Jamaal Bowman Defends Ilhan Omar's Daughter After Suspension for Her Role in Anti-Israel Tent City at Columbia

Omar grilled Columbia president one day before her daughter, Isra Hirsi, was suspended for participating in ‘indefinite occupation’ of university property

L: Isra Hirsi and her mother, Rep. Ilhan Omar (Twitter/@israhirsi), R: Jamaal Bowman (Getty Images)
April 18, 2024

New York Democratic congressman Jamaal Bowman rallied to the defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar's (D., Minn.) daughter after she was suspended from school for her role in an anti-Israel protest that took the form of an Occupy Wall Street-style tent city at Columbia University.

Omar’s daughter, Isra Hirsi, was suspended from Barnard College on Thursday for her role in the unsanctioned tent encampment—which the protesters called an "indefinite occupation" of school property. The protesters were repeatedly warned that they were violating Columbia's rules.

The suspension came a day after Omar questioned Columbia president Minouche Shafik during Wednesday’s House Education and Workforce Committee hearing. Omar on Wednesday asked Shafik about Columbia’s freedom of expression regarding the Israel-Hamas war on campus. Bowman on Thursday claimed Hirsi’s suspension was the result of retaliation, rather than punishment for breaking the rules.

"The day after [Omar] questioned Columbia leadership's commitment to free academic expression, the school suspended her daughter? It's clear what is happening here. Our educational institutions should not be in the business of political reprisals," Bowman wrote in a post.

Hirsi participated in an unsanctioned "Gaza Solidarity" tent encampment erected on Columbia’s property, which organizers said would stay in place until the Ivy League school met their "demands" to "divest" from companies that do business with Israel. The school warned protesters to clear the lawn Wednesday, but the students refused.

The New York Police Department on Thursday began arresting demonstrators who were still present at the encampment. Samantha Slater, Columbia’s director of communications for media relations, told the Washington Free Beacon, "Students who are participating in the unauthorized encampment are suspended. We are continuing to identify them and will be sending out formal notifications."

Barnard College did not respond to a request for comment regarding Bowman’s accusation of "political reprisal." The college told the Free Beacon, "The College does not provide information about confidential student conduct proceedings." However, the college pointed to a press release from Thursday.

"Members of the Barnard Senior Staff provided participants in the unauthorized encampment with written warnings at approximately 7 p.m. on April 17. These written warnings stated that students would receive interim suspensions if they did not leave the encampment by 9 p.m. on April 17.  This morning, April 18, we started to place identified Barnard students remaining in the encampment on interim suspension, and we will continue to do so," Barnard College wrote.

"Now and always, we prioritize our students’ learning and living in an inclusive environment free from harassment. Given the evolving circumstances at Columbia and in the area, we are working to ensure the safety and well-being of the entire Barnard community. We have temporarily restricted access to certain outdoor spaces on our campus," Barnard College continued.

"I’m an organizer with CU Apartheid Divest @ColumbiaSJP, in my 3 years at @BarnardCollege I have never been reprimanded or received any disciplinary warnings. I just received notice that I am one of three students suspended for standing in solidarity with Palestinians facing a genocide," Hirsi wrote in a post. "Those of us in Gaza Solidarity Encampment will not be intimidated. We will stand resolute until our demands are met. Our demands include divestment from companies complicit in genocide, transparency of @Columbia’s investments and FULL amnesty for all students facing repression."

Bowman's defense comes amid his embattled primary race against pro-Israel challenger Westchester County executive George Latimer. Latimer was encouraged by local rabbis to run, citing Bowman's hostility toward the Jewish state. In the wake of Hamas's Oct. 7 attack, the two-term congressman has accused Israel of "mass murder," "genocide," and "ethnic cleansing." Bowman finds himself 17 points behind Latimer according to a primary poll conducted by Democratic pollster Mark Mellman.

At the hearing, Bowman grilled Shafik about a debunked event where pro-Palestinian protesters were sprayed with "skunk," a crowd-control chemical developed by the Israel Defense Forces, at a rally in January. The substance was revealed to be a harmless odorous "gag gift."

"It appears to have been an odorous substance that was sprayed on demonstrators," Shafik said in response to Bowman’s question. "The individuals involved have been suspended from Columbia."

Bowman last week questioned the committee’s intentions behind its investigations into anti-Semitism, accusing committee chair Rep. Virginia Foxx (R., N.C.) of intimidating dissenting, anti-Israel voices such as the United Automobile Workers Local 2325 union which called for a ceasefire and accused Israel of genocide.

"Chair Foxx’s targeting of Local 2325’s resolution vote is a blatant attempt to silence a union whose members voted overwhelmingly and democratically to take a political position with which she disagrees," Bowman wrote. "Such intimidation tactics go far beyond the legitimate uses of the Committee’s oversight power, and instead serve only to scare unions across the country from exercising their right to political expression for fear of unfair persecution."

Emma Simon, Bowman’s deputy communications director, echoed Bowman’s ire for Foxx, "A good reminder that chair Virginia Foxx is the worst!!"

Bowman, who did not respond to a request for comment, concluded by comparing Foxx’s investigations into anti-Semitism across academia and the workforce to "McCarthy-era repression."