Columbia Students Hold Unsanctioned Pro-Palestinian Rally, Setting Up Showdown With University Administrators

In letter sent to Columbia University Apartheid Divest members, school pledged to discipline attendees

April 4, 2024

Columbia University administrators on Tuesday informed members of anti-Israel student group Columbia University Apartheid Divest that their upcoming "All Out for Al-Shifa" rally was unsanctioned, promising to discipline those who attended. Two days later, the group went forward with the protest anyway, testing the will of the university to follow through on its threats as the school's president prepares for a congressional hearing on her response to campus anti-Semitism.

The group's members—many of whom wore masks, hoods, and keffiyehs to mask their identities—flooded the Columbia sundial, a campus landmark, around 4:30 p.m. Thursday, video of the rally obtained by the Washington Free Beacon shows.

Administrators shut down campus ahead of the rally, according to a student who observed the event, requiring attendees who were not already on campus to scan their ID badges and enter through a single entry point. One attendee held a sign reading, "Dykes for Divestment." Another sign read, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."

Just hours earlier, Columbia University Apartheid Divest sent a newsletter to its members informing them that administrators deemed the rally "unauthorized," meaning attendees risked facing "disciplinary action." The group nonetheless pledged to hold the event and "take back the university." It also advised its members to avoid detection by wearing all black, using masks and keffiyehs to conceal their identities, and arriving on campus early to "avoid swiping" their ID badges, the school's "primary method of positive identification."

Those suggestions came in response to a warning Columbia administrators sent the group's leaders on Tuesday. The letter, which was obtained by the Free Beacon, said the university did not receive adequate notice of the rally. "Thus your promotion, advertisement, and/or participation in an unregistered event will result in disciplinary action," wrote Columbia's chief operating officer, Cas Holloway.

It is unclear whether or how the university will follow through with that pledge. The school's response is likely to be scrutinized during an April 17 congressional hearing on campus anti-Semitism at which Columbia's president, Minouche Shafik, is slated to appear.

A similar hearing held in December contributed to the ousting of two other Ivy League presidents, Harvard University's Claudine Gay and the University of Pennsylvania's Liz Magill.

Columbia University Apartheid Divest, which did not respond to a request for comment, tied the school's "crack down on pro-Palestine events" to the impending hearing.

"The timing of this email is no mistake," the group wrote in its newsletter, referencing Columbia's disciplinary threat. "Minouche Shafik and leaders of the Board of Trustees will be testifying at a congressional hearing in front of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on April 17th."

"Columbia administrators and the Board of Trustees are trying to frighten us and our organizations into remaining silent," the group continued. "We must not let them divide us."

Columbia referred the Free Beacon to a statement from Holloway, which said that "organizers and participants" of the Thursday rally "will be subject to disciplinary action if they proceed."

Roughly one week before the rally, Columbia University Apartheid Divest held another unsanctioned event—its now-infamous "Palestinian Resistance 101" teach-in. The event, which the Free Beacon attended virtually, featured a number of terror-tied speakers who advocated for violence against Jews.

Charlotte Kates, a member of the Israeli-designated terror group Samidoun, said Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attack "changed the world" and showed "the potential of a future for Palestine liberated from Zionism." Her husband, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine activist Khaled Barakat, told attendees that the terrorist airplane hijackings of the 1960s and '70s were "one of the most important tactics that the Palestinian resistance have engaged in."

The event was scheduled to take place at Columbia's Barnard College, the university's all-female undergraduate school, according to Columbia University Apartheid Divest. At the start of the event, student organizers said they were forced to "change rooms" at the last moment after a Ph.D. student lodged a complaint to the university. The event was moved to Columbia's "Q House," an "LGBTQ+ special interest community at Columbia University," according to an internal email obtained by the Free Beacon and addressed to "comrades."

Columbia responded by opening an investigation into the event, which Columbia University Apartheid Divest urged its members to ignore in its Wednesday night newsletter. Those who do not cooperate with the investigation will face disciplinary action, a Columbia spokesperson told the Free Beacon.

Four students tied to the event face suspensions, according to a Columbia Spectator piece published Thursday night, roughly 24 hours after Columbia University Apartheid Divest sent its newsletter to members.

"If you, as a student group member, have received a personal email about a follow-up conversation … Do not respond to the University's email. Do not communicate any sensitive information over email," the group wrote.

Updated 9:08 p.m.: This piece has been updated with additional information.