Podcast / On The Nose
On the Nose is our biweekly podcast. The editorial staff discusses the politics, culture, and questions that animate today’s Jewish left.
Jewish Organizing at Columbia’s Encampment
Duration
0:00 / 41:58
Published
April 25, 2024

Last week, the NYPD—called in by Columbia University president Minouche Shafik—arrested 108 Columbia and Barnard students, who had set up a Gaza solidarity encampment on a lawn in the center of campus. The group of students was subsequently suspended, and those at Barnard were evicted from campus housing. Over the following days, others reestablished the encampment—continuing the call for the university to disclose their investments and divest from Israeli companies, to boycott Israeli academic institutions, and to keep cops off campus, among other demands.

In the week since the encampment was established—as the tactic spreads to campuses around the country—the movement has been maligned as a threat to Jewish students, and lawmakers like Sens. Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley as well as Jewish communal leaders like Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt have called for bringing in the National Guard. Jewish Currents editor-in-chief Arielle Angel spoke to three Jewish student organizers arrested at the original encampments—Izzy Lapidus, Sarah Borus, and Lea Salim—about their experiences over the past week and what Palestine solidarity organizing has looked like on their campuses since October 7th.

Thanks to Jesse Brenneman for producing and to Nathan Salsburg for the use of his song “VIII (All That Were Calculated Have Passed).”


Correction: In the podcast, Angel says that the Columbia encampment began the day after Shafik’s congressional hearing. In fact, it began on the same day. The student arrests took place the day after.



Further Reading:

Evidence of torture as nearly 400 bodies found in Gaza mass graves,” Al Jazeera

Statement on Columbia’s Gaza Solidarity Protest Community Values,” Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD)

Republican Senators Demand Biden Use National Guard to Suppress Columbia Protests,” Nikki McCann Ramirez, Rolling Stone

Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL calling for NYPD and the National Guard to be brought onto campus on X

Passover seder at the Columbia encampment

NYPD Investigating ‘Skunk’ Chemical Attack at Columbia U,” Johanna Alonso, Inside Higher Ed

Republicans Wanted a Crackdown on Israel’s Critics. Columbia Obliged,” Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times


Transcript

Arielle Angel: Hello and welcome back to On the Nose, the Jewish Currents] Podcast. I’m Arielle Angel editor in chief of Jewish Currents], and I’ll be your host today. [Audio clip from Columbia Encampment] I spent Monday night at Columbia, doing a Passover Seder on a lawn in the center of campus that, over the last week, has been transformed into a solidarity encampment for Palestine. Jewish students led the Seder, which was attended by Jewish faculty as well as other non-Jewish students from within the encampment. The students wore keffiyehs and watermelon kippot (watermelons being a prominent symbol of Palestine) and led others in the kind of Seder that would be entirely recognizable to liberal American Jews, running through the traditional steps and adding in supplemental readings. We sang the four questions. [Audio clip of a group singing the four questions in Hebrew]. We read the demands of the camp in unison [Audio clip of a group reading: “ending the dual-degree programs with Tel Aviv University and canceling the Tel Aviv Global Center as Palestinian students cannot participate in these programs. Stop the displacement, from Harlem to Palestine]. And, unlike most American families who abandon the Seder after the food, we even came back after the meal and said the birkat hamazon [Audio clip of a group singing the birkat hamazon in Hebrew].

Non-Jewish students were interested in the Seder and protective of its space. Some of them even took it upon themselves to quiet down others in the encampment when it was hard to hear the Seder leaders. It was a really wonderful evening, and I felt like these students were participating in an American Jewish Passover tradition that reaches back to Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Freedom Seder in 1969, which brought together civil rights activists and leaders of all stripes in an act of protest and solidarity.

