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Bowman alleges Columbia yielded to ‘right-wing influence’ in student arrests

Bowman alleges Columbia yielded to 'right-wing influence' in student arrests

Bowman alleges Columbia yielded to ‘right-wing influence’ in student arrests. Democrats, including Squad members Jamaal Bowman and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have condemned Columbia University for cracking down on free speech after the arrests of over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters.

Bowman, who represents a large Jewish district, joined six Columbia professors in a virtual press conference to express concern over the university’s actions, which he believes are folding to pressure from right-wing Congress members who are weaponizing the Middle East conflict to suppress fundamental freedoms of expression.

Bowman also slammed the House Education and Workforce Committee, on which he sits, for using the moment to attack liberal education and higher education. He has been criticized by moderates for his ongoing criticism of Israeli military policies and controversial statements following the October 7 attack. However, he has made it clear that he is comfortable going on the offensive on the fallout from the international conflict.

The situation at Columbia has underscored the political significance of this moment in higher education. Colleges and universities have seen increasingly harsh crackdowns on student speech since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war. The tension playing out on campuses across the country has also provided an opportunity for Democrats to finally leverage a free speech debate that Republicans have dominated for years, with implications for House races.

“I’m very concerned with some of Columbia’s actions,” Bowman said, joining six Columbia professors similarly appalled by the arrests during a virtual press conference Friday.

Bowman called a House committee hearing with Columbia President Minouche Shafik and others “nothing more than an act of political theater, designed only to further long-standing Republican attacks on education justice in this country.” Shafik authorized dozens of New York Police Department officers to forcibly remove protesters from an encampment they refused to leave, a move that has been criticized by many as an attack on free speech.

Fellow Squad member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to social media to bash Columbia and its affiliate school Barnard College for suspending Isra Hisri, the daughter of Squad member Rep. Ilhan Omar, whom the NYPD confirmed was later arrested with the other Columbia protesters.

Ocasio-Cortez asked, “What merits asymmetric crackdowns on Palestinian human rights protests?” Hisri was suspended and arrested just one day after Omar grilled Shafik at the hearing, asking if she has seen a protest on campus specifically “against Jewish people” and blasting the school for suspending and evicting students involved in an unauthorized pro-Palestinian panel earlier this month.

Democratic New York City Comptroller Brad Lander also criticized Columbia for “calling the cops on its own students for engaging in nonviolent protest.” He wrote on social media, “The university has a long history of respecting free speech on campus, and I support the faculty who are pleading with their administration to continue that tradition. We must not allow MAGA Republicans to weaponize antisemitism against freedom of expression.”

The situation has shaken up the free speech debate, which Democrats had largely ceded to Republicans. However, with the crackdown on student speech and the arrests at Columbia, Democrats are now leveraging the issue to push back against Republican attacks on higher education and liberal ideology. The implications of this moment will be significant, with potential impacts on House races and the ongoing debate over free speech and academic freedom.


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