Students fight escalating repression on US campuses

Across the US, students are mobilizing in defense of Palestinian rights.

Sustained protests have been organized in direct opposition to university administrations’ relationships with Israeli institutions and investments in corporations that aid and abet Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

Israel lobby groups have mounted escalating attacks on students who support Palestinian liberation, and have worked with university administrations to crack down on student activism and speech.

In New York City, the Columbia University administration suspended the campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace in late 2023.

Earlier this month, after students organized an event focused on Palestine, the administration suspended four students and issued them eviction orders from student housing with only 24 hours notice.

On 17 April, students at Columbia began an occupation of the East Lawn on campus, bringing tents and banners to establish a “liberated zone” in defense of students whom the university has criminalized for protesting Israel’s genocide in Gaza.

On 18 April, in an attempt to quash the protests, Columbia University’s president Minouche Shafik authorized the New York City Police Department to remove and arrest students in the encampments.

The university also suspended several students.

This followed Shafik’s appearance before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education and the Workforce, in which she threw Columbia students and faculty under the bus to appease members of Congress and their efforts to smear anti-genocide protesters as anti-Jewish bigots.
Shafik’s efforts to stop the rising tide of protests have not worked.
Since Thursday afternoon, a spontaneous protest began on the West Lawn – and it is still ongoing at the time of publication.
Even the NYPD admitted that Shafik’s stated justification for authorizing police to remove students from the encampment contradicted what they saw.
Students at Columbia have pointed to the historic 1968 protests on campus as inspiration for the current mobilization against Israel’s genocide in Gaza and the university’s complicity.
Students have organized solidarity protests at Miami University in Ohio and at the University of North Carolina.
Earlier this week, before the encampments began at Columbia University, I spoke with four students from around the US who are fighting back against their colleges’ repression and attacks by Israel lobby organizations.

K., a student at Columbia University who did not wish to be named, talked about the administration’s recent disciplinary actions against student activists in an effort to destroy the anti-genocide movement.

Safiyyah Ogundipe, a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the campus’ Coalition Against Apartheid, explained the relationships between the university and US weapons manufacturers which work to supply Israel with high-tech weapons.

Lea Kayali at Harvard Law School told us about the divestment organizing there as well as administrative punishment over Palestine solidarity activism, and what material ties there are between Harvard and Israeli institutions.

Sabirah M. is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania and told us about students who faced administrative discipline for screening a documentary on Zionism, Israel’s state ideology.

Watch the entire episode above, or listen via SoundCloud below.

Video production by Tamara Nassar

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).