Albany Agenda

Here’s what New York elected officials are saying about the Columbia University protests

Progressives have criticized the school for bringing in the NYPD to clear the encampment, while Republicans have called for the National Guard.

Political leaders have weighed in on the pro-Palestine encampment at Columbia University.

Political leaders have weighed in on the pro-Palestine encampment at Columbia University. Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

On April 17, a group of pro-Palestine student protestors at Columbia University began pitching tents on a lawn at the Manhattan campus. The students pledged to maintain the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” until the Columbia administration met its demands: full transparency into Columbia’s investments, divestment from companies that “profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and occupation in Palestine,” and amnesty for any protesters facing disciplinary action.

The university agreed to greater financial transparency but refused the other demands. When the students refused to leave, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik declared them all to be trespassers and requested that the New York City Police Department come onto the Ivy League school’s campus and arrest them. On April 18, NYPD officers arrested more than 100 people. Many of the students who were arrested were also suspended from campus. The mass arrests came a day after House Republicans grilled Shafik during a congressional hearing about the university’s response to antisemitism and pro-Palestine protests.

After police dismantled the initial encampment, a much larger group of students took over an adjacent lawn and rebuilt it, while faculty members staged a walkout to protest the administration’s actions.

The situation at Columbia made international news and prompted comparisons to an earlier era of student activism. In 1968, student protesters at Columbia famously occupied university buildings for nearly a week, until the university’s administration called in the NYPD to violently evict them from the campus.

Unlike in 1968, the recent arrests of protesters were nonviolent. “To put this in perspective, the students that were arrested were peaceful, offered no resistance whatsoever, and were saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner,” NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell said during a press conference on April 18. The university’s response to the Gaza Solidarity Encampment also inspired students at other colleges around the country to create their own protest encampments. While the encampment continued inside Columbia’s campus, the school shut its gates to nonstudents, and separate protests and counter-protests sprung up just outside the 116th Street gates, monitored around the clock by NYPD officers.

In the days after the April 18 arrests, reports emerged of protesters outside Columbia’s gates holding anti-Israel signs and jeering Jewish pro-Israel students. A rabbi who worked with Jewish students at Columbia encouraged them to leave campus for their own safety, though the Columbia/Barnard Hillel – the main Jewish organization on campus – disagreed that Jewish students should leave.

Dozens of elected officials have released statements about the situation at Columbia. A handful of progressives condemned the arrests of peaceful student protesters. Moderate Democrats criticized protesters’ alleged antisemitic acts. And Republicans called for Shafik to resign and urged Gov. Kathy Hochul to mobilize the National Guard to clear the encampment.

Here’s what elected officials from New York are saying about the situation at Columbia. This article was last updated on April 29.


President Joe Biden: On April 21, the White House released a statement condemning the protests for allegedly featuring antisemitic and terrorist rhetoric: “While every American has the right to peaceful protest, calls for violence and physical intimidation targeting Jewish students and the Jewish community are blatantly Antisemitic, unconscionable, and dangerous – they have absolutely no place on any college campus, or anywhere in the United States of America. And echoing the rhetoric of terrorist organizations, especially in the wake of the worst massacre committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, is despicable. We condemn these statements in the strongest terms.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer: On April 21, the U.S. Senate majority leader released a brief statement condemning antisemitism in college protests: “College campuses must be places of learning and discussion. Every American has a right to protest, but when protests shift to antisemitism, verbal abuse, intimidation, or glorification of Oct. 7 violence against Jewish people, that crosses the line. Campuses must remain safe for all students.”

