US campus protest leader apologises for ‘kill Zionists’ comments

Khymani James apologises for talk of ‘murdering Zionists’, saying he misspoke in heat of moment

Arpan Rai
Saturday 27 April 2024 08:33 BST
Columbia faculty walk out after pro-Palestinian protesters arrested

A student protest leader at Columbia University has issued an apology for his comments about “murdering Zionists”, made in an old video that has resurfaced amid growing pro-Palestine demonstrations across US campuses.

Khymani James, who has served as a spokesperson for the pro-Palestinian encampment as a member of Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD), apologised for saying “Zionists don’t deserve to live” in an old video on Instagram shot in January this year.

Mr James had also said in the video: "Be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists.

Columbia University said they had banned the student leader from campus after he was called for a disciplinary hearing.

In his apology posted on X on Friday, the 20-year-old said: “I am frustrated that words I said in an Instagram Live video have become a distraction from the movement for Palestinian liberation. I misspoke in the head of the moment, for which I apologise.”

He added: “My focus remains on drawing attention to the plight of the Palestinian people, and the ongoing genocide in Gaza. I remain committed to learning and building a better, more just world for all of us.”

Mr James went on: “What I said was wrong. Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification. I also want people to have more context for my words, which I regret.”

He claimed the clip was edited without context by far right agitators who went through months of his social media feed. The student leader said he was being targeted by the online mob because he is “visibly queer and Black”.

“Unfortunately, this is not my first time being targeted by online trolls and harassed by people who use racist and homophobic slurs – "f****t monkey" and worse – in an effort to intimidate student protestors like myself,” the student leader said.

Protest organisers have said the leader’s comments didn’t reflect their values. They also declined to describe the level of involvement Mr James had with the demonstration.

Students protesting the Israel-Hamas war at universities across the US have persevered with their demonstrations despite clashes with police in riot gear.

Several school faculties criticised university presidents who have called in law enforcement to remove protesters.

As Columbia University continues negotiations with those at a pro-Palestinian student encampment on the New York school’s campus, the university’s senate passed a resolution on Friday that created a task force to examine the administration’s leadership, which last week called in police in an attempt to clear the protest, resulting in scuffles and more than 100 arrests.

Though the university has repeatedly set and then pushed back deadlines for the removal of the encampment, the school sent an email to students on Friday night saying that bringing back police “at this time" would be counterproductive, adding that they hope the negotiations show "concrete signs of progress tonight.”

Students representing the Columbia encampment, which inspired the wave of protests across the country, said they have reached an impasse with administrators and intend to continue their protest.

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