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Pro-Palestinian protesters occupy Columbia University building

By Christian Wade
The Center Square 

Pro-Palestinian protesters broke windows, barricaded doors and occupied a building at New York's Columbia University overnight after school officials said they would not cede to demands from demonstrators to divest assets from the Israeli government. 

The breach of Columbia's Hamilton Hall began around 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday by students and others who have refused to leave the so-called Gaza Solidarity Encampment on the campus grounds, according to published news reports. Hundreds of students created a human chain in front of the building to block campus police. Columbia faculty members were also involved in blocking security. 

Video footage showed the demonstrators, many of whom covered their faces with masks, smashing windows and unfurling a Palestinian flag from a window as they chanted "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" and "Palestine will live forever." The protesters hung a hand-written sign reading "Hind's Hall" after a six-year-old Palestinian child who was allegedly killed by the Israeli military.

The escalation in the protests came after university officials suspended students who had refused to leave a pro-Palestinian encampment set up about two weeks ago. Columbia President Minouche Shafik has also declined to divest the university's financial holdings from Israel, a key demand of the protesters. 

The NYPD, which must get permission from the university to enter the campus, hadn't intervened in the fracas but news reports showed a heavy police presence outside the university's gates. 

University officials distributed flyers to students on Monday notifying them that they would not face suspension if they exited the encampment by 2 p.m. on Tuesday, according to published reports. It's not clear what will happen after that deadline. The university has closed school grounds to students who do not live on campus.

The demonstrations are part of a wave of anti-Israel protests that have swept U.S. college campuses over the past week in response to Israel's war in Gaza, which was prompted by the Oct. 7 attack by the terrorist group Hamas that killed 1,200 Israelis and injured many others. Hamas also took hostages, many of whom are still in captivity. 

Dozens of arrests have been made at Harvard, Yale and other elite schools as campus police and law enforcement have been called in to take down the make-shift encampments, which violate school policies. Hundreds of people have been arrested. 

At Columbia, Jewish students have said they feel unsafe with pro-Palestinian protesters chanting antisemitic slogans and holding signs, which has prompted New York lawmakers to call on the university to clear protesters that some have called "terrorist sympathizers."  

“Columbia has surrendered to the radical pro-Hamas antisemitic mob instead of securing campus and protecting Columbia’s Jewish students," U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said in a statement. "There can be no more extensions or delays. There can be no negotiations with self-proclaimed Hamas terrorists and their sympathizers."

In response to the Columbia protests, Reps. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y. and Richie Torres, D-N.Y., have filed legislation requiring the U.S. Department of Education to establish a third-party "antisemitism monitor" on any U.S. college or university receiving federal funding. 

The monitor would have the authority to recommend that universities be stripped of federal funding for not doing enough to crack down on anti-Semitic demonstrations.

"Rising antisemitism on our college campuses is a major concern and we must act to ensure the safety of students," Lawler said. "If colleges will not step up to protect their students, Congress must act."

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