(New York Jewish Week) – Pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University disrupted a “day of dialogue” meant to ease campus tensions over the Israel-Hamas war, and claimed that pro-Israel activists sprayed them with a chemical agent.
Friday’s protest came after Columbia confirmed to JTA that it was extending the suspension of two leading pro-Palestinian student groups, Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. The groups were suspended in November for violating university regulations at prior programs, and the university said they had not yet committed to abiding by school rules.
The demonstration was led by a pro-Palestinian coalition of more than 80 student groups that has formed in their absence called Columbia University Apartheid Divest. Despite the snow and cold temperatures, around 100 students gathered outside the school’s Low Library and chanted slogans including, “There is only one solution, intifada revolution.”
Protesters also railed against the “day of dialogue” held at Columbia’s Barnard College, which included scholars of Israel studies, Islamophobia, law and political science. The protesters demanded a boycott of the event, reported the Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper.
A small group of counter-protesters carrying Israeli and American flags gathered opposite the pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside the library. Video showed the pro-Israel demonstrators carrying orange balloons, a symbol of the Israeli hostages, holding up images of the captives, chanting “Bring them home,” and singing Israel’s national anthem.
After the protest, SJP claimed on X, formerly Twitter, that two Israeli “soldiers” had “sprayed a chemical weapon” on the demonstrators, and demanded action from the university. The group claimed that protesters were hit with “skunk spray,” a reference to a foul-smelling liquid Israeli police and soldiers have used to break up demonstrations by Palestinians, haredi Orthodox Jews and, last year, opponents of the government’s judicial overhaul.
But, as of press time, it’s unclear what the social media post was referring to. The student groups did not respond to a request for comment or elaborate on how they determined that soldiers had deployed a “chemical weapon.” The school said in a statement its Department of Public Safety was “investigating incidents reported in connection with Friday’s protest that are of great concern,” without mentioning a chemical agent.
The NYPD said a 24-year-old woman reported that an “unknown substance” had been sprayed into the air, causing her to feel nauseous. On Friday evening, police received five more reports about the incident. There were no arrests and the investigation is ongoing, police said.
The university said in a Monday night statement that information had surfaced about the incident the previous night, and that “alleged perpetrators identified to the University were immediately banned from campus.” The NYPD was taking the lead role in the investigation, the statement said.
Columbia staff told protesters that the university “welcomes the opportunity to engage with recognized student groups to support sanctioned and safe events.” But the university told the protesters that the rally was “an unsanctioned event held by an unrecognized student coalition” and a violation of the university’s policies and procedures, a Columbia spokesperson told the New York Jewish Week.
SJP, whose national umbrella celebrated Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel, has been suspended at several schools, including Florida’s public universities, George Washington University and Brandeis University. It was suspended and reinstated at Rutgers University. Columbia’s suspension of JVP appeared to be the first time a university suspended the Jewish anti-Zionist group.
Columbia was a focal point for controversy in the weeks after Oct. 7, amid dueling protests for and against Israel and the reported assault of an Israeli student. It is one of several elite schools to draw scrutiny amid the Israel-Hamas war. The presidents of three other elite universities told lawmakers last month that calling for the genocide of Jews did not necessarily violate university policy, provoking a firestorm of controversy that led two of them to step down.
Columbia’s president, Minouche Shafik, was invited to appear before Congress at the same hearing, but declined, citing a scheduling conflict.
The protest on Friday aimed to keep the school’s focus on the war. It was part of an “action week” announced by Columbia University Apartheid Divest that began with the start of the spring semester last week. The activists demanded that Columbia divest from Israel, reform campus policing and commit to financial transparency. The students also announced a “tuition strike,” pledging to not pay the school until Columbia “concedes to our demands.”
According to a video of Friday’s protest taken by the Columbia Jewish Alumni Association, a newly formed advocacy group, around 100 student activists gathered outside the school’s Low Library and chanted, “Globalize the intifada,” and “Resistance is justified when people are colonized.”
Others carried signs that said, “Yemen Yemen make us proud, turn another ship around” — a reference to attacks on global shipping by the Houthis, a US-designated terrorist group that has claimed it is fighting Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
The Jewish alumni group charged that the new anti-Israel coalition was effectively a substitute for the suspended groups. The association said it had been hopeful the new semester would bring quiet to campus, but “that hope was quickly shattered with a week full of disruptive, antisemitic events on campus.”
The group demanded Columbia enforce its policies on protests, discipline students who violate campus policies, and condemn and ban “all antisemitic, genocidal words and actions.”
