Free Gaza, free speech and the showdown at Columbia University

Free Gaza, free speech and the showdown at Columbia University
Fecha de publicación: 
22 April 2024
Imagen principal: 

For the past week, Columbia University has emerged as one of the latest epicenters of the global struggle to save Gaza from the Axis of Genocide. Israel with full economic, diplomatic and military support of the United States and other Western colonial powers, has been starving, dehydrating and carpet-bombing Gaza for 200 days now.

Inspired by the pain that every free-thinking human being feels at the sight of emaciated and burnt children and families, Columbia students took on big personal risk when taking a stand and building a Gaza Solidarity Encampment in the centre of campus last week.

Their goal: to get the university to divest from companies with ties to Israel.

After Columbia's president disbanded the protests by calling the police, another encampment has already popped up on campus. In addition to divestment, demonstrations are now calling for the removal of police presence and the reversal of disciplinary action taken against protesters involved in the first encampment.

I am a Columbia University alum and fired John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor who has joined in, spending time listening and learning from this fearless generation of student fighters. I cut my teeth as a student organiser at Columbia College from 1996 to 2000 and at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) from 2004-2006.

In 1997, we shut down the campus with a giant human circle in support of striking workers on campus who were mistreated and underpaid. The ongoing struggle for more classes on anti-colonial struggles and ethnic studies included a banner drop during graduation, highlighting some of the voices marginalised by Columbia’s core curriculum.

On October 4, 2006 we shut down the racist, anti-immigrant group the Minutemen who were pushing white supremacy and anti-immigrant hysteria on campus.

The Gaza Solidarity Encampment follows a storied history of students standing up for what is right, just like the 1968 generation did in protest of racism against Black America and the US war in Vietnam, in which we dropped 6 million tons of napalm and bombs on the Southeast Asian country from 1962 to 1975.

The Baroness Shafik

At the centre of the struggle for free speech and a free Gaza is the new president of Columbia, Manouche Shafik, who is trying to finish her first year on the job. She justified siccing riot police on peaceful student protestors by saying, "the safety of our community was my top priority and we needed to preserve an environment where everyone could learn in a supportive context."



Columbia University President Nemat "Minouche" Shafik testifies on Capitol Hill before a House committee hearing on "Columbia University's Response to Antisemitism," in Washington, April 17, 2024 (REUTERS/Ken Cedeno).

Despite mainstream media distortions and lies, there are no documented incidents of hate speech associated with the Gaza Solidarity Encampment.

Hailing from a background of extreme privilege, Shafik is literally a "Baroness," following her employment with the Bank of England. She has a track record of defending free speech when it comes to white supremacists.

She has long served global elite interests. She sits on the board of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There is no disguising where she stands on the global division of humanity: she's on the side of the global 0.1 percent.

As former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, the same bank that stole $1 billion dollars in Venezuelan gold reserves at the behest of the US government in 2019.


College presidents like Shafik and Mason are willing to scrap academic freedom and our first amendment rights to please powerful Zionist and foreign policy establishment interests.

In an age where identity politics and hypocritical liberal diversity rhetoric dominate the US political scene, the Baroness is seen as a strategic asset to Columbia.

In her testimony before the House of Representatives about rising anti-Semitism concerns on campus last week, Shafik looked comfortable engaging in the charade.

Aware of the consequences of not bowing down to pro-Israel and pro-genocide Republicans and Democrats, like the president of my college Karol Mason, Shafik engaged in the McCarthyite hearings.

Determined not to be taken down like the presidents of Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, college presidents like Shafik and Mason are willing to scrap academic freedom and our first amendment rights to please powerful Zionist and foreign policy establishment interests.

In a recent interview, Rebecca Jordan-Young, a Columbia and Barnard professor, explained the significance of the televised hearings: "What happened at those hearings yesterday should be of grave concern to everybody. What we got was a live performance (of President Shafik) throwing the entire university system under the bus."

Another professor from the college, Nara Milanich, warned: "Antisemitism here is being used as a wedge. It’s being used as a Trojan horse for a very different political agenda."

As the cynical circus played out in the nation's capital, students seized the national and international moment to escalate the struggle to halt the genocidal madness raining down on Gaza.

Hundreds of students erected tents on East Lawn of Columbia’s 116th street campus. Student activists reiterated in their speeches and posters: "Stay Focused!" insisting on not allowing anything to distract them from what gave birth to the encampment, the asymmetrical war on Gaza.

Palestine is everywhere

What's happening at Columbia actions has inspired a wave of solidarity protests at HarvardYale, the New School in New York, New York University, the University of Michigan and across the world.

On Saturday, student groups led a march against displacement, connecting the 76-year war on Palestine to the evictions that thousands of uptown New York City families have endured at the hands of one of New York City's biggest landlords, Columbia University.

Columbia students are facing unprecedented threats and repression. In January, former Israeli soldiers sprayed student protestors with a chemical called skunk, resulting in hospitalisations. Shafik has suspended the Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace clubs - and is being sued for it.

Meanwhile, the media accuses us of supporting terrorism. An NYPD drone hovered over last week's encampment. Organisers encouraged everyone to wear masks to protect their identity.

Private detectives have harassed students. One undercover officer threatened us with his gun.


If your family, community and nation was being dehydrated, starved, blockaded and bombed out of existence, how would that impact your preparation for exams and term papers?

Has US society stopped to think of the impact of the genocidal violence raining down on Gaza on Palestinian-American students?

If your family, community and nation was being dehydrated, starved, blockaded and bombed out of existence, how would that impact your preparation for exams and term papers?

The Columbia administration's response has been to ignore the students (the true protagonists) and resort to the age-old trick of blaming "outside forces."

One-sided mainstream news coverage contains a lot of misinformation about the student protests, going as far as to try to link them to Hamas. There is a fresh and full barrage of mainstream headlines about anti-semitism and the encampment "making it unsafe for Jewish students at Columbia."

This week, Columbia has gone as far as to cancel in-person classes, creating headlines such as "Jewish students told to leave Columbia after Passover warning." Isolated and despised by humanity, the forces of genocidal Zionism dig their holes ever deeper.

Many faculty members have expressed their dismay at Shafik's crackdown on free speech. The wider movement participated in jail support. All the way from Gaza, the Palestinian resistance has recognised the heroic sacrifices and contributions of the student movement.

"Your people are my people. Our struggles align"

Students have been eager to hear from activists from past generations who stood up at Columbia. One of the protestors from 1968 spoke at a teach-in on the East Lawn over the weekend.

Dr. Norman Finkelstein, third party presidential hopeful Dr. Cornel West and faculty who were fired from other universities addressed the encampment. This was in the spirit of the Liberation Classes of 1968, when students organised teach-ins around local and global issues left out of Columbia’s "core curriculum."

On behalf of a generation of student leaders and fighters who came before you, thank you to the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and other student organisations who have not stood down in the face of genocidal lies and bombs.

Both of these student groups have been suspended for working to expose and stop the genocide. Their bravery and organisation of this leadership at Columbia has given us all – from Gaza to Harlem – more hope and determination that we can stop the genocidal, colonial zionist war machine.

Stay strong Columbia students! You are not alone! Suspended students, doxed employees, fired professors: We are all in this together. We got your back!

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