Sunday 5 May 2024

Columbia President Says Occupation Of Campus Building By Anti-Israel Protesters Was ‘Violent Act,’ ‘Distressing’

 Columbia President Minouche Shafik said Friday that the occupation of a campus building by anti-Israel protesters was a “violent act” that placed the campus community in danger. 

In a video put out Friday, Shafik spoke about the unrest that had roiled the campus after students and others protesting Israel’s war with Hamas set up an encampment on campus and demanded the university cut off any ties to Israel. Shafik has faced criticism from some who said she allowed the encampment to go on too long while others accused her of reacting too strongly. 

“These past two weeks have been among the most difficult in Colombia’s history. The turmoil and tension, division and disruption have impacted the entire community. You, our students, have paid an especially high price,” she said. “We tried very hard to resolve the issue of the encampment through dialogue.”

She then said that the university was ultimately unable to reach an agreement with the protesters before referencing the occupation of Columbia’s Hamilton Hall by anti-Israel protesters. Early Tuesday morning, protesters barricaded themselves inside while they demanded the school to divest from Israel while smashing windows and unfurling an “intifada” banner from the building. They used tables, chairs, and other objects to block entry into the building. 

“A group of protesters crossed a new line with the occupation of Hamilton Hall,” Shafik said. “It was a violent act that put our students at risk, as well as putting the protesters at risk. I walked through the building and saw the damage which was distressing.”

The storming came after Shafik said that the university would not be divesting from Israel. 


Hours after the building was occupied, the New York Police Department stormed the building in riot gear, arresting protesters and clearing out the occupation. Shafik pinned much of the blame of the occupation on outside activists. “We believe that while the group who broke into the building includes students, it is led by individuals who are not affiliated with the University,” she said. 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams agreed, saying that police found evidence that professionals had shown up and conducted trainings. 

“This is a global problem that young people are being influenced by those who are professionals at radicalizing our children and I’m not going to allow that to happen as the mayor of the city of New York,” he said. 

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