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Columbia’s One-Two Punch Against Pro-Palestine Protest… 

and How Students & Faculty Have Flipped the Script

Columbia University students encampment for Palestine, April 15, 2024.


Columbia University students encampment for Palestine, April 15, 2024. Photo: Special to   

On Wednesday, April 17, the Republi-fascist bloc in the House of Representatives planned to strike yet another blow against the students protesting the U.S.-Israeli genocide now raging against Palestinians in Gaza. At previous hearings the Republi-fascists had already set up and driven out the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania for not being “tough enough” with students and faculty who were protesting. Now Columbia University’s president Minouche Shafik would be appearing before them.

Even before the December hearings, college administrations had begun to ban certain organizations, institute strict new rules against protests, and suspend some students. This escalated throughout the winter. By the first few weeks in April, Pomona College had called in police to arrest 20 non-violent protesters, and the University of Southern California canceled the valedictory speech to be given by Asna Tabassum, a Muslim student who had expressed sympathies for the Palestinian cause.

As we’ll get into, Shafik not only eagerly went along with every demand from the fascists, she ordered mass arrests at Columbia when students again demonstrated to demand an end to the genocide in Gaza the very day she testified. Not satisfied, she decreed that every student who protested was to be suspended and driven from campus housing.

But this one-two punch of the hearings and then the arrests did NOT intimidate students and faculty from further protests—and students across the country, as well as progressive people in New York City, and even worldwide have joined them in solidarity. This time, the script was flipped. What happened—and where this needs to go—are what this article will get into.

Tent City at Columbia University in support of Palestine, as arrests begin


Tent city at Columbia University in support of Palestine, as arrests begin on Thursday, April 18.    Photo by Hyperallergic. #cu4palestine

Unprecedented Protests, Unprecedented Repression & Assaults on Universities

For decades, support for Israel has gone largely unquestioned in the U.S. But Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza sparked mass protests across the country that have been bigger and more fierce than pro-Palestinian actions in the past. The protests, reportedly 2,874 of them as of March 25, have been centered on college campuses, with Columbia University in New York City a key center. 

But Israel is not just any country. It is the strategic attack dog for U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. For this reason, the ruling powers have countered with a nationwide campaign of repression targeting the universities

They’ve carried out this reactionary campaign under the banner of protecting Jewish students from “anti-Semitism” (hatred or bias against Jewish people). But how are they defining anti-Semitism? With the big lie that virtually any criticism of the settler colonial, apartheid, genocidal state of Israel—including by Jewish protesters no less!—equals anti-Semitism and calls for genocide of Jews. All this to deflect attention from the real genocide happening right now to Palestinians in Gaza, and to crush any serious questioning of why this is happening.

Columbia President Crawls to Washington

On Wednesday, April 17, Columbia University’s President Minouche Shafik and three other Columbia officials went to Washington, DC, for an appearance before the House of Representatives Committee on Education & the Workforce.

This Committee’s repressive moves have been spearheaded by Republi-fascists. Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik has made her name by forcing presidents of Harvard and UPenn to resign after aggressively attacking their responses to anti-Israel protests at a December hearing for not being repressive enough. (Christopher Rufo, the fascist mastermind behind the attacks on liberal education, literally used the word “scalped” to describe their forced resignations.)1 

Shafik's appearance was anticipated on the campus, with faculty and students warning of her likely capitulation and betrayal. On April 10, some 30 Jewish faculty issued a powerful statement—"Jewish faculty reject the "weaponization of antisemitism"—condemning the equating of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. And at 4:00 am the morning of Shafik’s testimony, Columbia students carried out a very bold, courageous action: more than 100 ignored Columbia’s anti-protest regulations and set up a protest encampment on the main plaza’s South Lawn.

Even Worse Than Imagined: University President Jumps on Fascist Bandwagon

When Wednesday’s hearing came, it became clear it was even worse than feared. Shafik and the other Columbia higher-ups who accompanied her not only groveled before the fascists, but at times joined them in their full-on assault on academic freedom and the right to protest. In addition, she reinforced the total myth that all protest against the state of Israel is by definition anti-Semitic. 

“Yes, it is,” all four Columbia officials repeated, one after the other, like an amen chorus. 

