Palestinian organizers. Photo: Reuters

Protests at Columbia University have entered their fifth consecutive day, raising safety concerns among some students on campus as tensions flare over the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. Since the demonstrations began last Wednesday, over 100 individuals have been arrested in connection with protests both on and near the Upper Manhattan campus.

Primarily led by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, the protests have also targeted Columbia University's response to the conflict, demanding that the institution divest from Israel. The fervor intensified on Saturday, as a significant gathering of protesters amassed outside the university gates, while student demonstrators returned to the main campus lawn. NYPD reported the arrest and subsequent release with summonses of four more individuals during Saturday's events.

The preceding day saw a poignant scene unfold, with protesters sprawled across the campus grounds in sleeping bags and on mats, adorned with banners and Palestinian flags.

Solidarity protests have emerged in other educational institutions across the nation, with students at Boston University, Harvard University, and Ohio State University organizing rallies in support of their counterparts at Columbia.

As tensions rise, concerns regarding safety, particularly for Jewish students, have taken centre stage. The commencement of the protests coincided with Columbia University President Minouche Shafik's testimony on campus antisemitism before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Representative Elise Stefanik has called for Shafik's resignation, citing the university's alleged failure to protect Jewish students amidst escalating tensions.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams has pledged to investigate reports of antisemitic incidents, emphasizing a zero-tolerance policy towards hate crimes. Governor Kathy Hochul echoed similar sentiments, emphasizing the importance of peaceful assembly while condemning threats of violence against Jewish students.

The White House joined the chorus of condemnation, denouncing antisemitism and violence targeting Jewish communities, particularly in the wake of recent events.

Meanwhile, the protests at Columbia have escalated with demonstrators establishing an encampment on the university's South Lawn. This action has resulted in a standoff with university authorities, leading to numerous arrests. Despite warnings from university officials, protesters have remained steadfast, prompting concerns about campus safety and disrupting traditional activities, including Passover celebrations.

In response to the escalating tensions, some Jewish students have expressed fear and discomfort, with one rabbi associated with Columbia's Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative advising students to stay home amidst the protests. However, others have opted to remain on campus, with the Campus Hillel urging authorities to ensure the safety of all students.

Amidst the turmoil, Columbia University has issued guidance allowing remote learning options for concerned students. However, many protesters remain resolute in their demands for transparency and accountability from the institution.

The fervour has spread beyond Columbia's campus, with a similar encampment emerging at The New School's Union Square campus. As students there stand in solidarity with their counterparts at Columbia, university officials have pledged to engage with student groups to address their concerns, particularly regarding financial transparency.