Columbia extends deadline to end Gaza war protest by 48 hours: All to know

Demonstrators ordered to dismantle encampments on campus by Friday and warned of ‘alternative options’.

Columbia University has twice extended a deadline for students protesting against Israel’s war on Gaza to clear their campus encampments, citing progress in negotiations with them aimed at diffusing a tense standoff that has spread across US universities.

“We are making important progress with representatives of the student encampment on the West lawn,” Columbia said in a statement released just after 3am (07:00 GMT) on Wednesday.

The university had earlier given students a midnight deadline to dismantle tents if negotiations failed to deliver an agreement. That was initially extended to 8am (12:00 GMT) on Wednesday.

Columbia’s President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik had said the university “will have to consider alternative options for clearing” the area if talks did not yield an end to the encampments.

In its latest statement, the university again extended the deadline, this time by 48 hours into the early hours on Friday, and said student protesters had agreed to four of the university’s top demands.

But several hours later, on Wednesday, a key student body behind the pro-Palestinian protests suggested that it was, in fact, Columbia that had conceded to the demands of the protesters.

That battle of narratives marks the latest chapter in the unfolding pro-Palestine protests have roiled university campuses across the United States in recent days.

But Columbia has been the heart of the solidarity movement as the Gaza death toll spirals to more than 34,000 people – mainly children and women – killed since the conflict erupted on October 7.

And nationwide, those student-led protests show no sign of easing up despite arrests and suspensions.

What are the demands that Columbia University says protesters have agreed to?

Columbia University said in its early morning statement that student protesters had agreed to:

  • Dismantle and remove a “significant number of tents”.
  • Ensure that those not affiliated with Columbia would leave campus. Only Columbia University students will continue to participate in the protest.
  • Comply with safety guidelines issued by the New York City Fire Department.
  • Make the encampment “welcome to all” and bar “discriminatory or harassing language”.

What are student protesters saying about the deadline extension?

The Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD) coalition of student groups that is among the principal organisers of the protests said in a statement late on Wednesday morning that Columbia’s “written commitment and concession not to call the NYPD or the National Guard signifies an important victory for students”.

CUAD had said in a late-night statement that the university had “threatened” negotiators to call in both the National Guard and police “if we do not acquiesce to their demands”.

What was the situation at Columbia overnight?

After the deadline was initially extended to 8am, students who had taken down tents put them back up and largely returned to the encampment, Caroline Anne Bissonnette, a journalism student who has been covering the protests since the first day, told Al Jazeera.

The protesters are demanding that the university divest from corporations that profit from Israel’s war on Gaza, which entered its 200th day on Tuesday. Additional demands include more financial transparency about Columbia’s investments and the severing of academic ties and collaborations with Israeli universities and programmes. The demonstrators are additionally demanding a complete ceasefire in Gaza.

About 1:35am (05:35 GMT) on Wednesday, Columbia University’s student radio station WKCR, citing sources on and off campus, reported that 50 police officers from the force’s Strategic Response Group (SRG) were lined up outside campus at 116th Street in New York City.

A student reporter told WKCR that the police response was “more severe than we have seen before” and the SRG officers were wearing face masks and helmets and had zip ties as they faced protesters on the pavement. The radio station clarified that there was no indication that police were mobilising inside the campus.

Police had earlier warned the protesters off campus that if they used amplified sound they would be arrested, WKCR reported, adding that the protests continued with booming sounds, including drums, horns and chants.

On Monday, the university announced that classes would be held in hybrid mode until the end of the spring semester.

Columbia is now facing an academic boycott after more than 1,400 academics around the world signed a letter saying they will not participate in academic and cultural events at the university and its affiliate Barnard College until suspensions of student protesters in recent days are reversed, police are removed from the campus and Shafik resigns.

What are the Columbia protesters saying?

The movement is organised by CUAD, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.

In a statement posted on X, CUAD had said on Tuesday that its team had left the negotiations with the university and would not engage further “until there is a written commitment that the administration will not be unleashing the NYPD [New York Police Department] or the National Guard on its students”.

It reiterated that civilians, including large numbers of women and children, have been killed in Gaza and every university in the besieged enclave has been destroyed.

“We refuse to concede to cowardly threats and blatant intimidation by university administration. We will continue to peacefully protest,” it said.

What could Columbia do?

In an email to the student body, Shafik wrote that if the negotiations between Columbia’s administration and the student organisers eventually did not end in “dismantling the encampment, dispersing, and following university policies”, then the university would consider “alternative options” to clear the encampment.

“I also want to be clear that we will not tolerate intimidating, harassing, or discriminatory behaviour,” she warned, adding that “the right to protest is essential and protected at Columbia, but harassment and discrimination is antithetical to our values and an affront to our commitment to be a community of mutual respect and kindness.”

On April 18, more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on campus on charges of trespassing. Several students were also suspended from Columbia and Barnard, including Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Ilhan Omar, a Democrat in the US House of Representatives.

Why are congressional leaders visiting?

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson visited Columbia on Wednesday to meet Jewish students. Johnson also met Shafik, the university president.

“We encouraged her to take immediate action and stamp this out,” he said during a news conference at Columbia on Wednesday afternoon.

“Our feeling is that they have not acted to restore order on the campus,” added Johnson, who was booed by a crowd of students.


Delegations of Republican and Democratic members of Congress also visited the university’s locked-down campus on Monday to express concern for the security of Jewish students.

Source: Al Jazeera