But the whole premise of the question was bogus and inflammatory. These “esteemed scholars” ignored the actual and obvious realities that a) none of the protests have called for genocide against Jews, and b) what the protests have called for is an end to the actual genocide being carried out now—in Gaza by the U.S. and Israel!

When a Republican Christian fascist asked Shafik (the president of a secular—non-religious—university) if she wanted “Columbia University to be cursed by God,” as the Bible’s Old Testament warned those who criticize Israel would be, she dignified and legitimized this fundamentalist lunacy by going right along with the program: “Definitely not,” she replied.

The most astounding moment in this was when Shafik agreed—on the spot—to terminate a professor for political views and speech, an action that is supposed to require extensive hearings and due process.   

Most of the Democrats went along with the poisonous framework of this whole hearing, conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. This was a stark illustration of the fact that the liberal section of this system's rulers has gone along with the terms set by the fascists and has, in the main, worked to suppress the protests. 

So while the Democrats and Republi-fascists are locked in a deadly clash over how best to rule, both are firmly united that Israel is crucial to that rule and that the growth of a movement in which a strong section calls into question the legitimacy of the Zionist state must be stopped.

The Next Day Shafik Keeps Her Reactionary Promise with Mass Arrests

Throughout the hearings, Shafik bragged about all the reactionary repression she’d unleashed at Columbia—including firing or removing five faculty members from their classrooms, and suspending 15 students and two student groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace—among other outrages. And she promised to do even more going forward.

She kept that unconscionable promise the next day, Thursday, April 18: she designated the students’ nonviolent, antiwar encampment a “clear and present danger” to the University’s functioning and called in the NYPD. 

At 1:30 pm, dozens of NYPD riot cops descended on the encampment of students on the South Lawn of Columbia University. Hundreds of students had been there in tents overnight, demanding that Columbia sever military and other ties to Israel; an immediate ceasefire in the war; and expressing love and solidarity for the Palestinian people who are being subjected to genocide through bombs, bullets and famine with full U.S. backing.

Over the next hour, 108 people—including two clearly identifiable legal observers—had their wrists zip-tied and were arrested, packed into NYPD buses, taken to lock-up and held for up to eight hours. Most were charged with trespassing and/or disorderly conduct. 

It was the largest mass arrest on the Columbia campus since 1968.

Meanwhile, administrators at Columbia and its sister campus, Barnard, were suspending those same students. This is a big deal: suspended students cannot go to class or hand in work related to their courses, so they may not be able to finish their semesters. Campus ID is canceled, making dining rooms and dorms off-limits, rendering them suddenly homeless. Some students got emails telling them they had 15 minutes to clear out of their rooms

The Mask of Democracy Comes Off, Students Step Up

But in an important sign of the times, Shafik’s betrayal and the mass arrest of student protesters provoked immediate outrage, condemnation, and further protest—from many quarters.  

Students regrouped and immediately reoccupied the central campus with another protest encampment on the lawn next to the encampment shut down by the University and NYPD. Groups from across New York City came to the campus gates in solidarity and protest. Campuses across the country—and worldwide—set up protest encampments of their own. Columbia’s encampment had turned into a clarion call to stop the genocide in Gaza. Very significantly, it’s still standing—the University has apparently felt it didn’t have the freedom to move against it right now.

Diverse voices at Columbia denounced Shafik’s testimony and her mass arrests. Columbia’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement declaring it had “lost confidence in our president and our administration, and we pledge to fight to reclaim our university.”2 

Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine3 called on faculty to “boycott graduation and academic events, until the university lifts student suspensions and withdraws financial support from Israel, among other demands.”

An editorial by the campus paper Columbia SpectatorIs Columbia in crisis?—offered a scathing critique of Shafik and concluded that Columbia was indeed in crisis—due not to the protests but to her actions. In an interview on Democracy Now!, Columbia professor Rebecca Jordan-Young said that at the hearing we saw “a live performance of [Shafik] not just throwing protesters and specific professors under the bus... but, in fact, throwing the entire university system under the bus...” Students and faculty were furious as they saw the mask of “free inquiry,” “freedom of assembly,” “the right to protest” and other “democratic values” that Columbia supposedly embraced and defended evaporate in real time. 

