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Columbia under investigation amid allegations of anti-Palestinian discrimination

Written by on May 4, 2024

WABC

(NEW YORK) — Columbia University is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education following allegations of discriminatory treatment of Palestinian students and their supporters.

Palestine Legal, an advocacy group centered on Palestinian Rights, filed a civil rights complaint on behalf of four students and the student group Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine with the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

Columbia University declined to comment on the pending investigation. Columbia University is one of eight schools that the DOE has opened an investigation into over alleged Title VI violations concerning shared ancestry discrimination since April 22, as protests nationwide escalated. This is at least the second investigation into shared ancestry discrimination since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

Shared ancestry cases refer to discrimination complaints based on ancestry, ethnic characteristics, and citizenship or residency of a country with a dominant religion or distinct religious identity — this could include Islamophobia, antisemitism, and other forms of discrimination.

An investigation into a school does not imply that the OCR has made a determination on the merits of the complaint, according to the DOE’s website.

The complaint from Palestine Legal hinges on the school calling for NYPD officers to enter the campus to help quell protests, a move that led to the arrest last week of over 100 students who were protesting Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

However, the complaint further details allegations of discrimination and harassment against Palestinian students, Arabs, Muslims, and students advocating for Palestinians – including a January attack on protesters with a “chemical-based weapon.”

The New York Police Department told ABC News at the time of the attack that protesters smelled a foul odor and began to feel nauseated, accompanied by headaches, during a protest Friday. Students for Justice in Palestine said several students were hospitalized or sought medical care following the incident.

Victims reported symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, chest and abdominal pain and headaches.

Students also say they have been the target of death threats, harassment for wearing keffiyehs or hijab, doxxing, stereotyping and differential treatment by high-ranking administrators.

Student protesters opposed to Israel’s war in Gaza have been camping out on the Columbia University campus since April 17 to call for the university to financially divest from companies and institutions that “profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine,” according to an online statement from the group Columbia University Apartheid Divest.

The encampment grew as University President Minouche Shafik attended a contentious congressional hearing about antisemitism on Columbia’s campus.

One day after the hearing, Columbia asked students to leave their encampments. When students refused, Columbia University gave the NYPD the green light to clear the protesters and police in riot gear arrested more than 100 protesters for trespassing.

New York City officials, including NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban, said that protesters who were arrested “were peaceful” and “had no resistance whatsoever.”

In a statement following the protests, Shafik said that the encampment “violates all of the new policies, severely disrupts campus life and creates a harassing and intimidating environment for many of our students.”

Student protesters denounced the arrests, as well as growing suspensions faced by students who have been suspended in connection with pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

“We have knowingly put ourselves in danger because we can no longer be complicit in Columbia funneling our tuition dollars and grant money into companies that profit from death,” Columbia University Apartheid Divest said in a statement.

Tensions have been high on college campuses nationwide since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel. The Israeli military then began its bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 34,000 people have been killed and more than 77,000 others have been wounded by Israeli forces since Oct. 7, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health.

In Israel, at least 1,700 people have been killed and 8,700 others injured by Hamas and other Palestinian militants since Oct. 7, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Since the first round of arrests, the encampment grew and pro-Palestinian protesters occupied a hall on campus, leading to further arrests.

“Students and outside activists breaking Hamilton Hall doors, mistreating our Public Safety officers and maintenance staff, and damaging property are acts of destruction, not political speech,” said Shafik. “Many students have also felt uncomfortable and unwelcome because of the disruption and antisemitic comments made by some individuals, especially in the protests that have persistently mobilized outside our gates.”

Columbia University has continued to face backlash from the several sides of debate surrounding the Israel-Gaza war, and is also facing litigation from a group of Jewish students who say that the university violated its safety protocols by allowing the encampment on school grounds.

Shafik has been under fire for Columbia’s handling of antisemitism allegations on the college campus.

“Safety is paramount and we would do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of our campus,” Shafik said at the congressional hearing on antisemitism on April 17. “We must uphold freedom of speech because it’s essential to our academic mission, but we cannot and shouldn’t tolerate abuse of this privilege to harass and discriminate.”

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