Columbia University Bans ‘Alleged Perpetrators’ of Protest Attack

Columbia University

Columbia University has banned the alleged perpetrators of a chemical attack that took place during a pro-Palestinian rally on Friday from the university’s campus. 

In an email to students and staff, interim University Provost Dennis Mitchell wrote that since the incident, in which protesters reported being sprayed with “a foul-smelling substance that required students to seek medical treatment,” Columbia has been working with the New York City Police Department “in investigating what appear to have been serious crimes, possibly hate crimes.” 

“The University received additional information Sunday night. As a result, the alleged perpetrators identified to the University were immediately banned from campus while the law enforcement investigation proceeds,” Mitchell wrote. The University did not clarify whether those banned were students, or how many individuals were involved. 

According to the Columbia Spectator, which first reported on the incident last week, 18 students present at the rally described being engulfed by a foul smell during the protest; 10 students reported experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and burning eyes; and several reported damage to their property. According to groups involved in the protest, at least 8 students sought treatment for their symptoms at a hospital. 

Three students who spoke to the Spectator claimed to have identified the stink bomb as “skunk,” a substance used by the Israeli military that has been described as smelling of raw sewage or decomposition. 

Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, and the Columbia Chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace, two groups involved in the demonstration, released a joint statement on Instagram following the incident. The groups claimed that the perpetrators of the disruption were “two

former Israeli military soldiers.” The identity of the individuals involved has not been confirmed by law enforcement, but according to the Spectator students present at the event reported seeing two individuals who were acting “unusual” and attempting to disguise their identities by wearing keffiyehs and sunglasses. 

​​“They were referring to students as ‘Jew killers’ and ‘terrorists,’” one student said.

Late last year, Columbia University banned Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace in the aftermath of the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The decision led to mass walkouts by students and faculty who opposed the conflation of advocacy for Palestinian human and political rights with support for Hamas. Friday’s protest was, according to the university, an unsanctioned gathering and threatened  “interim sanctions by the Provost up to and including suspension for the rest of the semester.”

Dalia Darazim, a Palestinian student at the university, wrote in an op-ed for the Spectator on Monday that Columbia has created a “Palestinian exception” to its culture of being a well-known “protest school.” 

“While being in this supposed safe haven of progressivism at Columbia, I have felt more targeted, unprotected, and completely disregarded over the past three months than I have ever felt growing up as a Palestinian Muslim in the rural South for the last 18 years,” Darazim wrote. 

“Despite this disillusionment, however, I have received a once-in-a-lifetime education in the past few months at Columbia. Not from professors or peers who deeply lack moral courage, but from my fellow Palestinians at Columbia,” she added. “They have shown me that while Columbia is not our ally in this pursuit of liberation, its students united against apartheid are.”  

Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace wrote in a subsequent statement that they hope news of the attack “means the administration will take meaningful, serious steps towards accountability.”

“This hateful assault came after months of Columbia viciously targeting and repressing


Palestinian student advocacy, contributing to a hostile environment that dangerously

emboldens violent attacks like these, “they wrote.” The administration must repair the damage it has done.”

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