Columbia University: White House condemns antisemitism at college protests

For the fifth day, pro-Palestinian students occupy a central lawn on the Columbia University campus, on April 21, 2024
Protesters have been occupying a central lawn at New York's Columbia University [Getty Images]

The White House has condemned "blatantly antisemitic" statements during ongoing student protests against the war in Gaza.

As protests at Columbia University entered a fifth day, deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said students had the right to peaceful protest.

But he denounced "calls for violence and physical intimidation targeting Jewish students".

More than 100 students were arrested at the New York university this week.

The arrests came after police cleared a protest encampment at the elite institution.

College campuses across the US have been rocked by demonstrations for months.

The White House statement on Sunday came after videos posted online appeared to show some protesters expressing support for the 7 October attacks.

"While every American has the right to peaceful protest, calls for violence and physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community are blatantly antisemitic, unconscionable, and dangerous," the statement read.

"And echoing the rhetoric of terrorist organisations, especially in the wake of the worst massacre committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, is despicable."

Separately, President Joe Biden also denounced "blatant antisemitism" on college campuses, without directly referencing any one university.

"Even in recent days, we've seen harassment and calls for violence against Jews. This blatant antisemitism is reprehensible and dangerous - and it has absolutely no place on college campuses, or anywhere in our country," he said in a statement marking the Jewish Passover holiday.

New York Mayor Eric Adams said he was "horrified and disgusted with the antisemitism being spewed at and around the Columbia University Campus". The mayor said New York police would arrest anyone found to to be breaking the law.

On Sunday, CNN reported that a rabbi associated with the university sent a message to 300 Jewish students advising them to keep away from campus in light of the unrest.

"It deeply pains me to say that I would strongly recommend you return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved," the message said, according to CNN.

The Columbia Barnard Hillel - a Jewish campus organisation associated with Columbia and its sister college, Barnard - said it did not think Jewish students should leave the university.

But it called on the university and city authorities to do more to protect students.

The clearing of the protest encampment on Thursday was described as an "extraordinary step" by Columbia University President Dr Nemat Shafik, who said it was necessary to provide a safe environment.

Among the participants in the protest was the daughter of Minnesota politician Ilhan Omar, who has been suspended from her college.

Dr Shafik had earlier faced members of Congress to defend Columbia's efforts to tackle antisemitism.

Demonstrations against the war in Gaza continue to take place across the US, and at events attended by US President Joe Biden.

Pro-Palestinian protesters recently blocked major roads across the country, restricting access to airports including Chicago's O'Hare International and Seattle-Tacoma International, as well as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Brooklyn Bridge in New York.