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108 arrested at pro-Palestinian protest at Columbia University

Rep. Ilhan Omar's daughter, Isra Hirsi, was among those arrested, New York police said. She said on X that said she was notified that she was suspended from Barnard College.
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Over 100 people were arrested and issued summonses for trespass — including Rep. Ilhan Omar’s daughter — after protesters set up an encampment at New York’s Columbia University in support of Gaza, police said.

The demonstrators occupied the space on the university's South Lawn for 30 hours, Mayor Eric Adams said after the arrests Thursday. Columbia asked the NYPD for help and said the students had been suspended and were refusing to leave, police said.

“Columbia University’s students have a proud history of protests and raising their voices,” Adams said, but he said that they don’t have the right to violate university policies.

“We will not be a city of lawlessness,” Adams said.

Omar’s daughter, Isra Hirsi, 21, who attends neighboring Barnard College in Manhattan, said on social media platform X that she was suspended for “standing in solidarity with Palestinians facing a genocide,” along with at least two other students.

A Pro-Israel protest and a Pro-Palestinian counter protest took place at Columbia University on April 18, 2024.
Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, is arrested Thursday.Kelsea Petersen / NBC News

Hirsi, an organizer with a student group that advocates for Palestinians, said this was her first time being punished as a student activist in her three years at the New York City school. 

"Those of us in Gaza Solidarity Encampment will not be intimidated,” she wrote.

More than 108 were arrested and given summonses for trespass, including Hirsi, police said. Two of those people were also charged with obstruction of governmental administration, according to authorities.

The students that were arrested were peaceful, did not resist “and saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner,” NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban said.

But around 500 other students left class and surrounded the quad “and were telling us that we’re the KKK,” among other insults, Caban said. Video from the scene obtained by NBC News shows crowds chanting “shame on you!” but does not capture the entire incident.

Columbia University’s president, Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, said in a memo to police earlier Thursday that more than 100 people were occupying the area.

"I have determined that the encampment and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger to the substantial functioning of the University," the memo said.

Shafik said the demonstrators were trespassing, refusing to disperse and damaging campus property, among other violations.

In a statement Thursday, Shafik said she authorized police to clear the encampment “out of an abundance of concern” for safety on campus. 

By late Thursday afternoon, police had disassembled the original tent encampment, but protesters were beginning to build a new one on an adjacent lawn.

"Columbia is committed to allowing members of our community to engage in political expression — within established rules and with respect for the safety of all," the memo said.

Barnard said its staff identified its students who were at the encampment Wednesday and told them to leave or face sanctions. Those still there Thursday morning were placed on interim suspension, the university said. The camp was set up during the early morning hours of Wednesday, it said.

Barnard did not say how many students were suspended or confirm that Hirsi was among them. It did not say how long the suspension would last but said it would continue to suspend students who stay. 

“Now and always, we prioritize our students’ learning and living in an inclusive environment free from harassment,” the school said in a memo about the suspensions.

A Pro-Israel protest and a Pro-Palestinian counter protest took place at Columbia University on April 18, 2024.
Some students refused to leave an unauthorized encampment at Columbia. Isabella Farfan / NBC News
A Pro-Israel protest and a Pro-Palestinian counter protest took place at Columbia University on April 18, 2024.
At least three people were arrested Thursday during protests at Columbia University.Kelsea Petersen / NBC News

Hirsi could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Omar did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Democrat, who represents Minnesota, is a Somali refugee who made history as one of the first two Muslim American women elected to Congress.

On Wednesday, Omar questioned Shafik about protests on campus during a congressional hearing in which Shafik strongly denounced antisemitism.

Omar told Shafik she was "appalled" to learn that Columbia suspended six students this month for their involvement in a pro-Palestinian panel event on campus.

“There has been a recent attack on the democratic rights of students across the country," Omar said.

At a news conference by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine held outside Columbia University President Minouche Shafik's residence, student Layla Saliba condemned the clearing of the camp.

"What happened today at Columbia University was an act of violence towards Arab, Muslim, Palestinian students, Jewish students and just anybody who supports Palestinian liberation,” she said.

Saliba, in the school of social work, and others criticized Shafik, including for her testimony before Congress Wednesday. The arrests are part of an effort on campus to attack those with pro-Palestinian views, she said.

Tensions over free speech have erupted on some U.S. college campuses since the war between Hamas and Israel started in October.

A Pro-Israel protest and a Pro-Palestinian counter protest took place at Columbia University on April 18, 2024.
Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian protesters in Morningside Heights in upper Manhattan on Thursday.Isabella Farfan / NBC News

This week, the University of Southern California canceled a Muslim student's valedictorian speech out of security concerns. Last week, a University of California, Berkeley, professor confronted a Muslim student during a dinner for graduating law students.