Top US university suspends groups protesting Israel's bombardment of Gaza

Columbia students participate in a rally in support of Palestine at the university in October (SPENCER PLATT)
Columbia students participate in a rally in support of Palestine at the university in October (SPENCER PLATT)

A prestigious US university has suspended two student groups that organized protests against Israel's bombing campaign in Gaza, saying they violated campus policies.

Gerald Rosberg, Columbia University's chair of the special committee on campus safety, said Friday that Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace would be suspended throughout the fall semester.

"This decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation," he said in a statement.

Jewish Voice For Peace -- a growing national anti-Zionist organization on the left -- called the decision an "appalling act of censorship and intimidation by the administration" and demanded an "immediate reinstatement" of Columbia's student chapters.

"The students in these groups are acting with moral clarity. They are protesting war and trying to save lives by calling for a ceasefire," the statement said.

Columbia's SJP chapter meanwhile said "you can shut our organizations down, but can't stop our hearts from beating for liberation, humanity, and the freedom of Palestine."

The suspension strips the groups of funding and means they cannot hold events on campus.

Rosberg said the suspension would only be lifted if the two groups showed "a commitment to compliance with University policies."

"This ensures both the safety of our community and that core University activities can be conducted without disruption" during what Rosberg described as "charged time," with protests in the United States -- including some involving college students -- having turned violent.

Hundreds of Columbia students had walked out of lectures on Thursday, US media reported, to attend a protest organized by the two groups in which they called on Washington to push for a ceasefire in Israel's assault on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which launched a deadly cross-border raid on Israel on October 7 that killed some 1,200 people.

The Israeli operation has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza's health ministry in the Hamas-governed territory.

Some media reports said students at the Thursday protest called for the school to label Israel's assault on Gaza a "genocide," and demanded the university boycott and divest from Israeli institutions.

Across US campuses including Harvard, Stanford and New York University, bitter clashes involving students, professors and administrators have grown into viral debates on social media, with charges of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and threats to free speech.