The student, who is being identified by his initials I.A. in order to protect his safety, identified the woman as 19-year-old Maxwell Friedman.
A friend of I.A, also an Israeli General Studies student, told the Columbia Spectator (which was first to report this story) they were at Columbia’s Uris Hall hanging posters with the names and photos of the Israeli’s taken hostage by Hamas when Friedman first approached them. She asked to join the group, saying she was Jewish, and spent the morning with them helping to hang the posters.
Later in the day, around 5:30 p.m., I.A. and four friends ran into Friedman again outside Butler Library. This time, she was reportedly tearing fliers off the wall, her face now covered by a bandana. That’s when they approached and the assault began. Friedman allegedly started screaming at them, began hitting I.A. with a stick, and tried to punch him in the face when he began defending himself.
I.A. told the Spectator the incident left him with a broken finger and a bruised hand, though he refused medical attention at the scene, according to the police. Officers arrived after being called by Columbia Public Safety.
“We were all kind of shocked that this stuff can happen on our own campus, which should be a safe haven,” I.A. told the Spectator. “We don’t know how to handle the situation, let alone that our families and friends are going through the worst nightmare, and we are mentally in the same ship with them. And, now, we have to handle the situation that campus is not a safe place for us anymore.”
The assault comes amid heightened tensions on Columbia’s Campus, currently on edge and divided by the Israel-Palestine conflict.
After the attack, the school released a statement “strongly affirming Columbia’s ties to Israel”; as of Friday, it has been signed by nearly 300 faculty members.
On Monday, the Pro-Palestinian group Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, published an open letter calling the Hamas attack a “historic moment for the Palestinians of Gaza,” demanding Columbia apologize for the statement, divest from Israeli companies and end its ties with Tel Aviv University. The letter was co-signed by the Columbia Jewish Voice for Peace, and as of Friday, over twenty student groups had signed the letter.
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The campus was closed to the public Thursday, with administrators only admitting people with Columbia IDs ahead of competing pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protests. Interim Provost Dennis A. Mitchell released multiple announcements before the protests, including these statements:
We know from experience that during times of conflict, debate can turn into hateful rhetoric and even harassment.It is crucial to emphasize that with this freedom comes the responsibility to ensure that our campus remains safe. Hate speech, discrimination, or violation of our core values will not be tolerated.
Prior to the protests, which appear to have been peaceful, I.A. told the Spectator that he is not returning to campus in the immediate future, telling fellow Jewish and Israeli students that he does not feel safe.
“This is because me being an Israeli these days. Not me because being myself,” I.A. said. “It is because me being an Israeli who is under a certain kind of threat.”