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: On April 21, Gillibrand released a statement condemning antisemitism at Columbia: “I am appalled at the virulent antisemitism being displayed on Columbia University’s campus. Threats of violence against Jewish students and the Jewish community are horrible, despicable and wholly unacceptable. Using the rhetoric of terrorists has no place in New York, where we pride ourselves on tolerance and the right of every group to practice their religion in peace.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: On April 23, the House minority leader released a statement condemning antisemitic rhetoric and intimidation on New York City college campuses: “The antisemitic rhetoric and intimidation deployed by some students and outside protesters on college campuses in New York City and beyond is completely unacceptable and deeply disturbing. Every American has the constitutional right to free speech and peaceful assembly in the public square. However, intentionally targeting Jews or any community on the basis of race, religion or ethnicity, acts of harassment and the use of physical violence will never be tolerated. No Jewish student or faculty member should fear for their safety on campus or anywhere else in our nation.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik: On April 21, Stefanik released a statement demanding that Shafik resign for failing to effectively suppress the protest. “While Columbia’s failed leadership spent hundreds of hours preparing for this week’s Congressional hearing, it clearly was an attempt to cover up for their abject failure to enforce their own campus rules and protect Jewish students on campus. Over the past few months and especially the last 24 hours, Columbia’s leadership has clearly lost control of its campus putting Jewish students’ safety at risk. It is crystal clear that Columbia University – previously a beacon of academic excellence founded by Alexander Hamilton – needs new leadership. President Shafik must immediately resign. And the Columbia Board must appoint a President who will protect Jewish students and enforce school policies.”

On April 23, Stefanik called for all federal funding to be cut off to Columbia and for the Department of Homeland Security to deport international students who participated in the protests. 

House Republicans: All 10 members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation signed on to an April 22 letter demanding Shafik’s resignation.

“Over the past few days, anarchy has engulfed the campus of Columbia University. As the leader of this institution, one of your chief objectives, morally and under law, is to ensure students have a safe learning environment. By every measure, you have failed this obligation. The situation unfolding on campus right now is a direct product of your policies and misguided decisions,” according to the letter.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: On April 23, Ocasio-Cortez condemned the arrests of student protesters: “Calling in police enforcement on nonviolent demonstrations of young students on campus is an escalatory, reckless, and dangerous act. It represents a heinous failure of leadership that puts people’s lives at risk. I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman: On April 19, the day after Columbia authorized the NYPD to enter campus and arrest student protesters, Bowman held a remote press conference with Columbia faculty members to criticize the university. “I’m very concerned with some of Columbia’s actions,” Bowman said, according to Politico. “They seem to be folding to pressure from a right wing Congress’ weaponizing of the unfolding events in the Middle East as a means to suppress fundamental freedoms of expression.”

On April 23, Bowman wrote on X, “I condemn any potential police action on Columbia University’s campus. As an educator who personally experienced the over policing of our schools, this is personal to me. We must resist right-wing demagoguery and stop suppressing peaceful protest if we are to keep students safe.”

Reps. Jerry Nadler, Dan Goldman and Adriano Espaillat: The three Manhattan Democrats released a statement on April 22 condemning antisemitism at Columbia.

“Over the past week, we’ve witnessed what could be legitimate debate venture into dangerous antisemitic rhetoric, attacks and intimidation on Columbia University’s campus. We are united in our strong condemnation of the antisemitism and bigotry facing the Jewish community. No Jewish person in our great city should fear for their safety,” the statement reads.

On April 23, Nadler and Goldman also signed on to a letter from Democratic Jewish elected officials opposing calls for Shafik to resign.


Gov. Kathy Hochul: On April 22, the governor visited Columbia to meet with Shafik and officials from City Hall and the NYPD. “The recent harassment and rhetoric is vile and abhorrent. Every student deserves to be safe,” she wrote on X.

“I was once a student protester,” she said in an accompanying video. “I protested institutions, I protested governments, I protested against apartheid. But I’ve never seen a level of protest that is so person-to-person, that is so visceral, and I’m calling on everyone – people need to find their humanity, have the conversations, talk to each other, understand different points of view, because that’s what college students should be doing.

On April 23, Hochul said that she had no plans to call up the National Guard to clear the student protesters at Columbia. “I don’t think it’s necessary at this time, but if the NYPD calls and says they need help, we’re always there for them,” Hochul told reporters, in response to a question from City & State.

