People with banners at protest on Broadway outside of Columbia University campus after suspension of Students for Justice in Palestine group(r), Smoke(c), Columbia University(r)

Here Now/Shutterstock Dmitrii Sakharov/Shutterstock JOGENDRA KUMAR/Shutterstock (Licensed)

Columbia University students slam ‘despicable victim-blaming response’ to alleged ‘chemical’ attack on pro-Palestinian demonstrators

Students for Justice in Palestine say demonstrators were sprayed with a 'chemical weapon.


Katherine Huggins


Posted on Jan 23, 2024   Updated on Jan 23, 2024, 12:43 pm CST

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia University say they were attacked with skunk spray during a protest on Friday—and allies are outraged over the university’s response.

Columbia’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine wrote on X that two perpetrators “sprayed a chemical weapon on peaceful protesters,” adding that “skunk spray is used on Palestinians in the West Bank by the Israeli occupation” and “is known to cause nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.”

The group also alleged the perpetrators were students who were members of the Israeli Defense Forces, though that has not been corroborated by the university or the New York Police Department, which is investigating the reports.

Columbia did not name the alleged perpetrators but said they have been identified and removed from campus pending the investigation.

Other students posted images and accounts of going to the hospital due to the attack.

“i literally have to go to the hospital today bc the symptoms have not subsided,” wrote one person on X. “still experiencing nausea, burning eyes, headaches, and irritation of my nose. when will columbia take action against these men.”

The type of weapon used has also not been confirmed, though Interim Provost Dennis Mitchell stated that numerous students “reported being sprayed with a foul-smelling substance that required students to seek medical treatment” and said that NYPD is taking the lead in investigating possible hate crimes.

Prior to Mitchell sending a campus-wide email acknowledging the “deeply troubling incident,” a campus spokesperson told the Intercept that the protest “was unsanctioned and violated university policies and procedures which are in place to ensure there is adequate personnel on the ground to keep our community safe.”

The spokesperson’s response was quickly condemned on social media, with many saying it was victim blaming.

“Absolutely insane victim blaming response from Columbia PR following students reports that they were hit with chemical spray attack at rally,” wrote Tage Rai, an assistant professor at the University of California San Diego.

“‘The kids went out without our permission, so whatever happened is on them’ is a wild position for any type of institution to take, but absolutely sickening from a university,” wrote another person on X.

Some expressed outrage over the campus-wide email that followed as well.

“columbia students get attacked with a literal chemical agent while peacefully protesting on campus, and today the provost sends out a flaccid email not so implicitly calling *their* views ‘offensive and hurtful to many of us.’ transparent and despicable,” wrote one Columbia student.

Another person slammed the university’s statement about the investigation saying: “columbia was sooo quick to ban SJP and JVP for peaceful protests against genocide but issued a 2 day late statement of nothingness following an act of domestic terrorism against its own students on its own campus by (former) members of a foreign military.”

Last fall, Columbia suspended its chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace because the groups “repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events.”

Protests over the Israel-Hamas war have roiled school campuses across the U.S. and several university administrations have come under intense backlash from both sides for their handling of on-campus demonstrations and antisemitism.

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*First Published: Jan 23, 2024, 11:18 am CST