The open letter was started by a group of Indian academics, many of them active in prestigious universities around the world, including Suvrat Raju, a scientist in the field of quantum mechanics and black holes, and in just a few days it was signed up by leading academics and intellectuals, including Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak, famous in the field of so-called Subaltern Studies, reaching almost a thousand names.

Dear President Shafik,

We are a group of scientists and academics based at universities across the world. We are writing to express our dismay at your decision to invite the New York Police Department to arrest pro-Palestinian protesters on your University’s campus.

These protesters were demonstrating against the brutal Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has now entered its seventh month. During this period, Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, most of whom are women and children. The International Court of Justice has found that Israel’s campaign could plausibly amount to genocide. The international community has repeatedly called for Israel to halt this war; in December 2023, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution with an overwhelming majority calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. In spite of this, the United States has continued to bankroll this violence and has shielded Israel from diplomatic repercussions.

The U.S. media has failed to accurately portray the horrific impact of the war on ordinary Palestinians, and this has allowed the U.S. government to continue its indefensible policies. We applaud the protesters at Columbia and elsewhere in the United States for looking past this smokescreen. We commend their willingness to stand up to their own government in defense of Palestinian human rights and demand divestment from the military industrial complex in Israel. We are impressed by their efforts to build an inclusive coalition to peacefully advocate for these demands. Columbia should be proud of those members of its community who joined these protests. The protests at Columbia and other campuses are precisely the empathetic, informed and courageous actions that are required at the time of a crisis.

Even if Columbia’s administration disagreed with the protesters, it was your responsibility to protect their rights to express their views. We understand that the protests were disruptive; however, this is the nature of protests, especially those concerning such serious issues. As Columbia University Professor Edward Said once wrote regarding his advocacy for Palestinian rights from inside the academy: ‘Our role is to widen the field of discussion, not to set limits in accord with the prevailing authority.’

Your actions have weakened democratic norms within the university and undermined the university’s standing in the international academic community. We urge you to immediately revoke any disciplinary actions taken against the protesters and to take immediate steps to ensure that charges are dropped against those who were arrested.

April 24th 2024