This was my second visit to the encampment, I also went the day before. And I have to say, I was a bit nervous about what I might find there. Listeners to this podcast know that we take a critical eye to accusations of antisemitism on campus and are wary of the ways they’re reported and amplified. And still, some of the videos that I saw online were indeed unnerving, particularly one of a protester telling Jewish students leaving campus to, quote: “Go back to Poland.” But I have to say that what I saw at the encampment within Columbia was nothing like the narratives that are being amplified in the news, which mostly feature non-students who are gathering outside of its gates. What I saw inside the encampment was student activists hanging out in tents, coordinating speeches and programming; eating and sharing food, and chanting about divestment from Israel, which is one of their core demands. [Audio clip of protestors chanting].

To be clear, we know that to supporters of Israel, divestment is threatening, but we should be clear that this is a political threat and not an antisemitic one. Frankly, I found the scene heartening, and wholesome, and welcoming. For a gathering of young people, there wasn’t even any partying; they’re really clear about their purpose there, and they’re strict about there being no drugs or alcohol in the encampment so they can keep everyone safe. To see the organized response from university officials, Jewish communal leaders like Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL, and politicians calling to send in the National Guard has been chilling. I mean, we know what happens when the National Guard is sent into a campus. We’ve seen it before in Kent State, where four students were killed. I can’t think of any reason to endanger these students with military force or to curtail their right to protest and expression (which they’re using ethically and responsibly). And considering how many of these students are Jewish students, it seems immediately clear that this is not about protecting Jews but about the vested interests of the university and its trustees, and pressure from lawmakers in both parties, as well as pro-Israel groups, donors, and parents.

After the Seder at the encampment on Monday night, we walked across the street to Union Theological Seminary, where another group of Jewish Barnard students were holding their Seder. These students were suspended, barred from campus, and evicted from their dorms after they were arrested at the encampment with 108 others last week, following Columbia President Minouche Shafik’s decision to call in the NYPD on students that even the police themselves admitted were calm and cooperative. At the end of the night, they began singing the song that the student movement sang while the arrests were taking place, a song taken from the book of Ruth. I hope you’ll listen to the song and ask yourselves whether it tracks with the vision of these encampments that you’ve seen in the news this past week. [Audio clip of students singing: “Where you go, I will go, my friends, where you go I will go; because your people are my people. Your people are mine. Your people are my people. Our struggles align.”]

Today, I’m really excited to have three Barnard students with me who have been suspended and evicted in the past week due to their protest with the Gaza encampment that is currently in the center of the Columbia campus right now. And we’ll talk a lot about the timeline in a second, but I just want to introduce these students. Today we have Izzy Lapidus.

Izzy Lapidus: Hi.

AA: Sarah Borus.

Sarah Borus: Hi.

AA: And Lea Salim.

Lea Salim: Hi. Thank you for having us.

AA: So just to give a very brief timeline, because a lot has happened. Last Wednesday, the Columbia President, Minouche Shafik, was part of a congressional hearing—similar to the ones that have been taking place with Claudine Gay at Harvard, for example, before she was pushed out of her post. The hearing itself was kind of a circus. There were a lot of really silly questions about, like, the spelling of “folx” with an X, and the “infantada,” and all kinds of very silly, panicky sorts of things. But there was also some really disturbing things that Shafik really signaled to—particularly Republican lawmakers—that she was prepared to crack down on and to chill Palestine speech on campus, in multiple ways, including talking about suspending students for speech (including “from the river to the sea”) and investigating students for Palestine speech, talking about interfering in appointments of tenured professors, for example; all pretty worrying things for academic freedom.

The next day, students began an encampment in the middle of the Columbia campus, and Shafik really wasted no time at all calling in the NYPD to arrest students. 108 students were arrested. The students who were arrested were suspended, and particularly, the Barnard students were evicted from their dorms. They had 15 minutes to collect their things—it was a pretty draconian response. These three students that I have with us today, Izzy, Sarah, and Lea, are all Jewish students at Barnard who have been involved in the Palestine organizing on campus, and I’m really excited to talk to you guys about what your experience has been. I actually want to go back to post-October 7, because there was already a climate of repression on campus of Palestine speech. SJP and JVP have both been suspended. So I want to hear a little bit more about what had been going on before this encampment.

