On Tuesday, May 7, Columbia University Apartheid Divest held various pickets outside the homes and offices of Board of Trustees members. 

Content warning: mentions of Islamophobia and violence

At around 8 am, Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) picketed in front of the homes of Barnard Trustee Francine LeFrak and Columbia Board of Trustees members David Greenwald and Abigail Black Elbaum, as well as the office of Columbia Trustee Jeh Johnson. The three pickets began outside the Trustees’ residences and later converged in front of Johnson’s office. 

A pamphlet, circulated by demonstrators, attested that the Trustees “ordered the arrest of hundreds of peacefully protesting students in the last two weeks.” It claimed that the Trustees “unilaterally” ended negotiations with protesters and “expelled all reporters, medics, and legal observers,” referring to the NYPD’s barring of these groups from their April 30 sweep. The pamphlet also cited the cancellation of Commencement “to stifle any possible protest.” 

Demonstration pamphlet

Abigail Black Elbaum

The first picket began at Lincoln Center in front of Trustee Abigail Black Elbaum’s home. Elbaum is a Vice Chair of the Columbia Board of Trustees. She also serves on several other boards, including the New York City Police Foundation. Elbaum received her BA from Columbia College in 1992, going on to obtain an MBA. from the Columbia Business School in 1994. She began her career at JP Morgan Chase and works in real estate. 

A pamphlet given out during the pickets stated that Elbaum is also an “extensive” donor of the American Jewish Committee, who called Students for Justice in Palestine a “Hamas-supporting anti-Israel group.”

Francine LeFrak

The second picket began at 72nd Street and Park Avenue in front of Trustee Francine LeFrak’s home. Students held up signs reading “Francine Le Fascist,” “Our tuition our decision,” “Long live Hind Hall,” “Stop funding genocide,” and “You just lost a generation of donors.” 

Francine LeFrak is the president and founder of the Francine LeFrak Foundation and the Same Sky Foundation Fund, both of which have the mission to help women progress through work and education opportunities. LeFrak is the daughter of real estate businessman Samuel J. LeFrak and Ethel Stone LeFrak, a Barnard alumni and Trustee from 1981 to 1985. Barnard’s Francine LeFrak Foundation Center for Well-Being which is currently under construction and to be open in Fall 2024. 

The pamphlet circulated at the demonstration stated that Francine LeFrak “has repeatedly engaged in Islamophobic hate speech on social media,” claiming that she has “lik[ed] posts equating Islam to terrorism.” This claim relates to screenshots of LeFrak’s personal X account that began circulating within the Columbia community. In the screenshots obtained by Bwog, LeFrak liked a post that stated, “Everything I ever needed to learn about islam (sic), I learned in 5 minutes on 9/11/2001.” Francine LeFrak’s X account, although confirmed by Bwog to be previously active, does not exist as of May 7. Bwog is unable to confirm her activity beyond the screenshot below. 

Screenshots from Francine LeFrak’s X account

At 9:55 am, safety alert app Citizen reported that a pedestrian had been hit by a car at 72nd and Park. Bwog has received reports that the individual hit by the car was a demonstrator involved in the protests. It is unconfirmed whether or not they are directly affiliated with Columbia. The demonstrator was reportedly hit intentionally and was hospitalized as a result of the collision.

At around 3:30 pm, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) stated on Instagram that the individual who “intentionally” hit a protester with his car was Reuven Kahane, a follower of the Kahanist movement, a far-right Zionist ideology. SJP stated that the demonstrator who was hit by the car, a member of CUAD’s de-escalation team, was in the hospital. The post reported that this individual was also detained and “handcuffed to the bed while in the hospital.” 

SJP also attested that various other protesters were punched by counter-protesters.

David Greenwald

The third picket was located near Theodore Roosevelt Park and the Natural History Museum to protest Trustee David Greenwald. Demonstrators held a banner reading “Students called expel Greenwald” and signs reading “Greenwald we demand divestment,” “Gaza falls b/c (sic) of Greenwald,” and “Greenwald Biden’s bitch.” 

David Greenwald is a Co-Chair of the Board of Trustees at Columbia, also serving on the Dean’s Council of Columbia University Law School where he received his JD from in 1983. He currently serves as Chairman Emeritus of global law firm Fried Frank, which has counseled BlackRock, a company referred to as “the world’s most notorious war financier” in a pamphlet circulated by demonstrators. Greenwald, along with President Minouche Shafik, Trustee Co-Chairs Claire Shipman, and Task Force on Antisemitism Co-Chair David Schizer, testified before Congress on April 17 to discuss Columbia’s response to antisemitism on campus. 

Pamphlet circulated about Abigail Black Elbaum, David Greenwald, and Francine LeFrak 

Jeh Johnson

At around 10:30 am, the pickets converged at Trustee Jeh Johnson’s house on 6th Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets. Johnson is currently on the Board of Directors of Lockheed Martin and is a Partner of law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP. 

He served as United States Secretary of Homeland Security under Barack Obama between 2013 and 2017, also serving as the General Counsel of the Department of Defense between 2009 and 2012. According to his Columbia profile, Johnson is known as the “legal architect” of counterterrorism initiatives during the Obama administration. 

Papers circulated by demonstrators stated that in an NBC News discussion, Johnson said, “I think we need to stand by Israel” in a conversation about civilian deaths. The pamphlet also discussed the role of Lockheed Martin in funding weapons used by the Israeli government. 

Pamphlet circulated about Jeh Johnson 

Later Tuesday afternoon, CUAD posted various profiles of the Board of Trustees to their Instagram, calling them the “Board of Losers” who “sign off on genocide.”The post also highlighted Victor Mendelson and Claire Shipman among the other Trustees who were the target of today’s protests. 

Trustee Victor Mendelson is the Co-President and a Director of HEICO Corporation, which CUAD stated to be “a military manufacturer that contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense.”

Claire Shipman is a Co-Chair of the Board of Trustees and one of the individuals who testified before Congress on April 17. Shipman is a journalist and reported for ABC News for 15 years. CUAD’s Instagram post claimed that Shipman is linked to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In the post caption, CUAD advertised an email campaign against the Board of Trustees, calling on the public to demand divestment instead of expulsions. Sponsored by the Palestine Solidarity Working group, the campaign calls on people to email to “let [Board members] know that we hold them responsible for the violent arrests of student protestors on Columbia’s campus and for the university’s ongoing financial investment in Israeli apartheid in Gaza.” 

Bwog Managing Editor Alison Hog also contributed to the writing of this article.

Demonstration pamphlets via CUAD Instagram stories

Header image via CUAD Instagram post