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Students breach campus building as Columbia suspends pro-Palestinian protesters

Wave of Gaza protests rock college campuses across US, with Columbia University at the epicenter; police arrest dozens of students and deploy pepper spray during a pro-Palestinian rally at University of Texas at Austin
Pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University broke into the Hamilton building on campus early Tuesday, smashing a glass door to move their encampment inside after the institution's administration ordered to dismantle it.
The building, the historic site of the 1968 anti-Vietnam War and anti-racism protests, became the new center of demonstrations against Israel's military actions in Gaza.
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נשיאת קולומביה, מפגינים פרו פלסטינים ב אוניברסיטת קולומביה
נשיאת קולומביה, מפגינים פרו פלסטינים ב אוניברסיטת קולומביה
Pro-Palestinian protesters, Columbia University President Nemat Minouche Shafik
(Photo: Jose Luis Magana / AP, Kena Betancur / AFP)
On Monday, Columbia began suspending student activists who refused to dismantle the protest camp, following a deadlock in negotiations aimed at resolving the contentious demonstration.
University President Nemat Minouche Shafik said in a statement that days of negotiations between student organizers and academic leaders had failed to persuade demonstrators to remove the dozens of tents set up to express opposition to Israel's war in Gaza.
The crackdown at Columbia, at the center of Gaza-related protests roiling university campuses across the U.S. in recent weeks, came as police at the University of Texas at Austin arrested dozens of students whom they doused with pepper spray at a pro-Palestinian rally.
Columbia sent a letter on Monday morning warning that students who did not vacate the encampment by 2 p.m. ET and sign a form promising to abide by university policies would face suspension and become ineligible to complete the semester in good standing.
"We have begun suspending students as part of this next phase of our efforts to ensure safety on our campus," said Ben Chang, a university spokesperson, at a briefing on Monday evening.
"The encampment has created an unwelcoming environment for many of our Jewish students and faculty and a noisy distraction that interferes with the teaching, learning and preparing for final exams," Chang said.
Earlier, Shafik said Columbia would not divest from finances in Israel, a key demand of the protesters. Instead, she offered to invest in health and education in Gaza and make Columbia's direct investment holdings more transparent.
Protesters have vowed to keep their encampment on the Manhattan campus until Columbia meets three demands: divestment, transparency in university finances, and amnesty for students and faculty disciplined for their part in the protests.
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הפגנה באוניברסיטת קולומביה
הפגנה באוניברסיטת קולומביה
Pro-Palestinian protester at Columbia University
(Photo: Alex Kent / Getty Images )
"These repulsive scare tactics mean nothing compared to the deaths of over 34,000 Palestinians. We will not move until Columbia meets our demands or we are moved by force," leaders of the Columbia Student Apartheid Divest coalition said in a statement read at a news conference following the deadline.
Hundreds of demonstrators, many wearing traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarves, marched around the perimeter of the encampment chanting, "Disclose! Divest! We will not stop, we will not rest."
Shafik faced an outcry from many students, faculty and outside observers for summoning New York City police two weeks ago to clear the protest camp.
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הפגנות פרו-פלסטיניות נגד ישראל באוניברסיטת קולומביה בניו יורק
הפגנות פרו-פלסטיניות נגד ישראל באוניברסיטת קולומביה בניו יורק
Pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia university
(Photo: Reuters)
After more than 100 arrests were made, students restored the encampment on a hedge-lined lawn of the university grounds within days of the April 18 police action.
Since then, students at dozens of campuses from California to New England have set up similar encampments to demonstrate their anger over the Israeli operation in Gaza and the perceived complicity of their schools in it.
At least 40 students were arrested at the University of Texas overnight during clashes with police who used riot control measures against the protesters

"These protesters belong in jail. Antisemitism will not be tolerated in Texas. Period. Students joining in hate-filled, antisemitic protests at any public college or university in Texas should be expelled," Abbot said in a post on X earlier.
The pro-Palestinian rallies have sparked intense campus debate over where school officials should draw the line between freedom of expression and hate speech
Students protesting Israel's military offensive in Gaza, including some Jewish peace activists, have said they are being censured as antisemitic merely for criticizing the Israeli government or for expressing support for Palestinian rights.
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עצורים באוניברסיטת טקסס בהפגנות פרו-פלסטיניות נגד ישראל
עצורים באוניברסיטת טקסס בהפגנות פרו-פלסטיניות נגד ישראל
Students arrested at the University of exas
(Photo: AFP)

Other Jewish groups counter that anti-Israel rhetoric frequently delves into or feeds overt forms of anti-Jewish hatred and calls for violence, and thus should not be tolerated.
Such reasoning was brought to bear by groups that pressured the University of Southern California two weeks ago to cancel the graduation speech of its class valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, a Muslim student, over her perceived pro-Palestinian views.
The Los Angeles-based university later announced it was canceling the entire main-stage commencement ceremony for its May 10 graduation.
On Monday, the head of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, called on USC President Carol Folt to convene an "emergency campus student-administration dialogue" to diffuse tensions on campus.

Student protests abound

Across town at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where opposing sides clashed over the weekend, pro-Israeli activists set up a large screen and loudspeakers to play a taped loop of images from the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The video appeared aimed at countering pro-Hamas chants that seeped into campus protests in support of Palestinian civilians besieged in Gaza.
UCLA also stepped up security around the pro-Palestinian encampment there, consisting of more than 50 tents surrounded by metal fencing near the main administration building on campus.
Civil rights groups have criticized law enforcement tactics on some campuses, such as Atlanta's Emory University and the University of Texas at Austin, where police in riot gear and on horseback moved against protesters last week, taking dozens into custody before charges were dropped for lack of probable cause.
Protests, and arrests, flared anew on the Austin campus on Monday.
Campus police backed by Texas state troopers attempted to break up a large student protest using pepper spray and flash-bang charges, arresting at least 43 people, according to defense attorney George Lobb, who said he confirmed the number with court and jail staff processing the detentions.
Video posted on social media showed police pulling individual students from a gathering on a grassy area where demonstrators sat and locked arms, some of them shouting, "Let them go!"
Virginia Tech said on Monday that 91 protesters arrested on Sunday night at a student-led encampment had been charged with trespassing. Video posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting, "Shame on you" as some were taken into custody.
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