LS: Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize that there are students in the movement who have been facing this draconian repression for months upon months. Just a month ago, we had our first wave of suspensions—arbitrary and very selectively enforced suspensions for students involved in organizing for Palestine Solidarity month—and those students were also evicted, and are still, to this day, evicted. So this is definitely not new to us. And this semester alone, from our very first protest this semester, we were attacked with chemical weapons, and there’s still an ongoing police investigation into that

AA: You’re referring to attacks on students at these protests with skunk water, which sent eight students to the hospital.

LS: You know, this has been an ongoing state of fear but also of resilience. Because we’ve been building up to this.

IL: Especially this semester, there’s been so much pushback from the administration and also this—it’s always felt unorganized, it’s felt kind of chaotic. Like: We want to shut it down, but we don’t know the best way to do it, so we’re trying to go by these arbitrary rules that Barnard straight-up has made up on the spot. There have been cases where we have been able to see the doc changing that we’re supposed to be looking at for what the actual rules are. There’s just been this inability to actually recognize the way in which Barnard’s administration is treating its students. We’ve tried many different measures and many different ways to get our voices across. But it continues to be met with just nothing. Like, we wrote this whole letter and got close to 600 signatures and had a list of demands on it. Not a single one of our demands was met. There was no acknowledgment of our letter whatsoever.

SB: Yeah, it’s been incredibly frustrating with the university, with their crackdown on free speech, with the ways that they have tried to paint us as some sort of fringe group, with the ways that they try to speak for the Jewish community. But it’s also incredibly inspiring to do this organizing work with the people that I do it with.

AA: You guys have been facing things, like a month or two ago, Barnard students weren’t allowed to put any messaging on their doors. There’s been a very illiberal clamp down on speech in the university. But then I also just want to ask: With the suspension of JVP and SJP, how has this organizing been happening? Have you created new vehicles for it? I know you have CUAD: Columbia University Apartheid Divest. How has the organizing been flowing through these groups?

LS: It’s important to understand that the suspension of SJP and JVP is recognized by everyone on this campus as the first hammering-in of: This university is willing to be unconstitutional with no shame. And they continuously, as Izzy mentioned, invent new policies on the spot and then retroactively apply them. So this has just amounted to a student body that lacks fundamental trust and also respect for the authority of this institution, which is why we have a chant that I think is really integral, which is: The more they try to silence us, the louder we will be. And that has held true, because we’ve had numbers like never before with this encampment. And one of the largest protests we ever had was when SJP and JVP were suspended, which was the first official CUAD protest, and it was massive. And since then, we have more than 116 groups that have signed on to this coalition, who have gone through the democratic process within their groups of voting on whether they want to join.

So there’s a lot of allegations from the right and from bad faith actors and groups who’d really like to characterize us as this blind mob, as just people tagging along on this trend, when it’s really so much more intentional than that. There are so many people who have woken up because of these suspensions. We have so many new organizers. It’s just really beautiful to see how so many people have become actively involved, and the student body is really electrified in a lot of ways. And that’s what I would say is how the organizing has continued and thrived since then; it’s that we have found every single avenue possible as students. Because at the end of the day, this is still our university, and no matter how much they try to authorize our dissent, you cannot authorize dissent. And we will continue to find avenues to do so, which is why CUAD was birthed.

AA: I want to ask how you got involved in this organizing on campus and a little bit about where you’re coming from into this movement.

SB: So I was raised anti-Zionist. The larger community that I was a part of was definitely Zionist, but my parents always really encouraged me to question what I was being told. So I have been anti-Zionist for a very long time, and I was looking for a religious community where I could go because I did not feel very welcome in a lot of mainstream Jewish communities. So I started going to shabbat with JVP, which was really one of the most beautiful Jewish spaces I’ve been in. And then from there, I got involved in organizing after October 7.

