PBS’s Amanpour Celebrates ‘Heart of the Pro-Palestinian Campus Peace Movement’

News & Politics

On Monday’s Amanpour & Co., which runs on PBS and CNN International, host Christiane Amanpour took the side of the pro-Hamas campus protesters who are spewing anti-Jewish rhetoric on “progressive” college campuses nationwide — no surprise given her long-standing journalistic hostility toward Israel.

Against all evidence she insisted that the campus occupiers were “mostly nonviolent” idealists and that concerns had been blown “out of proportion.” Occupying private property is illegal, hence police may be called.

Amanpour invited on a student journalist, introduced in the show opener like this: “Isabella Ramirez editor in chief of the Columbia Daily Spectator, reports from the heart of the pro-Palestinian campus peace movement.” Ugh.  

To her credit, she asked her about “student-on-student verbal harassment that has been cited as very damaging and uncomfortable and frightening by some of the Jewish students.”

Ramirez replied her paper had “compiled pretty extensive reports regarding this, most particularly when in the aftermath of one of our campus rabbis telling Jewish students, hundreds of Jewish students to leave campus, to not stay because of the environment,” including “particularly violent signage that was used to refer to actually Hamas….”

But Amanpour then made the college administration the aggressors for calling on the local police to dissolve the disruptive and threatening takeover of the campus. Amanpour complained Columbia’s president Minouche Shafik had been “hauled before” Congress to answer to anti-semitism on campus. 

Ramirez replied with a laundry list of past protest movements at Columbia, then said her paper’s editorial board was trying to warn the college president about her legacy if the wake of “the forceful removal of students from campus and also this crackdown on student protests.”

Ramirez turned understandable concerns about anti-Semitic rhetoric and “scholarship” by Columbia professors into a free speech issue (this after years of liberal academics calling out “micro-aggressions” against campus minorities). She said, “there has been this really big question as to whether the university has done enough to kind of protect academic freedom.”

Amanpour relayed the views of left-wing students and faculty, which seemingly morphed into her own view of the situation, that concerns about the campus encampments were being blown “out of proportion,” while inviting Ramirez to criticize mainstream media coverage of the protests, as if they were all too conservative.

Ramirez demurred, and talked only about how the students can cover it because they live right there on campus.

PBS Amanpour & Co.

4/30/24

1:48:55 a.m. (ET)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Now, a major development sparked by this war is a growing protest and peace movement on college campuses across the United States. Though mostly nonviolent, several schools have called in local police and National Guard troops.

Today in Paris, French police entered the Sorbonne University campus to remove students occupying the main square. Now, the epicenter of all of this is Columbia University, where today, with negotiations between students and the administration at an impasse, the university called on protesters to clear their encampment or face suspension. Some of the most valuable reporting on all this comes from inside the student newspaper, the Columbia Daily Spectator. Editor in Chief Isabella Ramirez. Joins us from New York. Isabella Ramirez, welcome to the program. And, you know, I can’t tell you how much we’ve read about what an excellent job you are doing and your, you know, student newspaper, your on campus journalist. What can you tell us is the latest right now as we sit here talking?

ISABELLA RAMIREZ, EDITOR IN CHIEF, COLUMBIA DAILY SPECTATOR: Today is going to be a very significant day in terms of our developments. This morning, our president, Minouche Shafik, sent out an e-mail effectively saying that negotiations failed to reach an agreement. And it, for the first time, outlined very explicitly that Columbia will not divest from Israel, which is the central demand of the protesters. As well as, in that e-mail, it laid out, what, the university actually brought to the table to those negotiators, to those student negotiators and included a series of very interesting things, including offering a list of financial transparency of direct holdings of the university that is — would be accessible to students and updating that list. It also offered to potentially invest in health and education in Gaza, as well as create an expedited process for divestment proposals. And those were all the things that essentially those students would have rejected because it did not fulfill what their central demands would be.

And one of the interesting things as well is that that e-mail did not include anything about amnesty for the students, which has also been a very big thing for the arrested and suspended students. And so, now, the university has been handling out notices to those students at the encampment at this moment warning of disciplinary action, and they have until 2:00 p.m. today to potentially clear out if not to face, again, disciplinary action.

And at the same time that this is happening, we’re hearing word from the encampment, they made an announcement essentially saying that they have voted to stay.

AMANPOUR: Wow.

