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University of Texas Police detain a man at a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Texas, during the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Austin, Tex. on April 24.Jay Janner/USA Today Network/Reuters

The student organizers of a pro-Palestinian encampment at Columbia University are vowing to stay until the school pulls its endowment money out of companies connected to Israel, thwarting the school’s efforts to end the protest even as similar camps spread to other campuses across the United States.

By Wednesday, tent villages had sprung up at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan and California State Polytechnic, among other schools.

At the University of Texas in Austin, police in riot gear, some of them on horses and motorcycles, broke up a pro-Palestinian march on Wednesday and arrested more than a dozen protesters to stop a planned encampment.

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, meanwhile, visited Columbia to call for the resignation of the university’s president, ratcheting up the national political stakes in a tense election year.

The encampment at Columbia, in upper Manhattan, began last week. It is the latest high-profile demonstration against U.S. support of Israel amid the latter’s six-month-old invasion of the Gaza Strip.

After the Ivy League school had police arrest more than 100 participants last week, the encampment expanded by hundreds at a new location on campus. The university set a deadline of midnight Wednesday to negotiate the protest’s end, as police gathered nearby. The time was later moved to 8 a.m. and then extended to Friday.

By Wednesday afternoon, protest leaders were adamant that they would not back down until the university agreed to stop investing money in Israeli businesses or companies that support the country’s military, such as weapons manufacturers. They also demanded amnesty for students and faculty who had faced reprisals for pro-Palestinian activity.

“Until these demands are met, we don’t have any plans of leaving,” Khymani James, a Columbia undergraduate, told reporters at the camp. “We continue to support our comrades building encampments at schools across the country.”

Mr. James said the university had committed to not calling police back in to sweep the protest out.

Tensions appeared to have eased. Several hundred protesters milled about among roughly 50 tents occupying a quarter of the quadrangle outside a university library. Dozens lined up at a food tent handing out fruit.

“It’s important to have hope and to never lose sight of what we’re doing for the freedom of our people,” said Noor Shalabi, 22, a Columbia student who is Palestinian. “It’s amazing how many people are coming out in droves, how many people are on our side.”

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Texas state troopers in riot gear try to beak up a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Texas, in Austin, Tex., on April 24.Jay Janner/The Associated Press

Across the quad, Mr. Johnson and a group of fellow Republican lawmakers held a news conference on the library steps after meeting with Jewish students. A crowd of students tried to drown him out with boos and chants, such as ”free, free Palestine.”

Mr. Johnson demanded that if Columbia president Minouche Shafik “cannot immediately bring order to this chaos,” she should resign.

“We just can’t allow this kind of hatred and antisemitism to flourish on our campuses, and it must be stopped in its tracks,” he said.

Ms. Shafik is under pressure from both sides, with protesters accusing her of trying to crush freedom of speech and opponents of the demonstration demanding that she leave her job for failing to end it.

U.S. President Joe Biden, set to face a tough election rematch against Donald Trump in November, is similarly caught. On Wednesday, he approved US$26-billion in military aid for Israel, preserving the U.S.’s traditional support of the country. Young voters, Arab-Americans and Muslims helped him win the presidential election in 2020, but polling suggests many of them may stay home this time around out of anger for his support of Israel.

David Pomerance, one of the students who met with Mr. Johnson, said it has been “very difficult to study and prepare for finals” during the demonstration. He also objected to pro-Palestinian students disparaging U.S. support for Israel.

“It’s disappointing to see so many of my fellow students fall captive to the sort of twisted ideology that is not just anti-Israel but also fundamentally anti-American,” Mr. Pomerance, 19, added. “They don’t think our country is a force for good.”

Police arrested Pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of Southern California on April 24 as campus demonstrations in support of Gaza continued to spread around the U.S.


Jewish students and campus groups have taken to social media to report what they termed antisemitic vitriol, including a taunt of “go back to Poland,” and someone who tried to set fire to an Israeli flag. Protest organizers maintain that these were the actions of individuals who do not represent the demonstration.

Columbia cancelled classes on Monday and subsequently directed that they all be offered online to accommodate students too intimidated to come to campus.

Protester Jared Kannel, a 26-year-old graduate student, said there are many Jewish people, such as himself, who support the encampment. “The biggest victims right now are not Jewish Columbia students. That distracts from the big story we should be focusing on: the massacre of Palestinians,” he said.

After Hamas killed about 1,200 people during an Oct. 7 attack on Israel, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

The tone of the protest was sharper off campus, where demonstrators not affiliated with the university were consigned, because the school had locked down the quadrangle. A group of 50 protesters on Wednesday chanted “Israel, go to hell” and “we don’t want no two-state, we want all of it” outside a university gate.

Daniel Lozano, an organizer with the United Autoworkers, arrived at 2 a.m., when protesters feared police were about to raid the encampment after the university’s original deadline for reaching a deal ran out. “The kids are peacefully protesting and they’re threatened,” he said.

While the academic year is nearly finished – Columbia’s final day of classes is next Monday – universities appear to be skittish about the possibility of protests disrupting commencement. Bleachers are in place for Columbia’s commencement in the same quadrangle as the camp.

Some schools acted swiftly to avoid encampments this week. New York University had more than 100 demonstrators arrested on Monday. Yale police took 45 into custody that night.

Pro-Palestinian students have set up tent encampments at more campuses across the U.S. to protest Israel's war in Gaza, after mass arrests at similar demonstrations at a handful of mostly East Coast colleges in recent days.


Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that Jewish students and campus groups have characterized the vitriol they reported on social media as antisemitic, and that the actors have not been identified as aligning with a specific group. April 26, 2024: This article was further updated to clarify that "go back to Poland" was a shouted taunt, not a chant repeated by a group.

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