Speaker’s Visit and National Guard Threat Stir Tensions Among Pro-Palestinian Protestors at Columbia University

Juliette Fairley
By Juliette Fairley
April 26, 2024US News
Speaker’s Visit and National Guard Threat Stir Tensions Among Pro-Palestinian Protestors at Columbia University
Columbia University students participate in an ongoing pro-Palestinian encampment on their campus following last week's arrest of more than 100 protesters in New York City on April 25, 2024. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Columbia University’s encampment leaders didn’t mince words about House Speaker Mike Johnson’s April 24 visit but had no comment when asked for a response to his threat of Congressional intervention.

Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys, was also reportedly seen on campus grounds on the same day, which upset some protestors.

“Columbia’s welcoming of white supremacists onto campus yesterday contributed to an unsafe atmosphere,” Khymani James, encampment spokesperson, told reporters on April 25. 

“Columbia allowed Gavin McInnes and House Speaker Mike Johnson onto our campus, choosing to appease right-wing extremists instead of listening to their own students,” said Mr. James, who is also a third-year student at Columbia College studying political science.

He denied there is a deadline to complete negotiations with university officials, preferring to reference the word “timeline.”

“It’s a timeline for negotiation,” Mr. James said. “It’s not a deadline to bring police enforcement or any other law enforcement.”

Mr. Johnson held a press conference on the steps of the library on April 24 along with U.S. Representatives Virginia Fox (R-N.C.), Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), and Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY). 

Mr. Johnson spoke to a loudly booing crowd and condemned the rise of anti-Semitic sentiments on campus.

“We’re standing here at one of America’s preeminent academic institutions, where the cherished traditions of this university are being overtaken by radical and extreme ideologies,” he said.

When questioned about what his message was to the students in the encampments, Mr. Johnson said: “Go back to class. … Stop wasting your parents’ money.”

The news conference occurred just hours after he called for university president Minouche Shafik to resign over her handling of the demonstrations.

The speaker also said he would call President Joe Biden and ask that he send the National Guard to quell the protests.

The White House responded on April 25 to Mr. Johnson’s call to send the National Guard troops to deal with pro-Palestine protests on college campuses, saying it sees this as a state issue.

“That is something that is under the governors,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One. “That is something for the governors to decide.”

Earlier this week, Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.), and Kathy Manning (D-N.C.) walked through the campus with Jewish students and visited the protest encampments established on the west lawn last week.

Jonathan Ben Menachem, 29, a Jewish fourth-year PhD sociology student at Columbia, was concerned that Mr. Johnson was allowed on campus.

“Many Jewish students still remain suspended after they were arrested last week, and we’re very concerned about Proud Boys being on campus and maybe other white supremacists,” Mr. Ben Menachem told The Epoch Times. “We’re very confused as to why they’re here.”

There have been no reports of a Proud Boys presence on campus during the protest, apart from Mr. McInnes, who disassociated himself from the group in 2018.

NTD Photo
Jonathan Ben Menachem, who is Jewish, supports the pro-Palestine encampment at Columbia University. (Juliette Fairley/The Epoch Times)

Although the U.S. House of Representatives has no standing to call in the National Guard, the federal governing body could cut the amount of money that is funneled to Columbia University and eliminate its non-profit status.

“Only state governors and the president can mobilize the National Guard,” Mike Zumbluskas, a former GOP candidate for New York’s 12th Congressional District, told The Epoch Times.

“What Congress can do is reduce a lot of the federal research grants that Columbia receives. Congress is the gatekeeper to the pocketbook. If they took away a lot of their grants, some of the top researchers might go to other schools.”

On April 18, more than 100 protesters, including the daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who is a student at Columbia, were arrested. At New York University (NYU), 120 people were arrested this week.

Ms. Omar accompanied her daughter as she returned to campus on April 25.

“Talks are ongoing,” Mr. James added. “Talks will not continue if Columbia threatens a situation akin to those at Kent State University or Jackson State by following through on their threat to call the National Guard, which is known to have murdered student protestors.”

In 1970, the Ohio National Guard killed four unarmed college students who were opposed to the Vietnam War on the Kent State University campus while at Jackson State College in Mississippi, a law student and high school student were killed while protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.

University Considering Options

Columbia University Vice President of Communication Ben Chang confirmed that a formal negotiating process with the encampment leaders is underway.

 “To underscore, we have our demands, they have theirs,” Mr. Chang said at an evening press conference.

“As President Shafik has said, we very much hope these discussions are successful. If they are not, we’ll have to consider options for restoring calm to campus.”

NTD Photo
A United for Israel March took place around the campus on April 25, 2024. (Juliette Fairley/The Epoch Times)

People in support of Israel were counter-protesting around the school.

The United For Israel March, which included Christians for Israel group members, was organized by 2022 Columbia University graduate Isidore Karten. One pro-Israel protestor among those hundreds, however, was arrested Thursday evening.

“We’re trying to get the jihadists out of our school,” Mr. Karten told The Epoch Times. “I don’t think we were heard, so we’re going back.”

With additional reporting by Savannah Hulsey Pointer.

From The Epoch Times

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