On Wednesday afternoon, moments after a faculty protest concluded on Low Steps, demonstrators gathered outside the entrances to Barnard and Columbia to protest the suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace.
Content warning: graphic descriptions of violence, guns.
Immediately following the faculty demonstration on Wednesday, a second protest mounted just outside of campus at 2 pm, drawing about 450 protesters to 116th and Broadway. The demonstration was organized by Within Our Lifetime (WOL), a non-Columbia-affiliated Palestinian-led community group based in New York City, in solidarity with Students for Justice in Palestine and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace after the groups’ recent suspension.
In anticipation of the protest, about 30 NYPD officers gathered around Broadway in front of Columbia’s campus. The University once again restricted campus access to CUID holders, and NYPD officers manned makeshift ID-scanning stations in front of the campus entrances. Since Tuesday, all campus gates have been closed, except for the main gates on 116th and Broadway, 116th and Amsterdam, and the Wien gates. During the protest, all but one section of Columbia’s main gated entrance Broadway was closed and the entrance was heavily guarded by police.
The protest began at 2 pm on 116th and Broadway. WOL arrived with four large tapestries, the largest of which was about 30 feet long and read “Free Palestine.” Directly next to the WOL protesters were a number of smaller unaffiliated groups, some distributing their own media. A speaker from WOL called this a “shameful” use of the group’s platform, saying, “anybody who is doing that at this rally is not representative of our trouble and our cause. We are not co-signing them, and it is shameful that you are using Palestine rallies to give out your own promotional material.”
Additionally, a man wearing a large cross necklace and a keffiyeh, holding a sign which read “Gaza Holocaust,” was seen near the protest. This is not the first time a person of this description has been seen at pro-Palestinian protests near campus. At the Shut It Down! For Palestine rally on November 10, an unaffiliated individual interrupted the protest by shouting similar obscenities, drawing quick disapproval from the crowd. He was soon intercepted by a combination of students and NYPD officers.
Around 2:10 pm, WOL addressed the crowd, beginning with a chant: “1234, occupation no more, 5678, Israel is a terrorist state,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “We will free Palestine within our lifetime.” After about 10 minutes of various chants, the first speaker, a representative from WOL, addressed the crowd. She stated that this demonstration was to “protest [Columbia’s] unjust, their shameful, decision of suspending their Columbia University Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.” After drawing loud responses from the crowd, she continued, “This shameful act of silencing, of preventing people from coming out in support of the Palestinian people and against the genocide, only shows how far Columbia University is willing to go to silence the truth and to prevent students from using their freedom of speech––their First Amendment right––to speak up against the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.” She also said people in America, “the imperialist belly of the beast,” should understand their complicitness in the genocide, stating that it is American taxpayer money that is funding Israel. She continued, “This is aid that is literally the bombs, the bullets, the guns that are being used to be dropped on the homes of Gaza and to kill Palestinians in the West Bank and to arm settlers.”
The speaker then accused the University of “silencing” student activists, saying student protesters should be “uplifted” and “supported” instead of being “demonized” and “villainized” by the same University that is there to “protect them.” She ended her speech with the statement, “The more they try to silence us, the louder we will be.”
The second speaker was a member of SJP. “By suspending SJP and JVP,” she stated, “Columbia has shot themselves in the foot. In an attempt to shut us down, you [Columbia] have only made us stronger.” The speaker noted yesterday’s protest, mentioning the recent formation of Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) and saying that “almost 50 student organizations have signed on to [it] within 48 hours.” She proceeded to explain the nature of the coalition: an “anti-war and divestment movement” that identifies as “a continuation of the Vietnam anti-war movement and the movement to divest from apartheid South Africa.” She concluded her speech with the remark, “We need to organize the power of the people. You want to shut down SJP and JVP? You can do that, but you cannot shut down the movement for Palestine, because if you do that, you have to take down every single student organization that stands with us.”
