On Tuesday, November 14, the Palestinian Student Union (DAR) held a protest in support of Palestine and in solidarity with the recently suspended organizations Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
Content warning: Mentions of violence.
At 4:30 pm on Tuesday, students gathered at the Sundial to show support for Palestine and to stand in solidarity with the recently-suspended student groups Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and BC/CU Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). The Palestinian Student Union (DAR) arranged the protest after the organizations were suspended on November 10.
In anticipation of the protest, the Emergency Management Operations Team announced Monday evening that the University would close all campus gates except for the main gates on 116th and Broadway and 116th and Amsterdam, as well as the entrance to Wien Hall. Campus access was restricted to CUID holders beginning at 12 pm on Tuesday. In addition to these emergency measures, there was heavy NYPD presence at entry points to campus.
The protest began with chants, including: “Free free Palestine,” “Viva, viva Palestina,” “1234, occupation no more, 5678, Israel is a terror state,” “Israel bombs, USA Pays, how many kids have you killed today,” and “Columbia, Columbia, you will see, we are all SJP.”
Throughout the demonstration, speakers reiterated the idea that, as one speaker said, “the more Columbia attempts to silence us, the louder we will be.” Another speaker told the crowd, “Columbia can shut down SJP and JVP, but they cannot shut down the movement for Palestinian liberation.”
Several Palestinian student speakers highlighted their personal experiences of the ongoing conflict. One student shared that his friend was shot in the head by the IDF; another discussed how women and children in her family were used as human shields for advancing Israeli tanks. Speakers also claimed they have to beg the Columbia administration for compassion, and even for the University to use the word “Palestine” in emails.
A speaker from Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) said the University has a history of silencing students’ efforts to advocate for Palestine. Specifically, they cited the referendum passed by Columbia College in 2020 to divest from Israel, which was vetoed by former Columbia President Lee Bollinger. The speaker then set out clear demands for the University from CUAD. First, they demanded that Columbia honor the results of the 2020 referendum and immediately divest from Israel. They also insisted the University immediately call on President Biden, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, and New York State assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Echoing previous protests, the speaker also demanded the University cancel the School of General Studies’s dual degree program with Tel Aviv University as well as the opening of the Tel Aviv Global Center, claiming these programs violate the University’s own non-discrimination policy. CUAD’s final demand was for the University to reinstate SJP and JVP and issue a formal apology for their suspension.
Multiple speakers at Tuesday’s rally also drew parallels to Columbia’s divestment from South African apartheid in the 1980s. One speaker claimed no one would have opposed Columbia divesting from South African apartheid, and said that now is students’ chance to take decisive action. Another noted that Columbia was the first Ivy League college to divest from South African apartheid, and said students now want Columbia to be the first Ivy League college to divest from Israeli apartheid. Further, several speakers argued that the University has given itself credit when pressure from student activists has led it to take necessary action in the past, but continues to “actively” and “violently” suppress the efforts of current student activists.
A speaker from JVP later claimed their organization was the only anti-Zionist Jewish group on campus, and said the group’s suspension was “obviously an attack on free speech.” The speaker also claimed anti-Zionist Jewish students do not feel safe on campus, arguing that when the University speaks of Jewish safety, it seems to only be speaking of it for those who support Israel. Lastly, they claimed that Hillel “does not value all Jewish voices the same,” saying the group proclaims to “provide a nurturing environment for students to grow…in a love for Israel.”
A member of SJP, noting she was not speaking on the group’s behalf, later shared her experience. She said students have followed her, harassed her, and recorded her, and that when she closes her eyes she sees the graphic death threats she has received. However, the speaker also said she is afraid to seek help from the University because she believes they have enabled this pattern. She also claimed that Jewish students are being spat on, that Muslim students are having their hijabs pulled off, and that students are being attacked for wearing keffiyehs. The speaker said that due to inaction by the University regarding these incidents, SJP has created its own reporting form for these incidents.
Next, a student from Student Workers of Columbia (SWC) spoke in solidarity with SJP and JVP. They stated that when they heard that the University was trying to “stifle” another student movement, they could not stand to the side and watch. The speaker subsequently reminded the crowd that the SWC shut down the University during its strike in 2021. They concluded, “There is no justice for any worker if there is no justice in Palestine.”
The protest continued well into the night, with additional speakers from the Black Students Organization, the Barnard Columbia Abolitionist Collective, and Teachers College for Palestine. As of Wednesday morning, NYPD officers were still stationed outside of the gates to Barnard and Columbia to check IDs, seemingly in preparation for two additional protests later in the day. Aside from the main gates on 116th and Broadway and 116th and Amsterdam, as well as Wien gates, the remainder of Columbia’s entrances remain closed.
All photos via Bwog Staff