Columbia University faces civil rights complaint over anti-war protest arrests

A pro-Palestinian US group filed a federal civil rights complaint against Columbia University following last week’s mass arrest of anti-war protesters after the school called police to clear demonstrator encampments, the group said on Thursday.

Palestine Legal, an organization that seeks to protect the rights of people in the US to speak out on behalf of Palestinians, urged the US Education Department to probe the school’s actions, which it alleges were discriminatory against those who are pro-Palestinian.

Columbia University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week, the university tried to shut down campus demonstrations by force when Columbia President Minouche Shafik took the unusual move of inviting New York City police to enter the campus, drawing the ire of many human rights groups, students and faculty. More than 100 people were arrested, reminiscent of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War at Columbia more than 50 years ago.

Protests have since continued at Columbia and spread to other US campuses where hundreds have been arrested in the last week.

The demonstrators were calling for an end to the Gaza war, during which Israel has killed 34,000 people, according to Gaza’s health ministry, displacing nearly all of Gaza’s population and leading to widespread hunger and genocide allegations that Israel denies. The war has caused intense discourse across the United States, Israel’s most important ally.

Advocacy groups note a rise in hate and bias against Jews, Arabs and Palestinians.

Alarming US incidents include the fatal October stabbing of a 6-year-old Palestinian American in Illinois, the November shooting of three students of Palestinian descent in Vermont and the February stabbing of a Palestinian American man in Texas.

US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said on Thursday he was following reports of allegations of antisemitism on college campuses. Earlier this month, a former Cornell University student pleaded guilty to posting online threats, including of death and violence, against Jewish students on campus.

Israel attacked Gaza after Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200, according to Israeli tallies. Hamas says its armed activities are resistance against Israeli occupation while Israel says its actions since Oct. 7 have been in self defense following those attacks.

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