Around this time at 2:28 pm, an unknown individual, who did not appear to be associated with the protest speakers, climbed a street lamp where multiple “kidnapped” flyers were posted. They were seen obscuring printed faces with black Sharpie as well as writing “Free Gaza’” over the posters. Within the next 20 minutes, another individual, also appearing to be unaffiliated with protest leaders, covered other “kidnapped” posters on the same street lamp with “CUNY is complicit in Gaza Genocide” stickers.
The third speaker was a member of the Columbia Social Workers for Palestine (CSWP), a collective of students that hosted last week’s sit-in at the School of Social Work. She began by stating, “As social workers, it is instilled into us that we have a duty to uphold the basic rights that ensure dignity and community for all people. There can be no doubt that we have the duty unequivocally to uphold and recognize the Palestinian people’s right to self-organization and the right to resist.”
The speaker also claimed that the suppression of pro-Palestinian speech on college campuses nationwide is not an isolated incident. She drew further similarities between the increased police presence at Georgia State University and at Columbia, saying that while these measures are theoretically taken for the safety of University affiliates, “in practice, it is an exchange of methods of state violence and control, including mass surveillance, racial profiling, and suppression of protestors.”
Similarly to earlier protests, the speaker also discussed the referendum passed by Columbia College in 2020 to divest from Israel, which was vetoed by former Columbia President Lee Bollinger. She also discussed the demands of CUAD, which include divesting from Israel, calling on elected officials at the state and national levels to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, canceling both the University’s dual degree program with Tel Aviv University and the opening of its Tel Aviv Global Center, and, finally, reinstating SJP and JVP alongside a formal apology.
Over the course of 10 minutes, during the end of the CSWP’s speaker as well as during intermediate chanting, multiple cars honked in solidarity with the protesters as they passed by. Then, at 2:39 pm, the crowd began chanting “Shut it down,” without the WOL organizer taking the lead. This continued for two minutes until the next speaker received the microphone.
The fourth speaker was a Palestinian Columbia student, who said he was “born and raised in a refugee camp as a third generation.” He shared his personal experiences, stating that as a child, he witnessed his “best friend getting killed, shot in the hands of an Israeli soldier” and “lost his uncle when he was 11 years old” because he was “shot in the head twice and in the shoulder once in the hands of IDF terrorist soldiers.” Additionally, the speaker said that as a child, he “witnessed a strike and its explosion.” He continued, “After this explosion I saw people, several people, shattered into pieces, and in front of my eyes. I had to collect their body parts in my own hands, collect fingers on the ground, and peel off skin from the walls. Shame on you, Israel!” The crowd echoed his sentiments, chanting “Shame.” He continued to share his story, saying that he was “shot in his leg when [he] was 15 years old in the hands of an Israel soldier.” He then stated, “I come here today as a witness––as a living witness––of the Israeli apartheid, the Israeli oppression and occupation… My experience cannot be doubted. It’s a reality.”
He continued his speech by discussing the current political climate at Columbia. “I have said it before, and I will say it now,” he stated, “our voices are more powerful than your money or the money that you’re seeking.” After a series of statements like this, he claimed, “A threat to justice at Columbia University is a threat to justice at every university.”
In the final minutes of his speech, the Palestinian student stated, “We were accused by the administration that we are calling for genocide while that administration itself is ignoring the current genocide that is taking place in Gaza.” He explained that the chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is one that supports “equal rights for everybody,” regardless of religion. He declared that the suspension of SJP and JVP was “unjust and illegal,” calling it a “violation with Columbia University’s policies.” He further claimed, “The Special Committee of Campus Security and Safety is special indeed because it was formed without the knowledge of the University Senate’s Executive Committee.” He also alleged that the University changed policies “without informing any student groups,” claiming that this also violates University policies.
The crowd responded, chanting “Shame.” The speaker then claimed that Columbia’s use of the words “safety” and “security” is “a weaponization of the words,” drawing similarities to “the same weaponization that Israel has used as a tactic to steal land, to kill people, to suppress us, to keep us in refugee camps, and to connect genocide and apartheid.” He ended his speech with the message, “The people united, will never be defeated.” The crowd chanted the statement in agreement.
The next speaker was another member of SJP, rereading the speech she gave Tuesday night at the DAR protest.