RAMIREZ: So, the students currently have voted to stay past 2:00 p.m. and face those suspensions. And just to add one more thing, the suspensions are actually even more severe than previous. The previous suspended students who were suspended simultaneous to the first wave of arrests that happened, you know, on April 18th, those students were allowed to stay on campus, at least in the residential spaces.

This interim suspension says they would have no access to any campus buildings, including residences, dorms, dining, et cetera, IDs completely deactivated, which would effectively evict a lot of those students or at least leave them without access to the residence halls and other important buildings. So, the consequences are now much more severe.

AMANPOUR: So, it seems, honestly, Isabella, that it’s a real standoff that there seems to be, you know, little peace building or bridge building between either side and both sides, administration and students are really holding the toughest positions right now. I don’t know whether you see any way forward, but what I want to ask you is, you know, you’re watching this, you’re talking to people on campus, you also see the ruckus that’s being created outside the campus. Can you tel us what is the real picture? What — is it dangerous, violent on campus? Is that off campus? What are you seeing as journalists from inside?

RAMIREZ: So, at the very beginning stages, there were — there was a lot of activity in terms of protest activity, both outside of our campus on campus. To be frank, that off campus protest activity has held quite a bit. It has calmed down. That is where a lot of people were sort of citing a lot more tension in terms of when it came to, you know, certain chance or certain incidents that were arising from those outside protests. But predominantly for right now, the encampment has sort of remained the same. And there’s been very few updates sort of on the day to day. That’s why today is actually quite a big day. But, you know, I was just at the encampment pretty recently distributing our newspaper and really, when you walk on and you see it, it’s students sort of laying on the lawn, you know, chatting, reading books, getting water, getting food. It’s a really interesting environment because we are certain that there are a lot of students who have reported feeling uncomfortable, have reported feeling unsafe by the presence of the encampment. But also, when you walk onto it, there isn’t like active protests necessarily occurring on the encampment itself, it’s mostly just the state of occupying that space and kind of being on that space, and there being kind of a series of other activities often but very little in terms of tangible protest.

There is going to be probably more escalation we can anticipate as a result of the university’s crackdown. And that’s sort of why we saw, in the first place, some of those outside protests come in and also some of the students themselves start to galvanize in terms of upping their protest activity was because or was in response to the arrests and also university crackdown.

But for these past few days where everything hs been at sort of a — the negotiations have stalled, it has been pretty, you know, regular in terms of just the students laying on the lawns and, you know, kind of doing their day-to-day activity and programming, sometimes even tuning in to class from the lawn.

AMANPOUR: Isabella, did you see, or were you able to hear the kind of, you know, student on student verbal harassment that has been cited as very damaging and uncomfortable and frightening by some of the Jewish students?

RAMIREZ: Yes, we have compiled pretty extensive reports regarding this, most particularly when in the aftermath of one of our campus rabbis telling Jewish students, hundreds of Jewish students to not — to leave campus, to not stay because of the environment. We, in that report, were able to compile a series of incidents that had happened.

I believe on the Saturday following the arrests, much were related to off campus protest somewhere on campus that involved certain rhetoric, some of which was evocative of the Holocaust, telling students to go back to Poland, go back to Europe. And there were also other particularly violent signage that was used to refer to actually Hamas and that was one singular protest, that was a protester that was holding that sign and referring to the pro-Israel protesters behind them.

And so, we have seen those incidents, and for sure, it has come up quite a lot in the dialogue when it comes to Shafik’s communication to the community and all communication we’ve been receiving from the administration has been very strongly condemning the particular incidents that have arisen from this.

Now, is that to say that that represents the entirety of the protesters at the encampment or all of the sort of different moving pieces? I think that is, of course, probably too wide sweeping, but there have certainly been these incidents that should draw concern for our community in half.

AMANPOUR: So, let’s go back. There’s so much politics as well. You just mentioned the president, Minouche Shafik, who is new, let’s face it. She started at the beginning of this academic year and has been hauled, like the others, in front of the special committee in Congress. I want to play a little bit of what happened on April 17th as you guys were — well, not you, but the campus protesters were building the encampment.

This is an exchange between Shafik and the GOP Representative Lisa McClain.

REP. LISA MCCLAIN (R-MI): Are mobs shouting, from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free or, long live the intifada. Are those antisemitic comments?