IL: Yeah, I mean, October 7 changed my entire world, like everything I thought I knew about the world. I was not active in any Jewish spaces on campus whatsoever before October 7. I was raised Jewish, for sure, but I didn’t really even know what the word Zionist meant until probably a few years ago. I went to Hebrew school for 10 years, I had a bat mitzvah. I did all the things, but my Hebrew school, their response was to not really talk about Israel or Palestine, so I sort of picked up Zionist ways of thinking just from growing up in New York City. But it wasn’t until October 7, and—Is my family OK?, that was definitely where I was at first—but then I was really like: What is going on here? What is the bigger picture? I spent many, many hours throughout October and into November just reading articles, UN reports, Amnesty International, really just trying to understand what is going on and how we got to October 7 in the first point. And then, once Israel announced its ground invasion of Gaza, that’s when I was like: Okay, this is genocide. And I was already using that word.

My whole learning process was really done in public. I’m pretty active on social media, so I was posting a lot about what I was reading. My whole thing was like: Everything I’m saying right now is because I’m learning it right now, and it’s possible for you to learn it also, and for you to be open-minded about what you have learned or what you haven’t learned, and that ultimately, we have to listen to Palestinians in Gaza, in the West Bank, in the diaspora. Palestinians know what is going on right now, and it is our job, especially as American Jews, to be sharing what Palestinians are saying. But because I wasn’t really connected to any Jewish communities, I was pretty isolated and alone. And it definitely took me a few months to really find my community. I got involved with Columbia Jews for Ceasefire. That was the first time I was ever in a community of Jews who felt like they were more aligned with me. And then there’s a lot of overlap between Jews for Ceasefire and JVP, and leading up to the encampment, I was more involved with JVP. And it’s really been now, in the aftermath, where my community has 100% been JVP. I’ve walked into JVP rooms in tears (based on what my Zionist family members are saying) and been so grateful to have this space. I’m so grateful for, also, now getting (through JVP) connected with the larger anti-Zionist ecosystem. The progression is a real honor.

LS: Yeah, I’m a sophomore in college. And when I arrived at college, I didn’t know that anti-Zionism was a thing. I had never heard that word in my entire life. I didn’t know that there was an option other than Zionism. I didn’t even think much of identifying as a Zionist, it kind of just felt synonymous to identifying as Jewish—which is very much the truth, I think, for a lot of the mainstream Jewish community and for the modern Orthodox community, too, to the point where it’s really difficult to know where your Zionism starts, and where your Judaism ends, and vice versa. I didn’t really have access to secular history growing up, let alone non-Zionist sources on Palestine, which is why it took being exposed to a pluralistic Jewish community here—and even more importantly, being exposed to anti-Zionists and to Palestinian communities here in New York City—that I realized: Whoa, there’s a whole world out here that I have been shielded from on purpose, and it is my obligation to listen to this entire other narrative that has a lot of intersections with my narrative, but also really key clashes. And I have to investigate and explore these points of intersection to find the truth.

So yeah, I really didn’t identify with the term anti-Zionist until, I would say, I joined JVP my freshman year, because I found a lot of other lefty Jews. And it was so excruciating for me at first; it was really, really difficult. It felt like an unearthing, and it felt really disturbing. And to me, it just goes to show that there’s always space for unlearning. It’s painful, but it’s possible. And we just have to have grace and patience for ourselves as Jews and also remember why we’re doing this. I believe the Jewish future lies in giving every single Jewish young person access to all of these narratives so that they can come to their own conclusions. But most importantly (and I keep coming back to this every single day), tearing apart Jewish young people from Palestinian young people, and from the people who they’re taught from birth, in my case, to see as their enemies—that is what we need to put an end to. And my life has been so enriched and has become so much more beautiful now that I’ve learned that there is nobody who is innately antisemitic, that there’s nobody who’s innately racist. These are all learned isms, and the only way that we can overcome is to learn to live alongside each other and love each other. And that is what being on this campus has done for me, is I’ve learned to love these people that I was taught not to.

