Adams blames ‘outside agitators’ for problems at Columbia protests as students dig in

Large-scale pro-Palestine protests at Columbia University entered their sixth day Tuesday, with hundreds of students camping out with police watching over them from outside the campus gates.

New York Mayor Eric Adams (D) said the protests have been mostly peaceful, blaming “outside agitators” for causing problems with authorities.

“We can’t have outside agitators come in and be disruptive,” Adams said at a press conference Tuesday, committing additional resources to help Columbia quell the protests, including security measures to ensure that only students can enter campus.

“We need to address this while it’s a spark. Let’s not wait until it’s a blaze,” he added.

Protests have grown substantially since university leadership had more than 100 students arrested Friday, and similar protest camps have popped up on university campuses nationwide in recent days.

Other protests have also sparked arrests, with at least nine students arrested at the University of Minnesota on Tuesday and dozens arrested at both Yale University and New York University on Monday.

Columbia President Minouche Shafik has been taking criticism from both sides of the aisle as well as growing unrest from students against her decision to arrest protesters.

On Tuesday, Barnard College suspended more than 50 students for participating in the protest, The Columbia Spectator reported. Suspended Barnard students, including the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), said they have been barred from their campus housing and lack access to food.

“I don’t know when I can go home, and I don’t know if I ever will be able to,” Isra Hirsi, Omar’s daughter, said Sunday. “I haven’t formally been evicted. I haven’t been sent a ‘move out’ email, but they’ve just said that I can’t get in, whatever that means.”

“I have like four shirts, two pairs of pants. Only Barnard students are evicted, and I think it’s pretty crazy,” she continued.

In addition to opposing American military support for Israel and urging a permanent cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, the protesters have demanded that Columbia divest from companies that operate in Israel and have called for additional financial transparency for the university’s endowment.

“This is what we are here for — calling for an end to genocide and for Columbia to financially divest from the violent Zionist settler entity,” a student protester who only identified themselves as W told CNN on Tuesday. “We are putting our principles into action, and we plan to continue to do so by being here every day until Columbia divests.”

The Columbia protests have been under the political spotlight, with the campus the site of visits from Gov. Kathy Hochul (D), a group of Jewish Democrats on Monday and a planned visit from Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Wednesday.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been critical of the protests, with the Biden administration Sunday calling them “blatantly antisemitic.” New York’s 10 Republican representatives signed a letter Monday demanding Shafik resign over her handling of the demonstrations.

A sizable number of the protesters are Jewish, with a large group holding a Passover Seder from the protest camp on Monday to celebrate the beginning of the holiday.

One Jewish student protester, who did not identify themselves, fought back against characterizations of the demonstrations as not representative of the opinions of Jewish people or as antisemitic.

“No matter how hard the president’s PR campaign and the state of Israel tries to pretend, I am the Jewish future,” they said at a press conference Tuesday. “As someone who was taught to love the state of Israel from my birth, this is what unlearning generational trauma looks like. I am an inconvenience to the PR campaign that is the state of Israel.”

In a statement Sunday, protest leaders had rejected claims that participants encouraged violence against Jewish people or advocated for antisemitism.

“We are frustrated by media distractions focusing on inflammatory individuals who do not represent us,” the leaders wrote in a statement Sunday. “Our members have been misidentified by a politically motivated mob.”

“We firmly reject any form of hate or bigotry and stand vigilant against non-students attempting to disrupt the solidarity being forged among students,” they continued. “Palestinian, Muslim, Arab, Jewish, Black and pro-Palestinian classmates and colleagues who represent the full diversity of our country.”

In response to the criticisms of Columbia’s administration, Shafik said earlier Monday in a statement that she is “deeply saddened” by the campus protests.

“The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days,” she said. “These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas. We need a reset.”

“There is a terrible conflict raging in the Middle East with devastating human consequences,” she continued. “But we cannot have one group dictate terms and attempt to disrupt important milestones like graduation to advance their point of view. Let’s sit down and talk and argue and find ways to compromise on solutions.”

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