Columbia University protests: NY pols demand end to ‘truly vile’ antisemitic rhetoric from student demonstrators

Protesters at Columbia University stand shoulder to shoulder
Protesters at Columbia University stand shoulder to shoulder during a pro-Palestine protest on April 18, 2024.
Photo by Dean Moses

The Columbia University protests continued on the eve of Passover Sunday, as more disturbing reports of overt antisemitism during the pro-Palestine demonstrations have emerged — and local leaders demanded action to quell the hatred.

Mayor Eric Adams said on Sunday evening that he was “horrified and disgusted” by reports of “the antisemitism being spewed at and around the Columbia University campus” since the demonstration began on Thursday.

He cited examples in which groups of students chanted “We don’t want no Zionists here”; a woman yelled “We are Hamas,” seemingly identifying herself with the murderous terrorists behind the Oct. 7, 2023 attack in Israel; and another female demonstrator who held up a sign with an arrow pointing to Jewish students which read, “Al-Qasam’s Next Targets.”

All of these incidents have occurred days before Passover, one of the holiest celebrations on the Jewish calendar — and have caused great alarm among Jews both on and off campus. 

The mayor said he instructed the NYPD to investigate any case of possible criminal activity, and that officers would “not hesitate to arrest anyone who is found to be breaking the law.” While the NYPD went on campus and arrested dozens of demonstrators on April 18, it has since remained on patrol around the campus, allowing Columbia security to take the lead on its own property.

“Columbia University is a private institution on private property, which means the NYPD cannot have a presence on campus unless specifically requested by senior university officials,” Mayor Adams noted, who added that the NYPD stands “ready to respond if another request is made by the university, as they did on Thursday, when the NYPD successfully cleared encampments on Columbia’s South Lawn without any injuries.”

“I urge Columbia’s senior administration officials to improve and maintain an open line of communication with the NYPD to ensure the safety of all students and staff on campus, as well as the for the safety of all New Yorkers,” he added.

Other elected officials spoke out against the reported antisemitism on Sunday.

“I am appalled at the virulent antisemitism being displayed on Columbia University’s campus,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) in a statement. “Threats of violence against Jewish students and the Jewish community are horrible, despicable and wholly unacceptable. Using the rhetoric of terrorists has no place in New York, where we pride ourselves on tolerance and the right of every group to practice their religion in peace.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul echoed those sentiments: “The First Amendment protects the right to protest but students also have a right to learn in an environment free from harassment or violence. At Columbia or on any campus, threatening Jewish students with violence or glorifying the terror of Oct. 7 is antisemitism.”

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine remarked on X (formerly Twitter) that “some of the rhetoric and harassment coming out of the demonstrations at Columbia right now is truly vile.” He also shared a statement from the Columbia/Barnard Hillel group and added that both the university and city needed to do more to protect Jewish students on campus.

The Columbia/Barnard Hillel statement invited Jewish students who do not feel safe on their campus at this “time of genuine discomfort and even fear for many of us” to join them at The Kraft Center for Student Jewish Life.

“Columbia University and the City of New York must do more to protect students,” the statement from Lavine Family Executive Director Brian Cohen noted. “We call on the University Administration to act immediately in restoring calm to campus. The City must ensure that students can walk up and down Broadway and Amsterdam [Avenue] without fear of harassment.”

The Biden administration also condemned the reported antisemitism at Columbia, and demanded it end.

“While every American has the right to peaceful protest, calls for violence and physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community are blatantly antisemitic, unconscionable and dangerous,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates. “They have absolutely no place on any college campus, or anywhere in the United States of America.”

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