AA: That’s a very powerful statement. And I want to hear more about the nitty-gritty of what it means to organize alongside one another in this moment. A lot of the media coverage of this has focused specifically on people who are outside of campus, on the streets outside of the locked gates, because a lot of people can’t get onto campus—it’s been very, very locked down. And there is, as you guys know, just an enormous machine that is making it look very, very scary to be Jewish on campus right now. I mean, I was shocked when I went to Columbia the other day—I could not stress how wholesome it is. And I just wanted to ask you about the media narrative and the stuff that’s going on outside, but I also wanted to ask you about what it’s like inside campus. I mean, certainly, I imagine you hear things all the time in the course of your organizing that feel uncomfortable for you or that don’t seem like the kind of direction of organizing that you might want to go in. I’m just wondering how you navigate that. What is it like to organize in a Palestine movement that has been radicalized, even since October 7? And especially where some of those conversations even around violence, or around a quote-unquote “final status solution” might be things that Jewish students may not feel comfortable with: What is that process like for you, and what has been your experience, and how you understand some of the worst kinds of videos that have come out—about, like, “Go back to Poland,” and stuff like that—where people with Palestinian flags outside of campus have been saying things that we would understand is very directly antisemitic?

IL: You saw yourself. The camp is beautiful. It’s an opportunity to see what a liberated society might actually look like; a place where there can be prayer, and cultural dances, and art making, and reading, and amazing speakers coming in to educate us, to inspire us. There is so much about this camp that is so inspiring. The worst part of being suspended is that I can’t be there. So, we have to think; we have to be critical. Why are these other media outlets trying to distract the narrative, trying to distort the narrative? It is for their own ulterior motives. I heard today that the Speaker of the House was coming to campus. All of these people are coming with their own agendas in mind, and we should be able to use our critical thinking skills and ask: Why? And if we can say: Well, that is not in alignment with what this camp is about, with what the hundreds of students within this camp would say it’s about, then let’s not let this other narrative overpower the beauty and the solidarity that has been shown every single day, from the moment that we got there, when we were working together to agree upon our community norms, our community guidelines, as a collective who was there in the camp. That’s what we need to come back to.

LS: Yeah, the Gaza Solidarity Encampment is the People’s University, which means that every person is welcome inside the people’s university so long as they’re dedicated to the principle of collective liberation. I’ll speak on behalf of myself. I wouldn’t be a part of the solidarity encampment if I thought that it was built on a foundation of allowing some forms of bigotry and hierarchy to persevere above others. That is absolutely not what we are doing here, and the fact that it exists within our movement is egregious. And it has always been a part of the movement, unfortunately, because, what happens with causes like this, is that people who are hateful, and bigoted, and have no interest in anybody’s safety come in, co-opt our cause, and co-opt our chants, and co-opt our slogans, and come in and insert violence into a student movement that is very specifically nonviolent. We welcome everybody—we welcome non-students.

Again, the People’s University is an extension of the people’s cause everywhere beyond the gates of Columbia. But what we have control over is that lawn, and that lawn is the people’s lawn; it’s the student’s lawn. And there are just so many things I could say about how much work we have been doing, as JVP together with our Palestinian allies, to identify the common roots of specifically anti-Palestinian hatred, and antisemitism, and anti-Jewish targeting, to find a way forward. Because it is clear to us that we need to work out alternative pathways to dismantling all of this hatred and bigotry so that more Jewish people can join the movement, more Jewish people can move away from Zionism. And that is only the case if we are all doing this together as one people.

SB: I also want to add: The fact that people are weaponizing this idea of Jewish safety in order to heighten policing, in order to contribute to this militarization that is very present just in general, especially within New York City—no amount of militarization, no amount of policing can keep you safe. It really puts everyone in danger. And especially, we have seen after Minouche Shafik called in the riot police on us and arrested us; it has further emboldened these people on our campus to say very hateful things towards us. The people that show up and counter-protest at every one of our protests have been further emboldened. They’ve been saying even more vitriolic things, things that are outright Islamophobic, outright racist. There is one person on our campus who has called us kapos, who has called us Judenrat.

AA: You’re talking about Shai Davidai, the professor

SB: Yes.

