Speaker Johnson to visit Columbia University amid protests

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) announced he will visit Columbia University on Wednesday to meet with Jewish students as the university faces massive pro-Palestine protests that have drawn the national spotlight.

Hundreds of students have occupied Columbia’s campus for days, protesting the Biden administration’s response to the Israel-Hamas war, backing a cease-fire in the conflict and urging Congress to stop sending military aid to Israel. They have also demanded Columbia divest from companies with ties to Israel and increase financial transparency.

More than 100 protesters were arrested Friday on university leaders’ orders, but demonstrations have only expanded since, now branching out to other college campuses across the country.

Johnson is set to discuss on his visit the “troubling rise of virulent antisemitism on America’s college campuses,” his office said.

The visit comes after a group of four Jewish Democrats visited campus on Monday to also meet with Jewish students. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) threatened that university President Minouche Shafik must quickly act to quell protests or face consequences from Congress.

“We are all standing here today as Jewish members of Congress to make one thing clear: Jewish students are welcome here at Columbia. And while the leadership of Columbia may be failing you, we will not,” Gottheimer said during the visit.

“We will do everything in our power to keep you safe and do everything in Washington we can to make sure that you feel welcome at this university or any university across the United States of America,” he continued. “And Columbia University, if they don’t follow through, will pay the price.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) also visited campus on Monday and denounced the protests. A White House statement Sunday similarly called the demonstrations “blatantly antisemitic.”

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.

In a statement Sunday, protest leaders 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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