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Students, clad in masks, hold up Palestinian flags during a protest on Columbia's campus.

Columbia students protest in support of Palestine on campus on Oct. 12. More demonstrations have occurred since, including one on Nov. 9 that appears to have led to the suspension of two groups.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Columbia University suspended two pro-Palestinian student groups for violating campus event policies, according to an announcement Friday afternoon by Gerald Rosberg, senior executive vice president and chair of the Special Committee on Campus Safety. The suspension will remain in effect until the end of the fall semester, Dec. 22.

The message does not specify which policies the two groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, violated, but it says the groups held “an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.”

Both clubs posted an advertisement on Instagram for an event at 2 p.m. Thursday entitled “Shut It Down! For Palestine,” which was described as a walkout and “peaceful protest art installation.” Similar events were held at campuses across the country on the same day.

Videos and photographs of the Columbia event show the installation, composed of plywood posters painted with images of trees and Palestinian flags, along with phrases related to the anti-Zionist movement. One poster seemed to make demands of the Columbia administration, requesting that the university “publicly call for a ceasefire” and “call it a genocide,” among other things. Small white bundles covered in red paint lay in front of the panels, alongside signs asking observers to “Remain quiet please.”

Following the suspension, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine posted a message on Instagram from “the students of Columbia/Barnard SJP & JVP” that read, “You can shut our organizations down, but can’t stop our hearts from beating for liberation, humanity and the freedom of Palestine. Our actions will be louder than our words. For all the people who are yearning for freedom, and for the media outlets: Keep an eye on Columbia.”

Jewish Voice for Peace is a U.S. anti-Zionist organization made up of Jewish members that is involved in the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. According to its website, there are 70 local chapters. Twelve are on campuses, according to the ADL, which has condemned the group for championing ideas that could give rise to antisemitism and for at times posting antisemitic content. JVP, meanwhile, says antisemitism and anti-Zionism are not equivalent.

The group responded to the Columbia suspension with a statement on its website that read in part, “This is an appalling act of censorship and intimidation by the administration. The University is spuriously claiming that these groups violated university policy when calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, where over 11,000 civilians have lost their lives, including at least 4,500 children.”

It continued, “The students in these groups are acting with moral clarity. They are protesting war and trying to save lives by calling for a ceasefire. By suspending Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine, Columbia has made a statement that Palestinians, students who support Palestinian rights, and Jewish students who reject the state of Israel’s actions in their name, are unwelcome on campus.”

The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized Columbia’s actions as well. “Once again, we are witnessing the suppression and silencing of pro-Palestinian voices on campus,” Afaf Nasher, executive director of CAIR-NY, said in a statement. “SJP and JVP are dedicated to holding institutions, including institutions of higher learning, to account for their support of Israeli apartheid and genocide of the people of Gaza. This brave, principled stance seems to bother the administration of Columbia University. We stand in solidarity with them and call on the university to stop this attack on constitutionally protected free speech.”

Rosberg’s note stated that, like any student organization, SJP and JVP are expected to follow campus rules and protocols. According to Columbia’s University Event Policy, student groups must give notice 10 working days in advance of any “special events,” a term that covers anything that fits at least one of the following criteria:

  • “event in outdoor University space
  • presence of press/media (invited or otherwise)
  • advertised beyond Columbia’s campus
  • high attendance/capacity, generally more than 25 attendees
  • presence of alcohol
  • potential for significant disruption
  • security concerns”

“Shut It Down! For Palestine” occurred outdoors on Columbia’s campus, and many more than 25 people attended. It is unclear if the event fit any other criteria.

Rosberg said in the announcement that the university’s event policy “ensures both the safety of our community and that core University activities can be conducted without disruption. During this especially charged time on our campus, we are strongly committed to giving space to student groups to participate in debate, advocacy, and protest. This relies on community members abiding by the rules and cooperating with University administrators who have a duty to ensure the safety of everyone in our community.”

The suspension means the two groups cannot hold events on campus or receive university funding.

On Thursday, university officials restricted campus access to individuals with campus IDs, “based on information received about a planned demonstration tomorrow afternoon.” All but two entry points to campus were closed.

Pro-Palestinian student organizations, especially SJP, have been criticized for their initial response to the Israel-Hamas war, which held “the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.” Since then, they have continued to spark backlash for using chants such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which many Jewish students see as antisemitic but the SJP says is a call for Palestinian liberation.

The Anti-Defamation League has called for an investigation of all officially recognized campus chapters of SJP. In Florida, the State University System of Florida chancellor, Ray Rodrigues, called on the two system universities with SJP chapters to shut them down, due to wording used by the national SJP organization that Rodrigues said violated Florida anti-terrorism law. However, leaders on both campuses found that they were not under the authority of the national SJP, Rodrigues said at a Board of Governors meeting Thursday. The chapters remain active.

Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized efforts to shut down SJP chapters and other pro-Palestine organizations, stating that leaders should not “disband, or penalize student groups on the basis of their exercise of free speech rights.”

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