AA: I’ve seen him calling the protesters terrorists, which is a very scary term and also carries consequences because the state has particular laws about how you’re supposed to deal with terrorists. But also, he’s been questioning the Judaism of Jews on faculty who support the encampment, as you were saying, Sarah. I think he said you guys were going to be on the last train to Auschwitz or something.

SB: Yeah. And you’re seeing a lot of accusations that we are terrorists for, essentially, sitting on the lawns at our college and having an encampment there. And these are things that we had heard before, but ever since the cops were sent in, things have been so heightened.

AA: So I wanted to go back to this question about discomfort, because I feel like a lot of times when we talk about antisemitism on campus, we’re actually talking about political discomfort for Zionist students. And we’ve talked about that a lot on this podcast, but I think, in your case, I would imagine it’s a very different thing. Like, you all are very politically aligned with the Palestine movement on campus, and I imagine there are still things that make you uncomfortable. And so I’m wondering if that is the case, and how you deal with that, and how you think about your role as Jews in this movement.

IL: I mean, first and foremost, as we’ve said for months, this is being done in our name. This genocide is being done in our name. The other side uses Jewish safety as its armor and as its weaponry to do the most atrocious things many of us have ever seen to other human beings. And I think that it is our particular responsibility as Jewish people—especially as Jewish Americans, where it is our tax dollars—I see it as my moral imperative.

LS: I think it’s actually really important, specifically as Jewish people in the movement, who maintain connection and community with those who still identify as Zionists, to address this discomfort and to get to the bottom of it. I see that as the responsibility solely of non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews, to interact and continue to engage with it. So I empathize with the discomfort. It makes a lot of sense to me why people are uncomfortable and even feel personally threatened or targeted by the chants, because the reality is the chants are directed towards Zionists, because Zionism and the Zionist ideology poses a threat to Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students that present that way on our campus. The same ideology that is separating and posing Arabs and Jewish Israelis as at odds with each other in the land right now is being projected and transported onto our campus. Not to the same degree, of course, but we have all these Israelis and Zionist Jews who are saying: Oh, your presence here, and your existence, and your right to have a national movement is threatening my existence. And then the other side is saying the same thing: Hey, your Zionism caused my Nakba—in the name of Jewish Zionism, there’s a genocide going on in my home. And so, I think, launching into conversations about the difference between discomfort, and safety, and feeling unsafe, is extremely crucial, and we just need to continue engaging with Zionists on that point. Like, why are you feeling uncomfortable? Can we have a conversation about that right now, Jew to Jew—which might be a little bit naive, but I think that’s been happening. And that’s the only thing that is going to push us forward, is to have conversations about: Hey, this chant is not about violence against the Jewish people. This chant means this thing to this group. Okay, you’re uncomfortable, but does your discomfort dictate how an entire other group of people gets to identify? Does your discomfort dictate an entire people’s existence? I think not.

SB: I think it’s also very important to think about where that discomfort comes from, and how that is created. Because we’re all taught this narrative about Israel/Palestine in Hebrew schools, in summer camps and youth groups, and in this narrative, the very existence of Palestinians becomes a threat to Zionism—and, therefore, the Jewish people, because those things are conflated. And we see that on our campus when people are uncomfortable with certain rhetoric, or even uncomfortable with Palestinians showing their pride and being Palestinian. Things like wearing a keffiyeh around campus—that’s showing pride in Palestine, in the plight of Palestinians, and their movement for liberation. And when people find that uncomfortable, it’s because of this way in which we are taught that the existence of Palestinians is a threat to the Jewish people. This idea of a land without a people for people without a land—that’s really where it stems from.

