Columbia University has suspended the school’s chapters of the advocacy groups Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) through the end of the fall term after hundreds of students staged a walkout at the school’s Morningside Heights campus yesterday, Thursday, November 9. Participating activists demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, freedom for Palestine, and Columbia’s divestment from companies supporting the Israeli occupation.
The peaceful demonstration featured a living art installation in front of Columbia’s historic Alma Mater statue comprising paintings along with a “wall” of students representing the physical barrier blocking the Palestinian territories, a metaphor for the differential system practiced by the state of Israel termed by multiple international human rights organizations as “apartheid.”
The protest took place amid tight security measures, with the campus gates shut off to outsiders, public safety and police officers stationed by the protest site, and New York City Police Department helicopters seen hovering above.
On Friday, November 10, the school released a statement from Gerald Rosberg, chair of the Special Committee on Campus Safety, announcing that JVP and SJP would not be allowed to hold events or receive university funding for the remainder of the term, citing an “unauthorized event … that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” Though the statement does not specify details, a man unaffiliated with any of the protesting groups disrupted the protest with anti-Jewish chants. He was immediately booed by the students and restrained by campus security.
Among the students who participated in the walkout and protests was Noor Shalabi, an undergraduate student at Columbia College. “I’m Palestinian, my dad’s Palestinian. My grandparents were forced out in 1948,” she told Hyperallergic. “If I wasn’t here, fighting for their lives, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. Our movement has been twisted into something that’s hateful and antisemitic but that’s not why we’re here at all.”
“You should just need to be human to understand that 10,000 people being murdered is not self-defense, particularly when the aggressor has the backing of the most powerful countries in the world,” Shalabi said, citing the number of Palestinians reportedly killed since October 7, when Hamas killed a reported 1,400 Israelis.
The students had clear demands from the university, including that the administration publicly call for a ceasefire; cancel the Tel Aviv Global Center; end the dual-degree program between Tel Aviv University and Columbia University; and divest from investments in companies such as Caterpillar and Doosan Infracore, whose equipment has been used by Israel to demolish homes and construct the barrier wall. Columbia has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
Activists waved the Palestinian flag in front of the art installation by the Alma Mater statue, which was curiously cordoned off that day — a rare occurrence. During earlier protests, student protesters had draped a keffiyeh and Palestinian flags around the statue. “The administration has made a decision to cordon off the statue for reasons unknown to us,” said Bronco Yurisak, assistant director of Public Safety in Manhattanville, who was stationed at the protest.
As has been commonplace since the first demonstration in support of Palestine took place on Columbia’s campus on October 12, the rally was met by counter-protests in support of Israel and saw a number of face-offs between the two groups. One of the counter-protesters, Ben Zonshayn, said he was there because he was part of the dual-degree program that the protesters were calling to be canceled, adding that he thought there was little chance that the school would comply with that demand.
Mohsen Mahdawi, a protesting student and organizer, addressed the students supporting Israel. “I see you as human,” he asked. “Why don’t you see our people as human?”
At 3:15pm, protesting students staged a “die-in” in front of the Low Memorial Library steps, laying on the ground in a symbolic representation of the people killed. Before the action, they requested that the counter-protesters back off and make space. The two-hour protest began silently and ended with chants.
“Our voices are louder than the money they’re taking to silence us,” said Mahdawi.