Johnson Calls to End Pro-Palestinian Protests, Including by Military Means

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Speaker Mike Johnson on Wednesday said he intended to call President Biden and demand that he take action, including potentially sending in the National Guard, to quell pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University that he said had grown violent and antisemitic.

“There is executive authority that would be appropriate,” Mr. Johnson said during a news conference on the steps of Low Library, where he was booed and heckled by some onlookers. “If these threats are not stopped, there is an appropriate time for the National Guard. We have to bring order to these campuses.”

A number of hard-right Republican lawmakers, including Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, have recently called for the troops to be sent in to crack down on pro-Palestinian protests on campus.

Organizers of many of the campus groups leading protests around the country have said they denounce violence and antisemitism. But as tensions have risen in recent days, some of the demonstrators have used anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slurs and other threatening language, and some have expressed sympathy for Hamas.

Mr. Johnson, who is battling a rebellion on his right, is the latest Republican trying to reap political advantage from the explosive cultural moment unfolding on university campuses in response to the Israel-Gaza war. Republicans have tried to use the conflict, which is dividing progressives and posing a political problem for Mr. Biden, to put the academic left on the spot and position themselves as the party more steadfast in its support for Israel and concerned with the safety of Jews.

His visit to campus came days after the House approved $95 billion in foreign aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, a move that put Mr. Johnson’s job on the line as the hard right, opposed to backing Kyiv, revolted against the spending package.

On Wednesday, Mr. Johnson, who met with Jewish students privately before his news conference, appeared to be looking for an opportunity to reclaim some conservative credibility and spotlight an issue that unites his party. He said that Dr. Nemat Shafik, the university president, should resign if she cannot immediately get the situation under control, and called her a “very weak and inept leader.”

And he accused progressives of stoking antisemitism in America.

“Powerful people have refused to condemn it, and some have even peddled it themselves,” he said. Mr. Johnson said that Congress needed to “revoke federal funding to these universities if they can’t keep control.”

Mr. Johnson’s brief remarks were interrupted at various points by jeers from students, including one who called him “racist.”

“Don’t lie about what’s going on on campus!” another shouted at him.

Mr. Johnson, looking perturbed at the interruptions, coolly responded: “Enjoy your free speech.”

He said he was there “to proclaim to all of those who gnash their teeth and demand to wipe the state of Israel off the map, and attack our innocent Jewish students, this simple truth: Neither Israel, nor these Jewish students on campus, will ever stand alone.”

Last week, Columbia’s administration called in the New York City police to arrest more than 100 student protesters who had organized the encampment on a school lawn and refused to leave. The move came a day after Dr. Shafik assured Congress during a heated hearing that her administration was committed to taking serious action against antisemitism on campus, including by suspending students and disciplining certain faculty members.

But the extraordinary step did not quell the calls from the right for her resignation. And it only enraged the students involved in the protests. The encampment has grown larger, and the administration now finds itself under attack from all sides.

Some Columbia faculty members have called the administration’s action an “unprecedented assault on student rights.”

Mr. Johnson on Wednesday said he had a simple message for the students involved in the pro-Palestinian protests: “Go back to class, and stop the nonsense,” he said. “Stop wasting your parents’ money.”



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