AA: I just want to push one more time. The reason I keep asking the same question about discomfort on the left with things that come out of the Palestine movement is because I think it’s a question that a lot of people are asking themselves. And I just want to say, I don’t think that a lot of people have a thing like the encampment, where Jews, and Palestinians, and Muslim, and Arab students are working together on something. A lot of the organizing that goes on in the broader world doesn’t have a shared space, and so there actually isn’t so much of a way in which Jewish American activists and Palestinian activists—like, there is conversation, and people do things together, but these are generally very separate organizing spheres, and even more so since October 7. And I think what’s happening on campus is actually pretty unique in that regard. And I know from my work that things are coming up now, especially since October 7, that make me uncomfortable, like there are people who talk about a more Algeria-style solution, where Jewish settlers, for example, might leave in a future militant incursion. And I just want to say that, for me, you guys are on the frontlines of this kind of organizing right now. Because, again, we don’t really have a shared project, because we don’t really have a shared space outside of the campus—which is, to me, what makes it so powerful. What makes the encampment so powerful, and what you were saying about building a space that projects the kind of thing that you want to see in the future—to see students doing Kabbalat Shabbat on a Friday night, and then the Muslim students also praying. I mean, that is extremely powerful, and I think there were plenty of people who are commenting, like, “This is what we want to see in Jerusalem.”

SB: I think that something important in the way we were able to achieve that vision of the future that you see within the Gaza solidarity encampment, is because we have this level of trust with the people that we organize with. I think we’ve all been very proud, especially of the very unique bond that JVP has with our SJP chapter. We do all of our organizing together, they have come to our shabbats. I think that having that level of trust and being able to have those conversations with the people that we organize with is how we were able to achieve that.

IL: Yeah, I do not know what the future holds, and I always try to use that as an opportunity, to use that as a possibility; to lead with the fact that: Yeah, we don’t know, but we’re all here together. And I love my comrades, I trust the people who are showing up, I know that we will work together. And when that trust is built, we can do so much more. When we got to the camp at 4 a.m., I was still thinking, “I think we’re gonna get shut down immediately.” And instead, we built all these tents, we formed this beautiful formation. I was not a lead person in making the camp happen. Suddenly, I’m like: Okay, let’s get this formation. Like, I was one of the main people setting up like how our tents would be arranged. Because I was in a place where now I’m there, I have love, I have trust, we’re all going to show up as much as we can. So kind of answers the question, but sometimes I think it’s helpful to feel the bigger things to inform the smaller things.

AA: No, I think that’s a really great point. And this is what I’ve heard from a lot of Jewish students that I’ve talked to about this, is: We’re focused on the bigger picture, we have a bigger goal. And the encampment’s demands are about divestment. The chant is Disclose, Divest—that the university should disclose all of their investments and divest from anything that essentially touches Israel, and particularly things that have a military bent. And, you know, also about academic boycott and about cutting ties with their Tel Aviv campus. These are some of the main demands of the camp. And if people agree on the demands, and they agree on the principles, and you have trust in the people that you’re working with, it sounds like what you’re saying is: that’s where we start. I just want to hear about where things are right now. Where are you guys in the negotiations? Has there been any movement on any of that?

LS: Yeah. So in the original 34 hours of the first encampment, the administration agreed to our first demand—which is transparency on the endowment—which was one of our precursory demands of the three demands of the encampment. Before 108 People got arrested, we were working on that demand for amnesty, which was also really essential: that anyone participating would be granted full disciplinary and academic amnesty. There’s no progress on that front. I think, right now, the immediate concern is that the encampment lives and that people are not met with more consequences for participating. There will be updates coming out soon on the treatment of the first round of suspended and arrested students, but a lot of it is up in the air right now because Columbia is scrambling, trying to get people off of their lawns. So at 4 a.m. last night, the President issued a statement updating progress on the negotiations. A few demands were agreed upon, including: The tents must be dismantled; non-Columbia affiliates must leave (which Colombia has not abided by—Colombia is bringing in politicians onto our campus, so they’re not even following their own guidelines); and then there’s one request that the encampment prohibits discriminatory and/or harassing language, which, once again, the camp has already been doing. It is very specific counter-protesters who are inciting and instigating a lot of the clashes.

AA: How has that been going? Have the students been trained in de-escalation? How did that principle come about? And how does that affect the way that these students are moving around campus right now?

