Apr 30, 2024 - Politics & Policy

"Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful": White House on Columbia protest

A "Free Palestine" banner hangs on a building inside Columbia University in New York city, April 30,

A "Free Palestine" banner hangs on a building inside Columbia University on April 30. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Tuesday denounced the decision by pro-Palestine protesters at Columbia University to occupy a campus building, calling such takeovers "wrong" and "not peaceful."

Why it matters: College campus protests in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza have spread across the country and become a powerful symbol of the unpopularity of the Israel-Hamas war and the Biden administration's support for Israel.

State of play: Protesters at Columbia have faced arrests and suspensions this month, with the school even temporarily canceling in-person classes amid the campus chaos.

  • Protesters breached and occupied an administrative building on Columbia's campus early Tuesday morning, barricading the entrances.
  • "The safety of every single member of this community is paramount," university spokesperson Ben Chang said in a statement Tuesday, adding that access to the Morningside campus in Manhattan is now limited.

The big picture: White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement Tuesday that President Biden condemns the use of hate speech, such as the term "intifada," that has been displayed during the protests.

  • "President Biden respects the right to free expression, but protests must be peaceful and lawful," Bates said.
  • "Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful — it is wrong. And hate speech and hate symbols have no place in America," he added.

State of play: Columbia University has been the epicenter of the college protests so far, gaining attention from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

  • Nearly 1,000 people have been arrested in connection to protests nationwide, per AP.
  • Protester demands have varied from school to school, but many are calling for universities to divest from companies with ties to Israel and to be more transparent about their investments.

Go deeper: Axios Explains: Campus protests of 2024

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