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Columbia moves classes online amid growing anti-Semitic unrest

Police stand guard as demonstrators chant outside Columbia University campus Associated Press/Photo by Mary Altaffer

Columbia moves classes online amid growing anti-Semitic unrest

Rabbi Elie Buechler advised Jewish students at Columbia University to return home on Sunday for their safety, citing extreme anti-Semitism and anarchy on campus, according to Columbia’s campus newspaper. University President Minouche Shafik said classes would be held virtually on Monday to de-escalate tensions on campus while administrators consider next steps. She condemned the recent rise in anti-Semitic language on campus and encouraged students to report all instances of intimidation. She also said a group of university deans and other leaders will continue discussions with student protesters and identify actions the university can take to promote peace and respectful dialogue. Tensions at Columbia reached a fever pitch last week when over 100 demonstrators were arrested for camping out in protest on campus for over 30 hours. The school also suspended all students involved with the protests following several warnings, according to Shafik.

Supporting a terrorist organization that aims to kill Jews is sickening and despicable, New York City Mayor Eric Adams wrote in a statement released Sunday. He described horror and disgust at a woman holding a sign with an arrow pointing to Jewish students reading “Al-Qasam’s Next Targets.” The rise in blatant anti-Semitism is reprehensible and dangerous and has no place in America, U.S. President Joe Biden wrote in a similar statement honoring the Jewish Passover. Biden reiterated his support for Israel in its war against Hamas.

Tensions on American college campuses have been high since Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel, prompting ideological clashes between Jewish, Muslim, and Arab students. Anti-Semitism has seen a particular rise, prompting lawsuits from Jewish student groups on campuses across the country. Presidents from the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology seemingly confirmed the trend but stopped short of condemning anti-Semitism on campus while testifying before Congress last December.

What’s going on today? The New York Police Department reiterated that authorities may not engage with matters on campus unless specifically requested by campus authorities, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Mike Gerber said on Monday. Officers would maintain a heavy presence in areas surrounding campus and would not tolerate harassment, threats, or property damage.

What other Ivy League schools are experiencing unrest? Over 40 pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrating on Yale’s campus were arrested on Monday, according to the Yale Daily News. Authorities warned protesters encamped in over 40 tents to disperse on Sunday night and Monday morning, Yale Police Chief Anthony Campbell told the campus paper. Video from Monday morning appears to show over 300 protesters blocking an intersection following the arrests, chanting “Free, free Palestine” and “We demand that Yale divest.” The latter chant refers to a demand by protesters that the schools separate themselves from corporations that benefit from the war in Gaza. Harvard University has also braced for protests and restricted access to the campus’ historic Yard, Harvard’s campus newspaper reported. Signs posted at the Yard’s entrance warn of disciplinary measures against any Harvard affiliates who raise tents, tables, or other structures to block building entrances.

Dig deeper: Read Josh Schumacher’s report in The Sift on the FBI monitoring threats to Jewish Americans during Passover.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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