What all these people were confronting is the ugly face of bourgeois (capitalist) dictatorship that lies behind the mask of bourgeois “democracy.” When the interests of their system—capitalism-imperialism—come under threat, “rights” and “rational discourse” are out the window and down comes the hammer of repression, even on relatively privileged sections of the population as students at elite colleges. 

But as Bob Avakian (BA) points out in his social media message, Revolution #17, in addition to seeking to defend their attack dog (Israel), 

… this repression is happening because representatives of the ruling class in this country have a definite sense that if youth especially at “elite” universities begin to seriously question and act against what this system is doing—if the system “loses the allegiance” of large numbers of those students—that can be a big factor in creating a real crisis for the system as a whole, as happened in the 1960s: a crisis that, now more than ever, this system really cannot afford, when the whole country is already being torn apart by deep divisions, with bitter clashes right among the ruling powers.

A Call to Everyone: There Are No Easy Answers… But There Are Answers

Everyone heartsick at the ongoing genocide in Gaza... everyone inspired by the courage of the students: join these protests! From the elite universities to the state colleges and the ghettos and barrios, to artists and intellectuals and ALL people who care… these protests need you.

To all the students putting your bodies and diplomas and perhaps your future careers on the line: your courageous resistance matters and can challenge millions more. 

Keep going, and go deeper! Now, especially and urgently is a time for digging seriously into the real driving cause of this genocide in Gaza, the repression coming down on you and what all this shows about the utter inhumanity and illegitimacy of this system. Dig into the new compilation from The Bob Avakian Institute—Israel and Palestine, the Middle East and U.S. Imperialism, the Revolution Humanity Needs. A selection of writings from Bob Avakian—that goes deep into this question from many different angles.

Many have made the connection between today and 1968 at Columbia—when people shut the school down to protest the genocidal war in Vietnam and the oppressive conditions in Harlem, and braved police repression and arrests. Today, there’s a new genocidal war in Gaza and there have been other U.S.-sponsored genocidal wars between then and now, as well. The masses of Black people in the urban cores remain bitterly oppressed, and other forms of oppression from those times also persist. What’s even worse is that the system is rapidly destroying the environment and the threat of nuclear war looms ever larger—including quite possibly as something that could spiral out of the war in Gaza.

Revolution remains necessary, even more necessary at a time when the stakes are even higher—and if you look beneath the surface, it is even more possible today. This too is gone into by Bob Avakian, in Real Revolution, In This Time: What the Powers-That-Be Don’t Want You to Know

Get into this… and make up your own mind. It’s too serious not to.

And join us, then, on Revolutionary Internationalist May Day. Be part of saying loud and clear: 

We Need and We Demand 
Revolution for a Whole New Way to Live, 
A Fundamentally Different System!
Stop the U.S./Israeli Genocide of Palestinians NOW!
Stop Capitalism-Imperialism from Stealing Our Future!

Don't say that revolution can't happen in the U.S. And don't say: if it did, it would be far off! This is wrong. Listen to a series of audio dispatches from Bob Avakian:

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1. Scalping refers to the practice of cutting off the hair and skin off the heads of Native people for a reward during the long centuries of genocide against the Native peoples in the U.S. [back]

2. Faculty Group at Columbia Says It Has ‘Lost Confidence’ in the President, New York Times, April 19, 2024. [back]

3. "We are a collective of Columbia University, Barnard College & Teachers College faculty, staff and graduate workers dedicated to Palestinian freedom." [back]

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From the genocide in Gaza, to the growing threat of world war between nuclear powers, to escalating environmental devastation… the capitalist-imperialist system ruling over us is a horror for billions around the world and is tearing up the fabric of life on earth. Now the all-out battle within the U.S. ruling class, between fascist Republicans and war criminal Democrats, is coming to a head—likely during, or before, the coming elections—ripping society apart unlike anything since the Civil War. 

Bob Avakian (BA), revolutionary leader and author of the new communism, has developed a strategy to prepare for and make revolution. He’s scientifically analyzed that this is a rare time when an actual revolution has become more possible, and has laid out the sweeping vision, solid foundation and concrete blueprint for “what comes next,” in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America

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