Attorney for Jewish Columbia student suing school says ‘there are straight-out calls for the genocide of Jews’

The student alleges that some protesters are punching, shoving and spitting on Jewish students

Michelle Del Rey
Wednesday 01 May 2024 10:42 BST
Columbia University students respond to request to vacate protest encampment

An attorney representing a Columbia University student who is suing the school for allegedly failing to stop antisemitic rhetoric spreading across campus said that some protesters are calling for racial killings.

“There are straight-out calls for the genocide of Jews,” said attorney Jay Edelson on NewsNation’s On Balance.

“This has happened because of complacency and appeasement by our academic institutions.” The attorney did not decry the protests against the Israel-Hamas war themselves, but said that the demonstrations have veered off course.

“What’s going on is something different.”

The lawsuit focuses on alleged abuse and harassment Jewish students are facing on campus due to a subset of protesters, with behaviour allegedly including punching, shoving and spitting on Jewish students, in addition to blocking them from attending classes, moving freely around campus and being verbally harassed, the filing states.

Some of the protest chants have included “Death to the Jews”, “Long live Hamas” and “Globalise the Intifada” in verbal and written form, the suit says.

Students with the Gaza Solidarity Encampment take over Hamilton Hall at Columbia University naming it Hind’s Hall
Students with the Gaza Solidarity Encampment take over Hamilton Hall at Columbia University naming it Hind’s Hall (AP)

The student filed the complaint anonymously. Columbia University said it did not have a comment on the litigation.

On Monday, University President Minouche Shafik issued a statement bemoaning the treatment of Jewish students on campus.

“I know that many of our Jewish students, and other students as well, have found the atmosphere intolerable in recent weeks. Many have left campus and that is a tragedy”, she said.

“To those students and their families, I want to say to you clearly: You are a valued part of the Columbia community. This is your campus too. We are committed to making Columbia safe for everyone, and to ensuring that you feel welcome and valued”.

Protests at Columbia – and campuses across the country – have been going on for weeks
Protests at Columbia – and campuses across the country – have been going on for weeks ((Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images))

The university has moved its classes online for the rest of the school year as protests persist. On Tuesday, dozens of students took over Hamilton Hall on the school’s Morningside campus. The university shut down the campus as a result.

A day prior, students had skipped a 2pm deadline to take down the encampment at the centre of the university’s main campus or risk suspension. When the encampment continued to stand strong past the deadline, the institution began issuing suspensions.

President Shafik said that Columbia authorities had attempted to negotiate with the students until the talks broke down and officials said the school would not divest from Israel, a demand ringing out at campuses across the nation.

Mr Edelson, the attorney, said that the decision to attempt to negotiate with students is “insane”.

He added, “The difference is, this isn’t the 1930s. We’re not in Germany. We’re going to stand up and we’re going to fight back. We filed this class action lawsuit, and we’re not going to sit by the sidelines. This is not going to happen again,” he said.

Protests against the war broke out earlier this month after USC declined to let valedictorian Asna Tabassum, a Muslim student, give a commencement address, citing safety concerns. USC officials did not specify what the specific concerns were.

Similar encampments have been established at Brown University, the University of Michigan, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and California State Polytechnic, Humboldt and University of Texas at Austin, where scores of students were arrested on Monday.

The conflict in the Middle East began on 7 October with the Hamas terror attacks in Israel, in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 taken hostage. More than 30,000 Palestinians are thought to have been killed in subsequent Israeli attacks against Gaza, according to data from Palestinian officials.

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