State Attorney General Letitia James: On April 22, James released a statement condemning antisemitic acts at Columbia. “The events that have occurred at Columbia University have been deeply concerning and painful for many. The right to protest peacefully is the bedrock of our nation’s democracy. However, when peaceful protest devolves into hate and antisemitic violence, the line is crossed and will not be tolerated. My office is monitoring the situation closely. We know the dire consequences of failing to stand tall in the face of hate, and this moment must be a clarion call to respond to those who seek to spark the flames of division.”

State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt: On April 22, the highest-ranking Republican in the state Senate called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to send in the National Guard to break up the Columbia encampment. “Instead of removing pro-Hamas occupiers, @Columbia asked Jewish students to stay home. This is unacceptable and un-American. Fire this university president immediately and mobilize the National Guard to restore order. Their $13 billion endowment should cover all costs both to NYC and state,” Ortt wrote on X.

State Senate Republicans: On April 24, 16 of the 21 Republican members of the state Senate sent a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul urging her to deploy the National Guard against student protesters at Columbia. “The abhorrent behavior of those involved in these protests and inaction by the University’s Administration have compromised the safety and education of New York’s students. There must be immediate measures taken to end this hate and violence. For these reasons and despite your recent comments, we urge you to use your authority to deploy the National Guard at Columbia University immediately,” the letter reads.

Socialists in Office: On April 26, eight state legislators endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America signed on to a statement supporting the Gaza Solidarity Encampments at Columbia and other universities. “We stand in solidarity with the students practicing peaceful protest at Columbia, NYU, CUNY, Cornell, the New School and all across the country, and we condemn the violent repression that university administrators and the police have wreaked upon these students,” the statement reads.

State Sens. Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Liz Krueger: Both Hoylman-Sigal and Krueger signed on to an April 23 letter from Democratic Jewish elected officials opposing calls for Shafik’s resignation.

State Sen. Kristen Gonzalez: A Columbia alum, Gonzalez criticized the university for having student protesters arrested. “Once again, I’m asking my alma mater to remember their storied tradition of supporting anti-war activism. As an alum it is truly disappointing to see leadership failing to uphold the values that attracted students like me, and instead call in an NYPD unit known for violence,” she wrote on X on April 18.

State Sen. Jabari Brisport: On April 22, Brisport expressed support for the student protesters. “Nothing but solidarity with the students at Columbia and the growing wave of students at colleges and universities across the country who are occupying space in the name of peace. Free Palestine,” he wrote on X.

On April 24, he mocked conservative critics of the protesters and called on Columbia to accept protesters’ demands to divest. “With all the attention on Columbia students right now, you’d think they were murdering 300+ people and leaving them in a mass grave near a hospital they bombed. They didn’t. But Israel did,” he wrote on X. “Columbia should divest.”

Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas: On April 24, Gonzalez-Rojas expressed support for the student protesters. “To protect Democracy we must protect free speech. Solidarity with all the students, faculty, administrators, and activists peacefully protesting for human rights and a ceasefire in Gaza at Columbia, NYU & on all campuses,” she wrote on X, alongside a raised fist emoji.

Assembly Member Patricia Fahy: On April 25, the chair of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education criticized the arrest of peaceful student protesters. “As the Chair of NY’s Higher Education Committee, I am disturbed by the use of riot police to forcibly remove students amid what has been largely peaceful, nonviolent protests at @Columbia and others,” she wrote on X. “By design, colleges are intended to be places for open debate and discourse, which includes the right to free speech and assembly. One can oppose or criticize the policies of Netanyahu’s government and not be antisemitic. That being said, no student, regardless of religious beliefs or ethnicity, should feel threatened,  unsafe, or harassed. Our campuses must remain stewards of open and free discourse and debate as they were historically intended to be.”

Assembly Members Anna Kelles, Harvey Epstein and Linda Rosenthal: Kelles, Epstein and Rosenthal all signed on to an April 23 letter from Democratic Jewish elected officials opposing calls for Shafik’s resignation.


New York City Mayor Eric Adams: On April 21, Adams condemned antisemitism connected to the protests at Columbia and threatened demonstrators with arrest.

