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Columbia Protesters Get Deadline Extension After Vowing to Take Down Tents

HomeWARColumbia Protesters Get Deadline Extension After Vowing to Take Down Tents

NEW YORK – A tense week-long standoff between student protesters and administrators at Columbia University showed signs of easing on Wednesday, as the two sides agreed to a 48-hour extension of negotiations after protesters said they would take down a “significant number” of tents from their encampment on campus.

The protest, organized by the coalition group Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), began last week with dozens of pro-Palestinian students setting up tents on the university’s Manhattan campus. Their aim was to pressure Columbia to divest from companies that support or profit from Israel’s military actions in the occupied Palestinian territories amidst the ongoing violence in Gaza.

While the encampment started peacefully, it soon devolved into a tense and polarizing situation. Over 100 protesters were arrested for trespassing last Thursday when police were called in to try to clear the camp. But students remained undeterred, pitching over 100 new tents in defiance after their initial removal.

Rising Safety Concerns

In a statement on Tuesday night, Columbia President Minouche Shafik cited “serious safety concerns” and a “tense and at times hostile environment” created by the prolonged encampment as reasons for demanding its dismantling.

“The encampment raises serious safety concerns, disrupts campus life, and has created a tense and at times hostile environment for many members of our community,” Shafik stated. “It is essential that we move forward with a plan to dismantle it.”

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However, after extended negotiations on Wednesday, the university said the students had agreed to take down “a significant number” of tents in exchange for the extended 48-hour negotiating period through 4am Friday.

“There has been significant progress made in the negotiations,” read a university statement, not providing specific numbers on how many of the estimated 100+ tents would be removed.

For their part, CUAD representatives confirmed the deadline extension but denied agreeing to any tent removal, claiming Columbia had rescinded earlier alleged threats of calling in the National Guard to forcibly clear the camp if they didn’t accept an “empty offer.”

“The university threatened to bring NYPD/National Guard if we don’t agree to their ’empty offer’ so we left the negotiations table as we didn’t see it as productive and in good faith,” said Mahmoud Khalil, a Palestinian student involved in the talks.

Columbia denied ever threatening to involve the National Guard, with spokesperson Ben Chang telling Reuters “There is absolutely no basis to make that claim.”

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Accusations of Anti-Semitism

The prolonged encampment has stoked wider controversy, particularly among pro-Israeli groups who have accused the protesters of anti-Semitism and creating an unsafe climate for Jewish students on campus.

Some of Columbia’s donors, alumni groups, and Republican members of Congress have lambasted President Shafik for not acting more decisively to shut down the protest, with some calling for her resignation.

On Wednesday, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, announced plans to travel to Manhattan to meet with Jewish students at Columbia, joining the chorus demanding Shafik’s ouster over her “failure to quell the anti-Semitic protests.”

However, many of the university’s Jewish students have pushed back against characterizations of the protest as being overtly anti-Semitic or making them feel threatened.

“What I feel right now is that I think my identity as a Jewish person has been used by a lot of politicians to excuse infringement on free expression,” said Columbia freshman Jacob Gold, who was observing the protest encampment on Tuesday. “Perhaps not on my personal free expression but on the free expression of many other college students, and that’s extremely concerning to me as a precedent.”

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Spreading to Other Campuses

As the standoff at Columbia captured national headlines, similar pro-Palestinian divestment protests began spreading to other college campuses across the country this week.

At the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, an encampment of student protesters was being established to echo the demands of their counterparts at Columbia. Fiery demonstrations and counter-protests have also broken out at UC Berkeley and other California schools.

Palestinian student Mahmoud Khalil maintained that despite the heated rhetoric, the actual Columbia protest itself has remained peaceful, blaming any inflammatory actions on “outsiders not connected with their movement.”

Vowing to Continue

In addition to divestment from companies tied to Israeli forces, CUAD protesters say they will not end the Columbia encampment until the university grants amnesty to all students and faculty members disciplined or suspended during the demonstrations.

With negotiations now extended through Friday morning, all eyes will be on whether a resolution can be reached to end the disruptive 10-day impasse, or if the protest will persist into another weekend – continuing to fuel the contentious debate around Israeli-Palestinian relations that has gripped college campuses nationwide.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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