Administrators at Columbia Law School stood by for hours on Thursday as anti-Israel protesters took over the law school's lobby, refusing to shut down an unauthorized demonstration that disrupted nearby classes for nearly three hours and violated several school policies. The law school has said nothing about whether the demonstrators will suffer any consequences.
The protest, part of which was captured on video, caused such a ruckus that Menachem Weiss, a third-year law student, left class to see what was going on. Standing beneath a banner that read "ceasefire now," which had been hung from a second-floor balcony, student protesters used a megaphone to broadcast their demands to the university.
The students, members of the Columbia Law Coalition for a Free Palestine, called on administrators to announce an economic boycott of the Jewish state and acknowledge that "students of color are endangered by Public Safety and law enforcement." They also demanded the establishment of a "Center for Palestinian Legal Studies" and a "task-force to protect students from Islamophobia."
"It was so loud I couldn't focus," Weiss told the Washington Free Beacon. Along with four other students, he tracked down the law school's associate dean of student services, Yadira Ramos-Herbert, and asked her to restore order.
Instead, Ramos-Herbert—who this month was elected mayor of New Rochelle, N.Y., with an endorsement from the Working Families Party, which opposes military aid to Israel—brought up the virtues of free speech, according to Weiss and another student present at the meeting, and suggested that intervening would make pro-Palestinian students feel "unsafe," according to a third student. The protest came after an Israeli student was assaulted on campus in what prosecutors deemed a hate crime.
Ramos-Herbert did not respond to a request for comment.
The dean-cum-mayor-elect was unwilling to take action even though the protest violated several university rules. Columbia bars behavior that disrupts class, including the indoor use of amplifiers, which the protesters on Thursday were using, and prohibits signage except on designated bulletin boards. The school also requires students to obtain advanced approval for large gatherings, which the groups organizing the protest—including the Middle Eastern Law Students Association and Columbia Law Students for Palestine—appeared not to have done.
Pre-approved demonstrations generally have administrators and security on hand when they begin, students told the Free Beacon. But in this case, no university personnel arrived until the disruption was well underway. A spokesperson for the law school declined to say whether the protesters had obtained permission to use the lobby, which they occupied from 2:30 to 5:30 PM.
"We were asking Columbia to enforce its own policies," Weiss said. "And we were basically told, 'Sorry, no can do.'"
Ramos-Herbert did eventually ask the protesters to go outside, according to Weiss and another student who witnessed the encounter, but the protesters refused and the mayhem continued inside the law school for another hour. The protesters also declined to remove their banner despite requests from the administration.
"There was a blatant violation of university policy, and essentially nothing was done about it," a second-year law student told the Free Beacon.
Columbia Law School declined to say whether the protesters would be disciplined, stating only that demonstrations "must not disrupt or prevent classes." Gillian Lester, the law school's dean, did not respond to a request for comment.
The incident illustrates the reluctance of some universities to crack down on anti-Israel protests that violate viewpoint-neutral rules about student gatherings. Harvard went so far as to offer Twizzlers and burritos to pro-Palestinian students who occupied a campus building overnight, for example.
And Columbia stood by for weeks as two undergraduate groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace, repeatedly held unauthorized demonstrations, only agreeing to suspend both groups after one of their rallies almost turned violent.
The unwillingness to shut down these protests may stem in part from the large number of foreign students participating in them. MIT said it would not suspend protesters who took over the university's main entrance this month because, according to MIT president Sally Kornbluth, doing so might cause "visa issues."
That could be why the Columbia protesters, who published their demands ahead of Thursday's gathering, called on the school to prevent its security officers from "collaborating with ICE, the IDF-trained NYPD, and other law enforcement entities." They also called on the law school to demand a ceasefire and provide free mental health counseling to "doxxed" students.
Students at the protest included Aya Hashem, a leader of the Middle Eastern Law Students Association; Deen Haleem, a leader of Columbia Law Students for Palestine; and Eric Wilcox, a board member of the Suspension Representation Project, according to a student who reviewed footage of the disruption. All three groups signed an open letter, "Oppression Breeds Resistance," that blamed Israel for Hamas's atrocities on October 7.
Hashem, Haleen, and Wilcox did not respond to requests for comment.