White House Denounces Takeover of Building by Columbia Protesters

Emel Akan
By Emel Akan
April 30, 2024Executive Branch
The White House also commented on the occupation of the Columbia building, calling it “absolutely wrong.” This came as the Biden administration called on Hamas to accept Israel's latest ceasefire proposal.

WASHINGTON—The White House on Tuesday denounced the protests at Columbia University as “not peaceful,” calling the occupation of an academic building by pro-Palestinian demonstrators the “wrong approach.”

“The president believes that forcibly taking over a building on campus is absolutely the wrong approach. That is not an example of peaceful protests,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters during a call.

“A small percentage of students shouldn’t be able to disrupt the academic experience, the legitimate study, for the rest of the student body,” he said. “And they certainly deserve to be able to graduate and participate in a graduation ceremony.”

Dozens of students at Columbia University stormed across the campus and took over an academic building early on April 30. The incident happened a day after the school began suspending students who defied a deadline to leave the encampment. For the past two weeks, the protesters have been occupying a large portion of the lawn that stretches between the institution’s two iconic buildings, Butler Library and Low Memorial Library.

On April 29, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik said that talks with protesters had reached an impasse and asked demonstrators to depart or face suspension. The demonstrators refused to give up.

The students reportedly began occupying the hall at around 12:35 a.m.

In an emailed statement to The Epoch Times, Ben Chang, vice president for communications at Columbia University, said students had begun barricading themselves inside Hamilton Hall—a building near the South Lawn where the office of the dean is located.

“The safety of every single member of this community is paramount,” Mr. Chang said, adding that the school had alerted its campus community.

Mr. Chang noted that access to the campus had been limited to students residing in residential buildings on campus and employees who provide essential services to campus buildings, labs, and residential student life.

The protesters linked arms and blocked off the main entrance to the building at the Ivy League institution after marching across campus with chants of “free Palestine.”

Protesters also hung a sign from the front of the building that read “intifada,” which is Arabic for uprising.

On April 24, House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) visited Columbia University and urged President Biden to bring in the National Guard to end protests on American campuses.

Mr. Kirby said such a move is not under consideration. He noted that governors should decide on the deployment of the National Guard to college campuses since it is their responsibility to do so.

NTD Photo
Students/protestors lock arms to guard potential authorities against reaching fellow protestors who barricaded themselves inside Hamilton Hall, an academic building which has been occupied in past student movements, in New York on April 30, 2024. (Alex Kent/Getty Images)

“There’s no active effort to look at federalizing the National Guard at this time,” he said.

Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, issued a separate statement condemning the protests at Columbia University.

“President Biden has stood against repugnant, Antisemitic smears and violent rhetoric his entire life. He condemns the use of the term ‘intifada,’ as he has the other tragic and dangerous hate speech displayed in recent days,” he said. “President Biden respects the right to free expression, but protests must be peaceful and lawful. Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful—it is wrong. And hate speech and hate symbols have no place in America.”

In solidarity with Columbia students, pro-Palestinian protests have spread like wildfire at colleges across the United States. Police interventions in many schools—including Yale University, George Washington University, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin, and Emerson College—have resulted in over 800 arrests so far.

“We will remain until Columbia concedes to our demands,” read one whiteboard at the Columbia campus, listing the protesters’ three demands. First, they want the university to cut ties with corporations they claim are profiting “from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and military occupation of Palestine.”

Israel has repeatedly rejected the accusations of genocide in Gaza.

Protesters are also demanding financial transparency and amnesty for all teachers and students who were dismissed or disciplined for their participation in recent protests.

Some protesters feel that their anti-war campaign is reminiscent of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War at Columbia almost 60 years ago.

In the spring of 1968, protesters took over academic buildings in protest against the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. After a week-long stalemate, New York City police stormed the campus, arresting over 700 people.

“It took decades for the university to recover from those turbulent times,” according to the school’s website.

Katabella Roberts contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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