As Columbia University officials continue to negotiate with a group of anti-Israel agitators who set up tents on a lawn at the heart of campus, Jewish and Israeli students say the presence and the aggression of the protesters has them afraid to walk through the area after sundown.

“I’ve had a friend who was beaten up,” said Itai Driefuss, a third-year Columbia undergrad and Israeli military veteran from Tel Aviv. “It’s scary. It’s violent.”

He pointed to a confrontation over the weekend where he said anti-Israel agitators confronted a group of counter-demonstrators who support the alliance between the U.S. and Israel.

“You had Jewish people holding up the American and Israeli flag, and people were holding up a sign that says, ‘Al-Quds next target,'” he said, referring to the militant Al-Quds Brigades, a Palestinian terror group aligned with Hamas. “It’s the same people who do bus bombings and rape women and put babies in an oven.”


Pro-Palestinian supporters rally outside Columbia University

Pro-Palestinian supporters rally outside Columbia University on April 23, 2024 in New York City. In response to recent campus unrest and anxieties regarding Jewish student safety, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik announced a shift to online learning for Monday. She further urged faculty and staff to prioritize remote work.  (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

On Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas launched a surprise attack that killed more than 1,200 Israelis and saw more than 200 kidnapped and held hostage. Israel’s military response is still underway, and protesters at a number of large U.S. universities, including Columbia, USC, UT Austin and Yale have seen dozens of anti-Israel agitators arrested.

At Columbia, a group of protesters who set up tents on school grounds were kicked out last week, only to return with more tents and occupy the West Lawn instead. 

Masked protester standing behind gate

A masked demonstrator stands guard at a locked gate on Columbia’s West Lawn, where dozens of students have set up tents as they demand the university take a number of anti-Israel measures amid a conflict between the country’s military and Hamas terrorists who attacked on Oct. 7, 2023. (Micheal Ruiz/Fox News Digital)

“It’s loud, and it’s scary, and a lot of Jewish and Israeli people don’t walk around on campus after the sun goes down,” Driefuss said.

WATCH: Columbia student describes tense, scary situation on campus amid anti-Israel protests


Jewish students have told Fox News Digital they face harassment, antisemitic rhetoric and even violence in confrontations with the demonstrators. Multiple students who said they could comment on behalf of the encampment declined to speak with Fox News Digital.

Driefuss told Fox News Digital his girlfriend, also Jewish, had been followed home. He said he had been told to kill himself, spit on and shouted at. 

“I don’t think that’s any way to have any campus, where you have a big part of your student body just scared for their lives,” he said.

Photos of Israeli hostages outside of Columbia University

A Columbia student prays near a wall covered in posters of hostages who remain in captivity after Hamas terrorists abducted them in a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. (Michael Ruiz/Fox News Digital)

Driefuss, speaking in front of a wall covered in missing person fliers dedicated to the remaining Israel hostages, said he believed the demonstrators’ refusal to even speak with Jewish students or Israel supporters left them in an echo chamber to become “even more radicalized”.


“I think, a lot of the narrative, especially inside the camp, is not to engage in to anyone who looks like Zionist or Jewish,” he said. 

School leaders have been negotiating with the occupiers for days but have so far declined to ask police to clear them out a second time.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson leaves Columbia University in New York City

Columbia University president Minouche Shafik  leaves the Low Memorial Library on the campus of Columbia University, Wednesday, April 24, 2024. The embattled president, who’s under pressure to resign her post, reportedly met with Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Mike Johnson before his speech at the university earlier. (Fox News Digital)

“I very much hope these discussions are successful,” Columbia President Minouche Shafik said in a statement Thursday. “If they are not, we will have to consider alternative options for clearing the West Lawn and restoring calm to campus so that students can complete the term and graduate.”

A pro-Palestine encampment is constructed on Columbia University’s campus in New York City

Anti-Israel agitators construct an encampment on Columbia University’s campus in New York City on Monday, April 22, 2024.  The university announced that all classes would be held virtually today in response to the ongoing demonstrations on campus. (Peter Gerber)

She also said the school planned to take action against students who violated the school’s codes of conduct.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson leaves Columbia University in New York City

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson leaves Columbia University in New York City on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. Johnson called on Columbia University president Minouche Shafik to resign ahead of his speech on campus earlier today as student-led anti-Israel protests escalate. (Fox News Digital)

“We are working to identify protesters who violated our policies against discrimination and harassment, and they will be put through appropriate disciplinary processes,” she said. “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.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson appeared on campus Wednesday to call on Shafik to resign if the protests aren’t reined in.

Students move a tent inside Columbia University

Students move a tent inside Columbia University on April 24, 2024 in New York City. Columbia University student organizers were given a midnight deadline to resolve talks with the university over dismantling the pro-Palestinian encampment, with Columbia President Minouche Shafik considering “alternative options” if no agreement was reached – but then she pushed back the deadline. (Jeenah Moon/Getty Images)

Some Jewish students and critics of the university’s actions so far have accused the administration of antisemitic discrimination as well.


Earlier this month, another Israeli military veteran who attends Columbia filed a lawsuit accusing the school of harshly punishing him for using “fart spray” on anti-Israel activists while turning a blind eye to their antisemitic rhetoric.

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