Is Columbia’s president next to go amid pro-Palestinian protests?

Columbia President Minouche Shafik is falling under bipartisan criticism over the pro-Palestinian protests that have taken up residence on her campus, potentially setting her up as the next elite college head to lose her job amid antisemitism concerns.

“I fully agree with the White House—these ‘protests’ are antisemitic, unconscionable, and dangerous. Add some tiki torches and it’s Charlottesville for these Jewish students,” Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa) said on the social media platform X. “To @Columbia President Minouche Shafik: do your job or resign so Columbia can find someone who will.”

The “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Columbia began last Wednesday, the same day Shafik and other school officials went before the House Education Committee to testify about their response to antisemitism on campus. The activists are calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and for the U.S. to stop providing Israel with weapons, among other demands.

Antisemitism has soared both nationally and globally since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, with U.S. colleges in particular taking heat for their handling of the situation.

Shafik and the others from Columbia were able to get through their House hearing without any big breakout moments like the ones last December that preceded the eventual downfall of the presidents of the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) and Harvard.

At the December hearing, the college leaders had declined to state definitively that calls for the genocide of Jews could constitute harassment on their campus. The Columbia leaders made it clear they felt such calls would indeed be against school policy, but the worst was yet to come for the school.

On Thursday, the New York Police Department (NYPD) began arresting students at the encampment after the school told the participants multiple times they were not allowed in that particular area.

“I regret that all of these attempts to resolve the situation were rejected by the students involved. As a result, NYPD officers are now on campus and the process of clearing the encampment is underway,” Shafik said at the time, adding the students would be suspended.

Among the suspended students was Isra Hirsi, Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) daughter, who has claimed she was sprayed with “chemical weapons” during the protest.

Asked on MSNBC she believes the demonstration has made other students uncomfortable, Hirsi said, “I think that the encampment was honestly one of the beautiful forms of solidarity.”

“We would be singing songs, we had meals together, people prayed together,” she continued. “They held Shabbat yesterday, and it’s really just been a very community-centered space.”

And the crackdown has only inflamed activists.

Columbia’s encampment has grown, and similar demonstrations have since popped up at schools including Yale University and New York University, which have both also seen multiple students arrested.

Columbia has said it will shift to hybrid learning for the rest of the semester over safety concerns.

“President Shafik is focused on deescalating the rancor on Columbia’s campus,” the school said in a statement to The Hill. “She is working across campus with members of the faculty, administration, and Board of Trustees, and with state, city, and community leaders, and appreciates their support.”

In response to accusations of antisemitism, the demonstrators have pointed out that they count many Jewish students among their numbers, but the protests have led to bipartisan condemnation, including from the White House.

“I condemn the antisemitic protests, that’s why I set up a program to deal with that. I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians,” President Biden said Monday.

However, when asked if Shafik should resign, the president replied, “I don’t know that.”

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who campaigned for weeks for UPenn and Harvard’s president to resign, is now focusing her sights on Shafik.

“The situation unfolding on campus right now is a direct product of your policies and misguided decisions,” said a letter led by Stefanik and signed by all 10 New York House Republican members. “Based on these recent events and your testimony in front of Congress, we have no confidence in your leadership of this once esteemed institution.”

“The ongoing situation that has unfolded is a direct symptom of your continued lax enforcement of policy and clear double standards,” it continued. “While the rot is systemic, the responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders. It is time for Columbia University to turn the page on this shameful chapter. This can only be done through the restoration of order and your prompt resignation.”

It took UPenn’s former president days after the December antisemitism hearing before she announced her resignation. Harvard’s president resigned a month later, from a combination of the hearing backlash and plagiarism allegations.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the House Education Committee, has already threatened to bring Shafik and other Columbia officials back for another hearing due to the protests.

Republicans senators, meanwhile, have called on Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Attorney General Merrick Garland to “restore order” to campus, and at least two Senate Republicans are calling on Biden to use the National Guard.

—Updated April 24 at 10:04 a.m.

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