Police Raid Columbia U Building Occupied by Anti-Israel Protesters, Arresting Dozens

By Luke Tress, Jackie Hajdenberg

Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte’s statement on campus protests nationally and closer to home can be found at the end of this post along with links to Jewish Federations of North America and North Carolina Hillel statements and calls to action.

(New York Jewish Week) May 1, 2024 — Police stormed the Columbia University building occupied by pro-Palestinian students on Tuesday night, arresting dozens, as the school’s Jewish center was placed on lockdown with students inside.

The scenes at Hamilton Hall saw protesters lying prone as they were cuffed and loaded onto NYPD vans. The arrests took place after the students broke into the building on Monday night and barricaded it with couches, chairs and vending machines, draping a banner reading “Intifada” from one of the windows.

Police in riot gear entered Columbia en masse on Tuesday evening at the university’s invitation, encircling the area around the Morningside Heights campus and ordering students to shelter in place. Police vans blocked off intersections, officers told students to remain in their dorms and the subway stop at the campus gates was closed as the NYPD attempted to curb protests in support of the activists in Hamilton Hall.

Some students shouted, “Free Palestine” as they were escorted from the building, according to the student newspaper, the Columbia Spectator, whose journalists were among the only ones permitted to view the raid from inside the campus.

It was an escalation of the pro-Palestinian protests rocking Columbia, which began as an encampment nearly two weeks ago and have since spread to campuses nationwide. Students at those universities have set up their own encampments, leading to hundreds of arrests across the country and, in two cases, agreements with university administrators to discuss divestment from Israel along with other measures.

This was the second time in the past two weeks that the NYPD had arrested protesters on Columbia’s campus. On April 18, police entered the encampment and detained more than 100 students. Since then, the protesters have maintained a constant presence on the school grounds while engaging in negotiations with the administration.

In a statement on Tuesday, Columbia’s president, Minouche Shafik, said those talks had reached an “impasse” and that students who had not cleared out of the encampment by Monday afternoon were suspended. She asked the NYPD to come onto campus and maintain a presence there until May 17, after commencement ceremonies.

“The events on campus last night have left us no choice,” she wrote. “With the support of the University’s Trustees, I have determined that the building occupation, the encampments, and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger to persons, property, and the substantial functioning of the University and require the use of emergency authority to protect persons and property.”

The crackdown took place on the anniversary of a previous university decision to evict students who had taken over Hamilton Hall, against those protesting Columbia’s ties to the Vietnam War in 1968. Then, more than 700 students were arrested.

Despite the NYPD’s attempts at crowd control on Tuesday, hundreds gathered to protest at an intersection adjacent to Columbia, chanting “Students hold your ground, NYPD will back down” and “Resistance is glorious, we will be victorious.” Others gathered at other points near the campus, and some students joined in the chanting from their dorm room windows.

Less than a block away from the main protest, the Kraft Center for Jewish Life instructed students who were present to remain in place while the university’s security advisory was in effect. At 11 p.m., the building was still closed off, but the NYPD had declared the campus clear.

Yakira Galler, a first-year student at Barnard, Columbia’s affiliated women’s college, was headed back to campus on Tuesday night after spending the Passover holiday with her family. As they were pulling out of the driveway, she received a text alert from Barnard notifying her of the shelter-in-place order.

Instead of returning to campus, she decided to stay with cousins nearby because she said she does not feel safe returning to her dorm.

Galler said the final exam for a class she had been taking in Hamilton Hall — Yiddish — had been canceled. She said she had been watching updates about the police crackdown with mixed feelings.

“I’ve seen pictures of how many officers are there and I can understand how that’s frightening,” she said. “But it baffles me that people aren’t able to understand why that would be necessary, why this is a safety issue and why there’s a threat.”

Photo Credit: Student anti-Israel protesters are arrested by police and removed from the campus of Columbia University in New York City, April 30, 2024. (Luke Tress)

Federation Responds to College Campus Protests

The Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte has been deeply troubled by the recent surge in anti-Israel and antisemitic protests on college campuses nationwide. Across the United States, protests and gatherings have escalated into disruptive encampments accompanied by acts of antisemitism such as threats, harassment of Jewish students and faculty, and theft and vandalism of Israeli posters and flags.


Though students have the right to speak their minds, they do not have the right to intimidate or threaten their Jewish peers. Jewish students deserve a safe educational setting where they can be themselves without fear or compromise to their safety.


Our local UNC Charlotte campus is not immune to this trend. Recent events include an intrusive protest that interrupted the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees meeting, as well as the sudden introduction of a biased BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) resolution, which thankfully did not pass. Such occurrences are particularly distressing during the week of Passover, a time of significance and reflection for our Jewish community. Federation is collaborating closely with North Carolina Hillel and other Jewish organizations on campus to address the situation.


As we navigate these challenging times, it is essential that universities uphold their commitment to fostering an inclusive and safe educational setting for all students by enforcing zero tolerance policies against acts of antisemitism. We encourage you to join us in urging the United States Congress to adopt the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which would set into law the IHRA definition of antisemitism for the purposes of all the programs and regulatory functions of the US Department of Education.


We must work together to protect the security and well-being of Jewish students in the area as they struggle with these jarring disruptions to their learning environment. In solidarity and determination, let us stand firm against antisemitism and uphold the principles of inclusivity and safety for all students.

The Jewish Federations of North America has released a statement regarding this recent surge in protests. Read their full statement here.

North Carolina Hillel has released a statement regarding recent local protests at UNC Charlotte. Read their full statement on social media here.

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