MINOUCHE SHAFIK, PRESIDENT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: When I hear those terms, I find them very upsetting. And I have heard —

MCCLAIN: That’s a great answer to a question I didn’t ask. Is that fall under definition of antisemitic behavior? Yes or no? Why is it so tough?

SHAFIK: Because it’s a difficult issue.

MCCLAIN: Maybe I should ask your task force. Does that qualify as antisemitic behavior, those statements? Yes or no? Yes. OK. Do you agree with your task force?

SHAFIK: Yes, we agree. The question is what to do about it?

MCCLAIN: So, yes. So, the — so, yes, you do —

AMANPOUR: So, I’m just fascinated to know what you think and how you’re writing about the very targeted political situation that’s layered upon all of this. Because after that, Shafik, did, as we’ve been talking, call in the NYPD to break up the protest.

Now, it’s interesting that the chief of the NYPD patrol on the U.S. said the students who were arrested were peaceful, offered no resistance whatsoever, and were saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner. And your newspaper wrote in an editorial, history has made clear who stood on the wrong side then. And it’s clear that this is the side you are aligning yourself with now. This will be your legacy.

Are you — were you addressing the president and the administration?

RAMIREZ: Yes. So actually, our editorial board, I do not serve on, but it represents a sector of our opinion team who is very talented and has been working very hard on, you know, kind of reflecting discourse in a different way, because I oversee both the opinion and the newsroom.

But that was — that piece in particular was addressing Shafik herself. It was attempting to say, Shafik, take a look at what your legacy looks like right now to the public, to your students, to the administration. And I think a lot of it is inspired as well by what we know from previous protests at Columbia, 1968, Vietnam, antiwar, South African apartheid, these are all huge moments in Columbia’s history in which those presidents also have been looked upon for the decisions that they made at that time.

And now, when we reflect on it now, there is, of course, a lot of disdain and criticism for those decisions. So, I believe what the editorial board was really trying to get out here is, you know, really warning President Shafik as to what your legacy will entail if it means, you know, the

forceful removal of students from campus and also this crackdown on student protests. Now, of course, there are many differing opinions here, but that was the opinion reflected by our editorial board in terms of what the majority voted for.

AMANPOUR: And as we continue to chat, you know, we’ve seen on other universities, including Emory, it caused a huge ruckus, what happened on Emory, when a teacher — a professor was essentially manhandled. Other teachers tried to help, faculty members, student, you know, the — I think it was the police and the state guard or whatever they call them. It was a very rough situation over the weekend in Atlanta.

But I guess what I want to ask you, because Columbia is known around the world for, you know, it’s history of student protests, but most importantly, it’s very enviable and distinguished Middle East program. You have a very important Middle East studies on Arab and Palestinian studies. You have very, very important Jewish studies program. What do you think happened? Why can’t people talk to each other?

RAMIREZ: I think part of it is that there is — encircling all of this, encircling the protest activity is there’s a big conversation about academic freedom at Columbia and sort of what are the limits of that, but as well as has the university done enough to protect those — the academic freedom of the professors on our campus.

And we saw that as well in the congressional hearing. Congress went very, very hard on Columbia for, naming multiple faculty members by name, most of whom came from the department regarding statements that they had made, scholarship, and other things that they have taught in their classrooms as, of course, labeling them antisemitic and unsafe.

And so, there has been this really big question as to whether the university has done enough to kind of protect academic freedom in the first place to allow that discourse to even happen. And so, I think, you know, in terms of agree, like our tradition here at Columbia of both our Middle Eastern Studies Department, but also our immense connections too, we have the Jewish Theological Seminary, we have a — controversial, but we have a relationship through a program with Tel Aviv University.

We have these very deep-seated ties to this issue in particular Edward Said, many scholars who are considered foundational in Israeli and Palestinian issues. And so, a big question here has, though, been, what is academic freedom, what is the university’s role in protecting it, and has Columbia, in this time frame, under political pressures, under student pressures, has it done enough to protect that and allow that discourse to occur on its campus?

AMANPOUR: And briefly, we got just a little bit left. You know, a lot of the faculty and some of the students have criticized the way we, the press, have covered these protests, some call it a peace movement. It’s not even, you know — it’s not meant to be violence, it’s meant to be nonviolent. And obviously, social media is blowing it out of proportion. You’re watching it from the inside. Do you have a comment on the way the national press has been covering it?

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