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US: Columbia anti-Israel protest leader banned for saying 'Zionists don't deserve to live', White House reacts

Khymani James, 20, went as far as to say, "Be glad, be grateful that I'm not just going out and murdering Zionists". This comes as anti-Israel protests are flaring up in US universities as the death toll mounts in the nearly seven-month-long Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee New York Published on: April 27, 2024 10:19 IST
US universities, anti Israel protests, Israel Hamas war
Image Source : REUTERS Anti-Israel protests at US universities have swelled in recent days.

New York: An anti-Israel protest leader has been banned from Columbia University for saying that "Zionists don't deserve to live" and should be killed, amid a wave of pro-Palestinian protests across US universities, according to multiple media reports. "The existence of them and the projects they have built, i.e. Israel, it's all antithetical to peace. So yes I feel very comfortable - very comfortable - calling for these people to die," said Khymani James in a video from January.

According to The Times of Israel, James went as far as to say, "Be glad, be grateful that I'm not just going out and murdering Zionists". A university spokesman said James had been banned from campus. However, the substance of the move was not immediately clear, nor was it clear whether James would remain a student at the institution.

Columbia University has been the flashpoint for several anti-Israeli encampment protests against the nearly seven-month-long war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, that has devastated the coastal enclave, killed over 34,000 Palestinians and triggered a humanitarian catastrophe that has led many countries to call for an imminent ceasefire. The war was triggered when Hamas-led militants entered Israel and killed 1,200 people, while taking over 250 people hostage.

James apologises for his anti-Zionist remarks

However, the 20-year James has extended an apology for his remarks made months ago, saying he was "unusually upset" and "misspoke in the heat of the moment". Taking to X, he said, "What I said was wrong. Every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification... Far right agitators went through months of my social media feed until they found a clip that they edited without context. When I recorded it, I had been feeling unusually upset after an online mob targeted me because I am visibly queer and black," he said.

"Zionism is an ideology that necessitates the genocide of the Palestinian people. I oppose that in the strongest terms. All people deserve to be safe from physical harm. Palestinians have been subjected to decades of brutal violence and now genocide by Israel. The Israeli government and military should be held accountable for their actions. I am frustrated that words I said in an Instagram Live video have become a distraction from the movement for Palestinian liberation. I misspoke in the heat of the moment, for which I apologise," he added.

White House reacts to the remarks

Meanwhile, the White House has condemned the "appalling and dangerous" comments made by the student leader of the pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University. "These dangerous, appalling statements turn the stomach and should serve as a wakeup call. It is hideous to advocate for the murder of Jews," White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement on Friday.

"President Biden has been clear that violent rhetoric, hate speech, and antisemitic remarks have no place in America whatsoever, and he will always stand against them. Calls of violence and statements targeted at individuals based on their religious, ethnic, or national identity are unacceptable and violate university policy," he said.

Excessive police force against protesters

Some of the campus protests on US campuses have been accused of antisemitism, and President Biden earlier this week condemned the "antisemitic protests". A number of Jewish students have said they have felt unsafe at Columbia and at other universities, although other Jewish students have joined the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the police have been accused of using excessive force against anti-Israel protesters. A video emerged from Emory University in Atlanta where a professor was knocked to the ground by a police officer, while another held her down aggressively while handcuffing her with zip-ties.

As the death toll mounts in the war in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis worsens, protesters at universities across the country are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies they say are enabling the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus, partly prompting the calls for police intervention.

After a tent encampment popped up Thursday at Indiana University Bloomington, police with shields and batons shoved into protesters and arrested 33 students. Hours later at the University of Connecticut, police tore down tents and arrested one person. At Ohio State University, police clashed with protesters just hours after they gathered Thursday evening. Those who refused to leave after warnings were arrested and charged with criminal trespass, said university spokesperson Benjamin Johnson, citing rules barring overnight events.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | US: Indian-origin woman arrested, banned from Princeton university, for involvement in anti-Israel protests


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