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NYPD breaks up pro-Palestinian protest at Columbia University


New York City police officers in riot gear began making dozens of arrests at Columbia University Thursday afternoon, after school president Minouche Shafik asked for help clearing protesters from a pro-Palestinian encampment.

In a letter sent to the NYPD, Shafik said "the encampment and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger" to the school.

"With great regret, we request the NYPD's help to remove these individuals," Shafik wrote.

The school's student-run newspaper, the Columbia Spectator, reported that "over 100 individuals" were arrested at the "Gaza Solidarity Encampment" beginning around 1 pm.

The protest and encampment were organized by activists who want Columbia University to divest from companies that operate in Israel. Protesters also want a cease-fire in Gaza and the creation of a Palestinian state.

The clash at Columbia came a day after the university's leaders, including Shafik, testified before a Congressional hearing in Washington DC that antisemitism was a growing concern.

Columbia trustee Claire Shipman responded to one lawmaker's question, saying "we have a moral crisis on our campus."

In an email sent to NPR, an organization called the Institute for Middle East Understanding said protests at the university would continue.

Columbia University president Nemat Shafik testified before a House committee Wednesday. On Thursday she urged NYPD officials to break up a pro-Palestinian protest on the campus in New York City.
Jose Luis Magana / AP
Columbia University president Minouche Shafik testified before a House committee Wednesday. On Thursday she urged NYPD officials to break up a pro-Palestinian protest on the campus in New York City.

"Despite the University's threats, the Gaza Solidarity Encampment will remain until Columbia University divests all finances, including the endowment, from corporations that profit from Israeli apartheid," the group said.

In a statement posted on Columbia University's website Thursday, Shafeek said that asking for police help to clear the protest encampment was "an extraordinary step because these are extraordinary circumstances."

"This morning, I had to make a decision that I hoped would never be necessary," she said.

Meanwhile, the daughter of Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Ohmar was suspended from Barnard College on Thursday for taking part in the Columbia University protest.

"Those of us in Gaza Solidarity Encampment will not be intimidated," Isra Hirsi, age 21, wrote on social media. "We will stand resolute until our demands are met."

NPR's Elissa Nadworny contributed reporting. contributed to this story

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Corrected: April 20, 2024 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled one instance of Minouche Shafik's name.
Brian Mann
Brian Mann is NPR's first national addiction correspondent. He also covers breaking news in the U.S. and around the world.