Schumer slams ‘lawlessness’ at Columbia Gaza protests in forceful denunciation

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer harshly criticized the “lawlessness” of some protesters at Columbia University in his home state of New York, wading into the high-profile demonstrations over the war in the Middle East.

The New York Democrat decried vandals and those occupying a building on campus during the dayslong demonstrations over Israel’s response to Hamas’ terrorist attacks. The protests have become a national political flashpoint, spreading across the country and prompting increasingly stern responses from high-profile Democrats.

“Smashing windows with hammers and taking over university buildings is not free speech. It is lawlessness. And those who did it should promptly face consequences that are not merely a slap on the wrist,” Schumer said in a floor speech. “Campuses cannot be places of learning and argument and discussion when protests veer into criminality.”

It amounted to a forceful denunciation of the demonstrators by Schumer, who has walked a tricky line on issues surrounding Israel over the past six months. He’s sought to send the country more aid to support the war effort, but also called for new leadership and criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

As the protests intensify, Schumer is one of a growing number of New York Democrats raising alarm. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said she’s worried about safety on campus, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries called the antisemitism on display “completely unacceptable and deeply disturbing.”

“Students who wrongfully occupy buildings, destroy private property, and willfully disrupt campus life should be held accountable,” said Reps. Adriano Espaillat and Jerry Nadler, who urged the school “swiftly to remove the students who have engaged in unlawful actions so the campus can reopen and return to normal activity.”

Schumer, the highest ranking Jewish official in the U.S. government, gave a high-profile speech on antisemitism last year and called some actions at the school in recent days “loathsome.”

“When Jewish students are targeted for being Jewish, when protests exhibit verbal abuse, systemic intimidation or glorification of the murderous and hateful Hamas or the violence of Oct. 7 … that is antisemitism,” Schumer said Tuesday.

Republicans have been criticizing the demonstrations for days. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that “weakness and inaction from campus leaders has allowed universities to become cauldrons of criminal chaos.”