LS: I was on the security team for the original encampment before I was suspended. And every single person who works security has been security trained by people who have experience with de-escalation and security training, people from external organizations like JVP-NYC, who have dedicated their whole lives to this. There were even multiple de-escalation trainings inside the camp for people who are just joining in because we’ve had a lot of new people. And this non-engagement policy is a core tenet of de-escalation, which is you don’t feed into the escalation. It’s for the safety of the camp, because engaging with bad-faith actors puts everyone else in danger. So, especially because we have so many students of color—black, brown, and Palestinian students, visibly Muslim students—the security are trained to de-escalate at the source.

AA: Before I close—you guys have been amazing. I’m just so glad that we were able to put this conversation together on such short notice—But before we close, I just want to—Sarah, something you said the other night really stood out to me. You were just, like: We are children. There’s all this media attention. There’s all this stress, the stakes are very high. And I really felt you in that moment. I really felt for you guys. And I just wanted to ask: How are you guys feeling? How has this been, this experience? Because I’ll just say like, on my end, everybody is super electrified by the work that you guys are doing. But I know that it’s also a lot of pressure for a bunch of young people.

SB: I think, first and foremost, it has been so beautiful and energizing to see the way that our encampment and our arrests inspired people, and have gotten more people involved in this movement. The fact that the other day, we had about 100 people that were willing to get arrested—that weren’t even the 100 people that had already gotten arrested—is amazing. When I got out of jail and I saw that people had started occupying the other lawn, I started crying. It has also been incredibly frustrating to deal with this administration, and be evicted from my housing, and cut off from campus life, but I’m also incredibly lucky to have the support that I do. But yeah: we are just children, essentially, and the way that the university has been treating us because we are protesting this genocide that they are profiting off of has been downright cruel.

IL: Yeah, I never could have imagined this would be the aftermath. I have so many friends who have shown up to protest but have now been sleeping out on the lawns for days. And to see schools across the entire country doing this? I was on a call with like 150 other SJP chapters who just wanted to learn more about how this happened—It’s amazing. It’s such an honor—but what makes me cry is that Palestinians, both in Gaza and in the diaspora, have filmed videos, have made posts about it—like, this is for Palestine. This is for Palestinians. I am so grateful that I’m in a position where I’m able to risk what I’ve risked for this cause, and I just have immense gratitude. With that said, I have been a devoted Barnard student for four years. I’m a senior. I have worked in admissions for three years, and I still love the people who make up Barnard College, but I have a lot of anger with the Barnard administration. I never would have thought they would evict students from their housing and isolate them from their community. It’s beyond what I thought they were capable of.

AA: Lea, I hope you don’t mind that I’m sharing this, but the other night when we spoke, you said something about what you’re going through with your family, that you’re not really speaking to them right now. And you said something that really stuck with me that was like: They are afraid for me and they are afraid of me.

LS: Yeah. It’s just, to me, indicative of how lost we are. Like, we should not be afraid of each other. It’s deeply saddening, and I grieve that. So I’m not really sure how we move past that, but I want people to know that there are probably a lot of us going through it and that we will continue to persevere through that. I firmly believe that all of us are part of the same Jewish future, and I will not leave anyone behind—and I will not be left behind. So I think we have to work to overcome the fear that has disabled us for so long.

AA: Thank you guys, I think this is a great place to stop. And just to be clear, because this is what the students on the encampment have asked of us: We are talking today about the encampment, and what it’s been like to organize around this, and what it’s been like to be at the center of this media storm. But, of course, we are on Day more than 200 of the genocidal assault on Gaza. We have seen, this weekend, the uncovering of mass graves near a hospital in Gaza with patients and medical staff with their hands bound behind their backs. This has not gotten the attention that the student protests have gotten, and the student protesters are asking us to make sure that it does. And these students really are making good on a promise to keep that at the center of the American discourse, and for that, I’m very grateful.

Thank you guys so much for joining us today. I’ve been so inspired by the work that you’ve been doing. If you liked this episode, share it and give us a rating. As usual, thank you to our producer Jesse Brenneman and subscribe to Jewish Currents], JewishCurrents.org. Thanks, everyone.

[Audio clip of protestors chanting: “Disclose! Divest! We will not stop, we will not rest.”]


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