Columbia anti-Israel protesters demand, expect apology university president

Testifying before Congress, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik pledged to combat antisemitism and condemned chants such as ‘from the river to the sea.’

By Washington Free Beacon

Student leaders behind the Columbia University “Gaza Solidarity” tent encampment revealed a new demand in their negotiations with school officials: an apology letter from president Minouche Shafik, which they say is “on the table” as they remain in the encampment more than a week after launching it.

“This is the right thing for the university president to do. It’s not an expectation, it’s a demand, and we believe that it’s on the table,” said Mahmoud Khalil, an international student who is leading negotiations with the school on behalf of Columbia University Apartheid Divest.

“Now, we are in negotiation about the language of that letter … to actually apologize to the Columbia community, not necessarily for the pro-Palestine community, but about the damage that has been done here on campus.”

Such an apology from Shafik would mark a stunning turnaround roughly 10 days after she testified before Congress on campus anti-Semitism. Shafik pledged to take action to combat the issue and condemned chants such as, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” as well as calls for “intifada,” which students have espoused from the encampment.

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As she testified, student protesters assembled the unauthorized encampment that has plagued the school ever since. While Shafik sent in New York City police to arrest participants shortly thereafter, students quickly rebuilt the encampment. Shafik has thus far declined to bring police to campus again.

Khalil revealed the demand for Shafik to apologize during a Friday afternoon press conference, which came roughly 12 hours after Shafik’s deadline to clear the encampment came and went without incident. Khalil said he is now engaged in “open negotiation” with the university with no looming deadline.

“The 48 hour period is now off the table, and it’s an open negotiation with the university?” a reporter asked Khalil. “Exactly. Now we are in an open negotiation with the administration,” he replied. “Again, we don’t trust this university to uphold its word.”

With no deadline, it’s unclear how or when the encampment will end. Columbia officials have repeatedly denied claims that they’ve authorized law enforcement to come back to campus, though Khalil said the school has given no assurances that they will refrain from doing so in the future.

“As of now there are no assurances from the university that no NYPD or any other law enforcement, including the National Guard, will be brought into the university.”

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The conclusion could depend on Columbia’s willingness to divest from companies that do business with Israel, including corporate giants such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Khalil said divestment negotiations are at an “impasse.”

“Since we returned to the table yesterday, we made progress with the university. It’s not a significant progress,” Khalil said. “In some areas regarding the statement of the president, there is some progress.”

“However, our main demand—divestment from the Israeli occupation—there’s an impasse in that one particular demand.”

Columbia University did not respond to a request for comment.

As open negotiations continue, Khalil assured Shafik that the student protesters will not back down.

“When they tried to clear it last week, we prevailed,” Khalil said. “If they want to once again bring NYPD or any law enforcement, we will prevail.”

Organizers were also asked about undergraduate Khymani James—a protest leader who has called for the death of “Zionists”—but referred reporters to Columbia University Apartheid Divest’s statement on the matter.

“Khymani’s words in January do not reflect his views, our values, nor the encampment’s community agreements,” the group said. “We are students with a right to learn and grow. In the same way some of us were once Zionists and are now anti-Zionists, we believe unlearning is always possible and that no human being is static.”