“I am horrified and disgusted with the antisemitism being spewed at and around the Columbia University campus – like the example of a young woman holding a sign with an arrow pointing to Jewish students stating ‘Al-Qasam’s Next Targets,’ or another where a woman is literally yelling ‘We are Hamas,’ or another where groups of students are chanting ‘We don’t want no Zionists here’ – and I condemn this hate speech in the strongest of terms. Supporting a terrorist organization that aims to kill Jews is sickening and despicable. As I have repeatedly said, hate has no place in our city, and I have instructed the NYPD to investigate any violation of law that is reported. Rest assured, the NYPD will not hesitate to arrest anyone who is found to be breaking the law.”

Adams also suggested in a press conference on April 23 that the protests may have been the work of “outside agitators,” rather than students, pointing to the fact that students in the Columbia encampment were all using similar looking tents.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander: On April 18, Lander criticized Columbia for authorizing the NYPD to come onto campus and arrest protesters. “Columbia should not be calling the cops on its own students for engaging in nonviolent protest,” he wrote on X. “The university has a long history of respecting free speech on campus, and I support the faculty who are pleading with their administration to continue that tradition.” He continued in another post, “We must not allow MAGA Republicans to weaponize antisemitism against freedom of expression.”

On April 22, he said pro-Palestine protesters should have the right to express themselves and pro-Israel Jewish students should not be harassed. “Pro-Palestinian students – many of whom are Jewish themselves – have a right to peacefully protest and express free speech. I did not think Columbia should have called the NYPD in to arrest students engaging in nonviolent protest,” he wrote in a thread on X. “But let’s also be very clear: Jewish students who are not part of the protests have a right to go to class, to visibly support Israel if they choose, and to celebrate Passover safely and without reasonable fear of harm. And of course Muslim and all students deserve the same.”

Lander also signed on to an April 23 letter from Jewish Democratic elected officials rejecting calls for Shafik to resign.

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams: On April 19, Williams criticized the suspensions and arrests of protesters. “Protest is a right, civil disobedience, a powerful tool. And arrest at some point is a part of elevating the message. Yet @Columbia threatening the educational futures of students through suspension, for raising their voices in nonviolent action – the speed, force, and justification of sending police suggests unacceptably that the actions were more about the message than means of protest,” he wrote on X.

On April 22, Williams praised student protesters while criticizing bad actors who used antisemitic rhetoric. “The Columbia protest on-campus formed as a nonviolent, but disruptive – as most protests are – movement. What should have remained largely peaceful was escalated by arrests, then corrupted as some have tried to seize the spotlight to spew antisemitism,” the official public advocate account wrote in a thread on X. “On this first night of Passover, as protests spread to NYU and campuses across the country, the fears of Jewish students are real and warranted, as are the frustrations of people genuinely speaking out for peace but being heard as hateful. We need to be able to see the strong, clear difference between being pro-Palestinian rights and being antisemitic. Those lines are blurred by the media and bad actors, and crossed when Jewish students are accosted and threatened for their own identities and beliefs.”

New York City Council Progressive Caucus: On April 22, the Progressive Caucus released a statement expressing support for the protesters at Columbia and condemning antisemitic remarks made by protesters outside of Columbia’s campus. The statement also condemned Columbia’s crackdown on the protesters and reiterated the Progressive Caucus’ support for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

“Like generations before them, students are fearlessly advocating for peace and justice, risking doxxing, suspension and eviction. Barnard and Columbia’s use of surveillance technology and harsh punitive measures against its students perpetuate a culture of fear, violate democratic values and feed Congressional Republicans’ calls to crack down on activism and free speech. … We will support Barnard and Columbia students as they continue the encampment and do everything in our power to move towards our shared goal – a permanent ceasefire, the release of all remaining hostages, and an end to the mass slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza.”

New York City Council Common Sense Caucus: On April 21, the centrist caucus released a statement condemning both the Columbia protesters and elected officials who support them.

