House Dems slam Columbia for failing to clear encampment, allege civil rights violations

The 21 lawmakers said that Columbia has effectively ‘decided to segregate some students from campus altogether’ rather than breaking up the anti-Israel demonstration

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) speaks at a press conference to address congestion pricing at the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel.

A group of 21 pro-Israel House Democrats blasted Columbia in a letter sent Monday morning, accusing administrators of failing to break up an anti-Israel protest encampment on its campus and alleging that failing to do so constitutes a violation of Jewish students’ civil rights.

The letter reflects escalating concern among pro-Israel lawmakers as the Columbia encampment continues to function more than a week after police initially cleared the site, and as students at a growing number of colleges across the country have followed in the demonstrators’ example.

We “write to express our disappointment that, despite promises to do so, Columbia University has not yet disbanded the unauthorized and impermissible encampment of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish activists on campus,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the school’s trustees. “As a result of this disruption on campus, supported by some faculty members, many students have been prevented from safely attending class, the main library, and from leaving their dorm rooms in an apparent violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”

The letter describes the encampment as “the breeding ground for antisemitic attacks on Jewish students, including hate speech, harassment, intimidation, and even threats of violence.”

Columbia, the lawmakers alleged, has “violate[d] its legal obligations to protect all students from discrimination and harassment” by allowing the encampment to continue; they argued that Columbia must break up the encampment to ensure compliance with the Civil Rights Act.

The lawmakers said that Columbia’s decision to move to hybrid classes in response to the encampment constituted an implicit acknowledgment that “encampment had created an impermissibly hostile and unsafe environment for Jewish students.”

“In other words, instead of solving the root cause of discrimination and harassment that students faced on campus, the administration decided to segregate some students from campus altogether, which naturally created an unsafe environment on campus for all students,” the lawmakers alleged.

They praised Columbia’s negotiations last week with protesters to voluntarily disband the encampment, but said that it is “abundantly clear” the protesters are unwilling to do so, and that it is now “past time” for Columbia to step in.

“The time for negotiation is over; the time for action is now. It is ultimately the responsibility of the Board of Trustees to act,” the letter continues. “If any Trustees are unwilling to do this, they should resign so that they can be replaced by individuals who will uphold the University’s legal obligations under Title VI.”

The letter’s signatories include Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Dan Goldman (D-NY), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Jared Moskowitz (D-FL), Wiley Nickel (D-NC), Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Brad Schneider (D-IL), Haley Stevens (D-MI), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Chris Pappas (D-NH), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Greg Landsman (D-OH), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Marc Veasey (D-TX), Darren Soto (D-FL), Donald Norcross (D-NJ), Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Dean Phillips (D-MN).

Hoyer is the former Democratic majority leader and Schiff is the Democratic nominee for California’s next senator.

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