February 22, 2024

Columbia University has suspended two pro-Palestinian student groups — Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine — saying they violated university policies and expressed “threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” The suspension runs through the end of the fall semester, about six more weeks, and marks a significant crackdown by the school on the two groups as campuses nationwide have erupted in debate, activism and occasional violence surrounding the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. “This decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation,” read a statement issued Friday by Gerald Rosberg, Columbia’s senior executive vice president and chair of its Special Committee on Campus Safety. A spokesperson for JVP’s national organization said it was deferring to the student group to comment on the suspension. Columbia SJP posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that followers should “stay tuned for an official response.” The suspensions mean that the groups cannot receive university funding or hold events on university space. To be reinstated, Rosberg said, they will need to show “a commitment to compliance with University policies” and meet with university officials. SJP, whose national umbrella celebrated Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, has been banned at Florida’s public universities as well as Brandeis University. This appears to be the first time a university has suspended JVP, a Jewish anti-Zionist group. Calling for a ceasefire At Columbia, the two groups have held a series of protests and other actions calling for a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, and accusing Israel of “genocide.” Columbia has been a hotspot for campus activism surrounding the conflict, and an Israeli student was assaulted there in what police called a hate crime. Supporters of Israel have criticized the school for what they call a tepid response to the anti-Israel activism, and late last month, Jewish billionaire Henry Swieca quit the board of Columbia Business School, saying that the campus is “unsafe” for Jews. On Thursday, the two suspended groups held a “die-in” in front of the school’s Low Library, and SJP put up a placard with a series of demands that the JVP chapter promoted online. The final demand, “No more dual degree,” was an apparent reference to the school’s undergraduate dual-degree program with Tel Aviv University. Rosberg threatened anti-Israel activists with formal punishment on Wednesday, when a group staged a nine-hour sit-in at the Columbia School of Social Work that was promoted by SJP. According to the Columbia Spectator, the campus newspaper, Rosberg communicated through representatives that the activists were in violation of school rules and faced academic sanctions. He added, “I want to say to you as clearly as I possibly can that what you are doing, all of you, just by being here, is a serious violation of our rules.” The announcement of the suspension comes after dozens of national Jewish groups, campus organizations and state legislators signed a letter demanding universities withdraw their schools’ recognition of and funding for SJP following October 7. It also comes about a week after Columbia announced the formation of a task force to identify short- and long-term strategies to combat antisemitism at the university and its affiliated institutions. “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,” Rosberg wrote. “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.”