Updated Apr 21, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Columbia protests draw bipartisan rebukes from Washington

Demonstrators gather outside Columbia University to support the students' "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" demonstration on campus where students protest against the university's continued financial investment in companies that profit from conflict in Gaza, in New York, United States on April 19, 2024.

Demonstrators gather outside Columbia University on April 19. Photo: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu via Getty Images

Incendiary pro-Palestinian demonstrations at Columbia University are drawing backlash from members of Congress and the White House over allegations of antisemitic incidents.

Why it matters: Columbia is the latest institution on Congress' radar for its treatment of antisemitism after Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania all came under intense scrutiny from lawmakers last year.

  • White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement that "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."
  • "We condemn these statements in the strongest terms," he said.

What they're saying: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a statement she is "appalled at the virulent antisemitism being displayed on Columbia University's campus."

  • Some Republicans went a step further than condemnation — House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) released a statement calling for Columbia President Minouche Shafik to "immediately resign."
  • Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) told Axios "those who target Jewish students need to be identified and expelled" and "college boards should dispose of any president who refuses to provide safety and security to all Jewish students."

What we're hearing: Jewish Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) and Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) plan to walk with Jewish students and speak at Columbia on Monday, spokespeople for the three lawmakers confirmed to Axios.

The backdrop: Shafik and other university leaders testified to the House Education and Workforce Committee last week over the campus climate and antisemitism since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

  • Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), a member of the panel, told Axios that Shafik "acknowledged the explosion of antisemitism at Columbia" but "sadly, the protests have become more extreme, hostile and threatening with virulently antisemitic chants."
  • Manning called for Columbia to do more to combat antisemitism and said Congress "must enact legislation to implement the steps outlined in the US National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism."

The other side: "As President Shafik has said repeatedly, the safety of our community is our number one priority," a Columbia spokesperson told Axios.

  • "Columbia students have the right to protest, but they are not allowed to disrupt campus life or harass and intimidate fellow students and members of our community."
  • "We are acting on concerns we are hearing from our Jewish students and are providing additional support and resources to ensure that our community remains safe."
  • A group of Columbia students involved in the protests said in a statement they are "frustrated by media distractions focusing on inflammatory individuals who do not represent us," saying they "firmly reject any form of hate or bigotry."

What's happening: New York City police arrested more than 100 students on Thursday and another three on Saturday in connection with the protests on Columbia's campus.

  • Demonstrations continued for a fifth day on Sunday, as protesting students pushed back on the arrests and tensions rise at the prestigious university amid heightened concerns over antisemitism on campus.
  • A rabbi at the school earlier on Sunday urged Jewish students to "return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved," CNN reports.

What to watch: New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Sunday that the NYPD has "an increased presence of officers situated around the campus to protect students and all New Yorkers on public streets."

  • "As mayor of the city with the largest Jewish community in the world outside of Israel, the pain these protests are causing Jews across the globe is not lost on me, especially as we start Passover tomorrow evening."

Go deeper: Antisemitism has no place on college campuses but debate does, Columbia president says

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Columbia students involved in the protests.

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