​​“What is happening on the campus of Columbia University right now is a disgraceful, sickening display of antisemitism and hatred. On the eve of Passover, the fact that Jewish students are now being told by campus religious leaders to flee and not return, as their safety is no longer guaranteed, is unacceptable and a shameful and chilling reminder of a dark time in our history. The Members of the Common Sense Caucus strongly condemn these vile demonstrations and any elected officials who are ‘standing in solidarity’ with them. We call on Columbia President Shafik to immediately restore safety and order to the campus, to launch an investigation into the groups responsible, and to suspend or expel any student caught violating university rules or inciting violence against Jewish students.”

Council Members Tiffany Cabán, Alexa Avilés, Shahana Hanif and Sandy Nurse: The four City Council members, who are all members of the Progressive Caucus, visited the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University on April 20 and wrote an op-ed for City & State about what they experienced there.

“On Saturday, we visited the reconstituted encampment ourselves to add our voices to the students’ calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and freedom for Palestinians,” they wrote. “What we saw couldn’t be more different from the dire warnings of rampant antisemitic threats and pervasive danger coming from City Hall, Albany and the White House. The encampment is completely peaceful – an assessment shared not only by NBC’s reporter on the scene, but even NYPD Chief (of Patrol) John Chell, whom we are not accustomed to agreeing with.”

Council Member Yusef Salaam: The chair of the Committee on Public Safety visited the encampment on April 22 and released a statement about it the next day.

“My experience yesterday at Columbia University stands in stark contrast to the portrayals of the Columbia protests and the protesters by the mass media and several elected officials,” the statement reads. “In truth, the encampment demonstration is not only peaceful but also profoundly impactful, showcasing how the diversity of ideas among our youth can foster global peace if embraced wholeheartedly; not stamped out with force or rhetoric.”

Council Member Inna Vernikov: In a video filmed on Columbia’s campus on April 22, the Republican City Council member condemned faculty members who had walked out to protest the arrests of their students. “@Columbia faculty held a rally against NYPD ‘raids’ and to ‘end student suspensions.’ Not a word about Jewish students getting death threats, being physically assaulted and hearing calls for their extermination. Not. A. Word. There is no academic freedom at this university. There is only indoctrination, discrimination and calls for murder.”

Council Member Chi Ossé: On April 22, Ossé expressed support for student protesters on Columbia’s campus while condemning protesters outside the university who used antisemitic rhetoric. “Students protesting at @Columbia for Palestinian life have my full support. I unequivocally condemn the vile antisemitic incidents from OUTSIDE perpetrators we’ve seen in the area. I reject attempts to use those incidents to smear the broader student movement. Free Palestine,” he wrote on X.

Council Member Erik Bottcher: On April 22, Bottcher condemned antisemitic rhetoric at the Columbia protest. “The rhetoric being expressed by some students and others at Columbia University has crossed the line from legitimate protest speech to anti-semitism and calls for violence against Israelis and Jews,” he wrote on X. “It’s heartbreaking to hear from Jewish friends how targeted and unsafe they feel. It’s just not acceptable. Protesting civilian deaths and a humanitarian crisis is one thing; hate speech is quite another and has no place whatsoever in our city.”


United Auto Workers Region 9A: The union, which represents many graduate student workers, released a statement condemning the arrests of students and reiterated its call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. “We are deeply outraged by the use of force on peaceful protesters who are rightfully demanding an end to their higher education institutions’ complicity in the atrocities being committed by the State of Israel in Gaza,” the statement reads. “We demand that universities reinstate all suspended and evicted students and workers. Over the past week, employers – including Columbia and NYU – have colluded with police to forcibly remove and arrest nonviolent demonstrators who are their own students and workers, as well as our UAW members and organizers.”

Working Families Party: On April 19, the state Working Families Party condemned the arrests of peaceful student protesters. “Columbia University has a long and storied history of student activism, and the school has a basic responsibility to protect the rights of students protesting a worsening human rights catastrophe in Gaza,” WFP co-Directors Jasmine Gripper and Ana María Archila said in a statement. “Calling the NYPD on peaceful student protesters is indefensible and crosses moral and ethical lines. The university shouldn’t involve the police to arrest and silence the voices of its own students.”