The sixth speaker was an adjunct from CUNY, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, and a member of CUNY for Palestine. She started her speech by expressing compassion for those in Gaza, stating, “The absolute silence and repression from administration from CUNY to Columbia is absolutely shameful.” She energized the audience, mentioning city-wide protests across the Brooklyn Bridge, past walk-outs, and Jewish Voice for Peace-New York City’s recent occupation of Grand Central Station. These protests, she explained, are central to “stop US aid to Israel and to end the occupation and for a free Palestine.” She shared that she had attended the protest at Brooklyn College where Councilmember Inna Vernikov had the butt end of a gun visibly protruding from her waistband, which was in violation with her New York issued permit as this is considered open carry. Early the next morning at the 70th Precinct, Ms. Vernikov turned herself in. She continued, “The President of Brooklyn College has said nothing. Instead, the President of Brooklyn College, like the presidents of colleges all over the country, perpetuates Islamophobic stereotypes and conflates the movement for Palestinian liberation with antisemitism.” She turned her attention back to Columbia saying, “it’s ridiculous to think that Columbia is protecting Jewish students by attacking and banning a Jewish organization.” The audience responded with “Shame.”
Her speech transitioned to discuss local and national politics, noting Kathy Hochul’s recent $75 million plan to combat hate crimes in the city, which includes providing increased grants to local police and increasing surveillance on social media platforms by State Police to identify possible threats on college campuses. The speaker stated acts like this are “bipartisan: they come from the Democrats and Republicans. It’s because imperialism is bipartisan. It’s because Zionism is bipartisan.”
The speaker then urged all organizations that stand with Palestine, whether that be their sole mission or not, to unite together, calling on SJP, JVP, CUNY for Palestine, labor unions, and BLM organizations. “We need all of us,” she stated, “to stand up to fight the repression and for a free Palestine, united with one fist.” To end her speech, she read from a solidarity pledge written by CUNY for Palestine, leading crowd chants in response.
The next speaker was a Hasidic Jewish man. He told the crowd, “Judaism is not the state of Israel,” and the crowd roared in agreement. “We are here to serve God, to emulate God, to be subservient to God––not to kill, not to steal,” he continued. “How can we be silent as Jews,” he questioned, “when this oppression is taking place?”
During this speech, around 3:10 pm, a passerby yelled “fuck you” to protesters. The crowd, although not coming in physical contact with them, proceeded to yell at and boo the disruptor. The speaker eventually regained control of the crowd, stating, “This is a selfish ploy of the Zionist state of Israel to commit an occupation of people who were created by God and who have been friends of the Jewish people. This is unacceptable.” He then called on politicians, world leaders, and University administrators to “use their minds to do what’s right” and “Godly.” He then told the crowd, “Judaism is a religion of 3000 years, and Zionism is a movement of 75 to 100 years. It is a nationalism using, masquerading, as my religion. It is antisemitic to support the occupation of Gaza.” He ended by saying, “Inshallah, free Palestine,” and led a chant of “Judaism yes, Zionism no, the state of Israel must go.”
The following speaker was another CUNY alumna. The speaker told the audience that herself and her fellow activists will not stop organizing until the “bombs stop dropping” and not until “every inch of Palestine is free, from the river to the sea.” In agreement with the statements she made, the crowd made lots of noise. She praised the student activists that organize and rally in their local communities, telling them that they are being attacked because “they are powerful and [they] are needed.” Unlike previous generations, she said, Gen Z is unique in the fact that they are “witnesses to this oppression” of what is happening in a way unseen before. She concluded by telling the crowd, “whatever you do in this moment, will matter for generations to come.”
After about 10 minutes of various chants, WOL transitioned the demonstration to become a march through the streets around the University. The protesters began their march on 115th and Broadway, turned onto 114th Street, walked up Amsterdam Avenue, across 120th Street, and finally back down Broadway until they had completed a loop around campus. On 118th and Broadway in front of Barnard the group began chanting, “Rosenbury you can’t hide, you support a genocide.” This concluded the WOL protest.
All photos via Bwog Staff