“The university is looking the other way and ignoring that the same kids are doing the same thing and they’re deciding not to enforce and it’s just disappointing,” Ari Shrage, a board member of the alumni association, told the New York Jewish Week. “Personally, I’m concerned that someone is going to get very hurt.”
Exclusive: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say
Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two US-sanctioned countries.
Iran‘s provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar, three Iranian sources said. This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km (186 and 435 miles), experts say.
Iran‘s defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards – an elite force that oversees Iran‘s ballistic missile program – declined to comment. Russia‘s defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The shipments began in early January after a deal was finalized in meetings late last year between Iranian and Russian military and security officials that took place in Tehran and Moscow, one of the Iranian sources said.
An Iranian military official – who, like the other sources, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information – said there had been at least four shipments of missiles and there would be more in the coming weeks. He declined to provide further details.
Another senior Iranian official said some of the missiles were sent to Russia by ship via the Caspian Sea, while others were transported by plane.
“There will be more shipments,” the second Iranian official said. “There is no reason to hide it. We are allowed to export weapons to any country that we wish to.”
U.N. Security Council restrictions on Iran‘s export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran‘s ballistic missile programme amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.
A fourth source, familiar with the matter, confirmed that Russia had received a large number of missiles from Iran recently, without providing further details.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in early January the United States was concerned that Russia was close to acquiring short-range ballistic weapons from Iran, in addition to missiles already sourced from North Korea.
A US official told Reuters that Washington had seen evidence of talks actively advancing but no indication yet of deliveries having taken place.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missile deliveries.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor said on Friday the ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea to Russia had proven unreliable on the battlefield, with only two of 24 hitting their targets. Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied that North Korea has provided Russia with munitions used in Ukraine.
By contrast, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the Fateh-110 family of missiles and the Zolfaghar were precision weapons.
“They are used to point at things that are high value and need precise damage,” said Lewis, adding that 400 munitions could inflict considerable harm if used in Ukraine. He noted, however, that Russian bombardments were already “pretty brutal”.
US AID DELAY WEAKENS UKRAINE’S DEFENCES
A Ukrainian military source told Reuters that Kyiv had not registered any use of Iranian ballistic missiles by Russian forces in the conflict. The Ukrainian defence ministry did not immediately reply to Reuters’ request for comment.
Following the publication of this story, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s Air Force told national television that it had no official information on Russia obtaining such missiles. He said that ballistic missiles would pose a serious threat to Ukraine.
Former Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that Russia wanted to supplement its missile arsenal at a time when delays in approving a major package of US military aid in Congress has left Ukraine short of ammunition and other material.
“The lack of US support means shortages of ground-based air defense in Ukraine. So they want to accumulate a mass of rockets and break through Ukrainian air defense,” said Zagorodnyuk, who chairs the Kyiv-based Centre for Defense Strategies, a security think tank, and advises the government.
Kyiv has repeatedly asked Tehran to stop supplying Shahed drones to Russia, which have become a staple of Moscow’s long-range assaults on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, alongside an array of missiles.
Ukraine’s air force said in December that Russia had launched 3,700 Shahed drones during the war, which can fly hundreds of kilometres and explode on impact. Ukrainians call them “mopeds” because of the distinctive sound of their engines; air defenses down dozens of them each week.
Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched the war on Ukraine in 2022.
“Those who accuse Iran of providing weapons to one of the sides in the Ukraine war are doing so for political purposes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, when asked about Tehran’s delivery of drones to Russia. “We have not given any drones to take part in that war.”
Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said a supply of Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran would hand Russia an even greater advantage on the battlefield.
“They could be used to strike military targets at operational depths, and ballistic missiles are more difficult for Ukrainian air defences to intercept,” Lee said.
DEEPENING TIES WITH MOSCOW
Iran‘s hardline clerical rulers have steadily sought to deepen ties with Russia and China, betting that would help Tehran to resist US sanctions and to end its political isolation.
Defence cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia‘s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met the head of Iran‘s Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajizadeh, in Tehran in September, when Iran‘s drones, missiles and air defence systems were displayed for him, Iranian state media reported.
And last month, Russia‘s foreign ministry said it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to sign a broad new cooperation treaty soon, following talks in Moscow in December.
“This military partnership with Russia has shown the world Iran‘s defense capabilities,” said the military official. “It does not mean we are taking sides with Russia in the Ukraine conflict.”
The stakes are high for Iran‘s clerical rulers amid the war between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas that erupted after Oct. 7. They also face growing dissent at home over economic woes and social restrictions.
