Columbia University classes go online amid pro-Palestinian protests

Columbia University was forced to take its classes online on Monday (April 22) amid rising tensions and safety concerns on the campus. This decision comes amid pro-Palestinian protests that have continued for five days and reports of anti-Semitic harassment directed at Jewish students.

Columbia University President Nemat ‘Minouche’ Shafik announced a same-day shift to virtual classes as a means to “de-escalate the rancour” and “give us all a chance to consider next steps”, encouraging students living off campus to refrain from coming to campus and faculty and staff who can work remotely to do so, reported the Columbia Spectator news portal.

She condemned the anti-Semitic language and intimidating behaviour reported by students.

“The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days,” Shafik said in a statement, reported the NBC news.

“These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas. We need a reset,” she added.

Shafik’s announcement followed mounting calls for action.

In a letter shared on social media Sunday, Chabad at Columbia said students have had offensive rhetoric hurled at them, including being told to “go back to Poland” and “stop killing children”, reported the NBC news.

Shafik pledged to take action and announced a security plan that includes hiring additional security personnel, stricter ID checks, and heightened security during Passover.


The decision to move classes online follows growing pressure from various groups to protect Jewish students.

Rabbi Elie Buechler of the Columbia/Barnard Hillel and Kraft Centre for Jewish Student Life recommended that Jewish students return home for their safety, citing the university’s and city police’s inability to “guarantee Jewish students’ safety in the face of extreme antisemitism and anarchy”.

The Columbia Jewish Alumni Association echoed these concerns in a letter to Shafik, claiming the environment on campus has been hostile to Jewish students.

In an undated video, posted on X by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, shows a woman raising slogans in Hindi in favour of a free Palestine as her fellow protesters chant “azadi” in chorus.

White House Press Secretary Andrew Bates also condemned the anti-Semitic rhetoric and threats targeting Jewish students.

“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 — they have absolutely no place on any college campus, or anywhere in the United States of America,” Bates said.

“Echoing the rhetoric of terrorist organisations, especially in the wake of the worst massacre committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, is despicable,” Bates continued, referring to Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, where 1,200 were killed, reported the NBC news.


One of the groups at the centre of the controversy, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, distanced themselves from the violence and hateful imagery.

They issued a statement on social media platform X, calling some of those getting attention for threats and aggression “inflammatory individuals who do not represent us”.

The group claimed its members “have been misidentified by a politically motivated mob”.


Columbia University’s President Nemat Minouche Shafik authorised the New York Police Department to clear an encampment supporting Gaza on campus of pro-Palestinian protesters on Thursday, resulting in the arrest of 113 protesters.

Shafik stated in the letter to the police that the group was breaking university rules and that the encampment posed a threat to the university’s functioning. Police described those arrested as peaceful during a news conference.

“It feels like it’s part of a repressive campaign against pro-Palestine advocacy that has been going on for months now. We are being criminalised on our own campus,” Columbia student Maryam Alwan, who helped organise the pro-Palestinian protest, was quoted as saying by NBC.

Isra Hirsi, daughter of US Representative Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, was also arrested and said the encampment was community-centered.

Representative Elise Stefanik, of New York, criticised Shafik’s response to antisemitism on campus and called for her resignation.

Columbia is not alone in experiencing such tensions. Universities across the country, including The New School, Yale, Tufts, MIT, Emerson, and USC, have all seen protests and demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Published By:

Girish Kumar Anshul

Published On:

Apr 22, 2024

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