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Columbia Students Risk Arrest, Suspension to Maintain Gaza Solidarity Encampment on Campus

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Students at Columbia University and Barnard College in New York have set up dozens of tents to occupy the South Lawn of the campus to create a Gaza Solidarity Encampment. Democracy Now! spoke to some of the student-activists, who say they are occupying the space, despite the administration’s threats of suspension and disciplinary action, as part of a demand that the Ivy League school divest from companies and institutions that profit from Israeli occupation. “It seems like the repression is only getting worse and worse,” says Maryam Alwan, a student-activist with Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. As Columbia University President Shafik testified before Congress about accusations of antisemitism at the school, Democracy Now! spoke to Columbia and Barnard College students yesterday who set up a Gaza Solidarity Encampment early Wednesday morning with dozens of tents, occupying the South Lawn of the campus outside the main library. As we broadcast, students have been threatened with suspension and discipline action but are still refusing to leave until their demands are met. They spoke about what they’re calling for.

PROTESTERS: Down, down with occupation! Down, down with occupation! Up, up with liberation! Up, up with liberation!

MARYAM ALWAN: My name is Maryam Alwan, and I’m with Columbia SJP, Students for Justice in Palestine. And we are here today to demand that Columbia divest immediately from all stakes in Israeli apartheid. Over 33,000 Palestinians have been killed. And as we speak, our president is testifying in front of the House in a game of political theater that is conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism. We want to focus the attention on what’s going on in Gaza and tell Columbia that we are not going anywhere. No matter how much government suppression we face, we will keep fighting until they divest.

They have been completely repressive. I mean, we’ve faced police brutality. We have faced countless policy changes. I mean, my group, along with Jewish Voice for Peace, was suspended in the fall semester completely illegitimately. And I filed a lawsuit to counter that action. And it seems like the repression is only getting worse and worse and worse. But the more they repress us, the more we rise up. And that’s why we’ve escalated — that’s also why we’ve escalated here today.

Not only are they not listening to us when we peacefully protest, when we attempt to just pass referendums for student voices to even be heard, they don’t even want to listen to the students. They don’t want to know what the students think. And so, we’re here to tell them that we will take up space and presence on this campus, and they’re not going to be able to erase our support for Palestine.

PROTESTERS: What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! If Gaza doesn’t get it, shut it down!

SOPH: My name is Soph. I am with Jewish Voice for Peace at Columbia. And I am here today because I will not stand by while thousands and thousands of people are dying because of our tax dollars in this country, as Columbia’s money is going towards a genocide. The money that should be funding our education is going to the bombs that are dropping on Gaza right now. Columbia is a majority share — has massive amounts of shares in various organizations, like Lockheed Martin, that are supplying Israel with bombs right now, and we will no longer be complicit.

In a campus like this that is filled with repression, that is — every day we wake up, and the administration tries to silence us more and more. We are here to say, “The more you try to silence us, the louder we will be.” We will not be complicit. We will stand in solidarity, because we know that we keep us safe.

We refuse to believe that Israel is in any part related to our Judaism. In fact, our Jewish values inform why we’re here, why we’re standing in here — Jewish values of tikkun olam, of love, of appreciation, of respect, of mutual liberation. And so, as Jews, we are here to say that we will always support the liberation of Palestine, because that is what historically Jews have done. We have stood up for other oppressed peoples, because we know that there can be no freedom until we are all free.

PROTESTERS: Free, free Palestine! Free, free Palestine! Free, free, free Palestine! Free, free, free Palestine!

SARAH BORUS: My name is Sarah Borus. I’m a student at Barnard College. And I’m here because I was raised as an anti-Zionist Jew. It is important for me to stand with Palestine. I go to a university that is actively profiting off of the genocide of Palestinians and then is hiding behind Jewish students by saying that they want to crack down on us because of antisemitism. But as an anti-Zionist Jew, I know that that is the farthest thing from the truth. They are doing that because they know that we are on the right side of history, that they are doing something that is profoundly wrong. And it is our job during this genocide to come out and resist.

There were Jews protesting against this genocide who were harassed and then attacked with a chemical weapon. That is not being addressed. This is — quite frankly, we’re seeing McCarthyism once again. And our administrators need to be aware of the experience of anti-Zionist Jews, the way that antisemitism is being weaponized in order to crack down on this movement.

AMY GOODMAN: Voices from the South Lawn of Columbia University, where students have set up a Gaza Solidarity Encampment. Special thanks to Democracy Now!’s Hana Elias and Tey-Marie Astudillo and Eric Halvarson for that report.

When we come back, we go to Tel Aviv, Israel, to speak with a senior Israel analyst for the International Crisis Group about why Israel-Iran war is a lifeline for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Back in 20 seconds.

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