While Tehran tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel that could draw in the United States, its Axis of Resistance allies – including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen – have attacked Israeli and US targets.
A Western diplomat briefed on the matter confirmed the delivery of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia in the recent weeks, without providing more details.
He said Western nations were concerned that Russia‘s reciprocal transfer of weapons to Iran could strengthen its position in any possible conflict with the United States and Israel.
Iran said in November it had finalized arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.
Analyst Gregory Brew at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Russia is an ally of convenience for Iran.
“The relationship is transactional: in exchange for drones, Iran expects more security cooperation and advanced weaponry, particularly modern aircraft,” he said.
The post Exclusive: Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
Middlebury College Response to Antisemitism Allegations Slammed by Watchdog Group
Middlebury College on Tuesday issued, as well as deleted, statements which indirectly responded to allegations of institutional antisemitism that a civil rights group lodged against its administration last week.
As The Algemeiner previously reported, StandWithUs (SWU), a nonprofit that promotes education about Israel, filed a complaint with the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) alleging that high level officials at the school fostered a “pervasively hostile climate” for Jewish students by refusing, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, to enforce anti-discrimination policies equally.
A timeline of events laid out in documents provided by SWU begins after Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when the school issued a statement that did not acknowledge the deaths of Israelis, but instead only alluded to “violence happening now in Israel in Palestine.” The following week, the administration allegedly obstructed Jewish students’ efforts to publicly mourn Jews murdered on Oct. 7., denying them police protection for a vigil, forcing them to hold it outside, and demanding that the event avoid specifically mentioning Jewish suffering.
Middlebury responded to the charges on Tuesday, explaining the college’s “Educational Approach to the War in Gaza and Israel,” in two statements, the first of which was later deleted and replaced with a revision containing numerous “stealth” edits.
The first defended chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a slogan widely considered as a call for a genocide of Jews in Israel, as utterance protected by its free speech policy.
“We are fully aware that, while this phrase is divisive, it is experienced and interpreted differently by different groups,” the school said. “Middlebury has extensive structures in place for mitigating ham that controversial speech can cause, and our open expression policy safeguards a learning environment ‘where all voices can be heard and have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation.’”
According to the StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice, Middlebury’s response did not directly address its handling of a vigil that Jewish students organized on Oct. 9 to mourn the victims of Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel, which happened two days prior. In its complaint, SWU alleged that Middlebury roadblocked the event, denying Jewish students police protection and demanding that they omit direct references to Jewish suffering in their remarks and promotional materials. In an email to the Jewish group that planned the vigil, Vice President and Dean of Students Derek Doucet said, “I wonder if such a public gather in such a charged moment might be more inclusive.”
Additionally, no high level administrators agreed to speak at the vigil and condemn antisemitic violence, as well as terrorism. However, a month later, the administration accommodated Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Vigil for Palestine,” providing campus police, space on campus, and a speech from a high ranking official diversity-equity-and-inclusion (DEI) official, a request, StandWithUs insists, which organizers of the Jewish vigil had been denied.
In Tuesday’s deleted statement, Middlebury claimed that president Laurie Patton provided the Jewish students “remarks that were read at the vigil, condemning Hamas and pledging support and care for students.” Not true, StandWithUs, explained. Patton’s statements, like Middlebury’s previous statements about Oct. 7, mentioned only “violence we have seen in Israel and Gaza,” a description of the conflict at which SWU takes umbrage for its equating Hamas’ atrocities with Israel’s self-defense.
StandWithUs said in a press release on Wednesday that Middlebury’s statement is “mendacious,” noting that members of the Coalition for Dismantling Antisemitism at Middlebury are all hired faculty and staff, some of whom are accused of antisemitism in its complaint. SWU also charged that Middlebury’s claim to collaborate with a local Chabad organization is misleading as well, noting that “for over six years” the school has denied the group’s entreaties for formal recognition, a designation that would qualify it for funding and the privilege to reserve space on campus for events and other activities.
“It is no wonder that by the morning of February 20, 2024, Middlebury took its statement down from its website entirely and replaced it with an even more misleading post,” StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said. “Middlebury can no longer hide from its legal and moral duty to provide a campus environment for its Jewish students free from discrimination and harassment.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
The post Middlebury College Response to Antisemitism Allegations Slammed by Watchdog Group first appeared on Algemeiner.com.
Courage to disagree, with respect: York University student initiative Bridging the Gap promotes civil dialogue on Israel
How a campus initiative was revived following Oct. 7.