Home North America Columbia Suspends Pro-Palestinian Protesters After Talks On Encampment Fail

Columbia Suspends Pro-Palestinian Protesters After Talks On Encampment Fail

Columbia University
A person reacts near the entrance of Columbia University amidst a demonstration in support of Israel, as the on-campus student protest encampment in support of Palestinians continues, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in New York. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Columbia University has begun suspending pro-Palestinian student activists who refused to dismantle a protest camp on the New York City campus after the Ivy League school declared a stalemate in talks seeking to end the polarising demonstration. The university president Nemat Minouche Shafik said in a statement that days of negotiations between student organisers and academic leaders had failed to persuade demonstrators to remove the dozens of tents set up to express opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Columbia University authorities had sent a letter on Monday morning warning that students who did not vacate the encampment by 2 p.m. ET and sign a form promising to abide by university policies would face suspension and become ineligible to complete the semester in good standing.

“We have begun suspending students as part of this next phase of our efforts to ensure safety on our campus,” said Ben Chang, a university spokesperson, at a briefing on Monday evening. “The encampment has created an unwelcoming environment for many of our Jewish students and faculty and a noisy distraction that interferes with the teaching, learning and preparing for final exams,” he added.

The crackdown in Columbia comes after the Columbia university president had allowed the police on the campus –  the first time since 1968 –  where over 100 students were arrested. Columbia has been at the centre of Gaza-related protests roiling university campuses across the US in recent weeks. Other universities such as the University of Texas at Austin have already arrested dozens of students whom they doused with pepper spray at a pro-Palestinian rally.

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Shafik has also said Columbia would not divest from finances in Israel, a key demand of the protesters. Instead, she has offered to invest in health and education in Gaza and make Columbia’s direct investment holdings more transparent. But this has not been enough for the pro-Palestinian protesters.

“These repulsive scare tactics mean nothing compared to the deaths of over 34,000 Palestinians. We will not move until Columbia meets our demands or we are moved by force,” leaders of the Columbia Student Apartheid Divest coalition said in a statement read at a news conference. The coalition is made up of a group of pro-Palestinian groups.

Hundreds of demonstrators, many wearing traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarves have marched around the perimeter of the encampment chanting, “Disclose! Divest! We will not stop, we will not rest.”

(Inputs from Reuters)