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More than 20 progressive elected officials sent a letter to Columbia University on Friday calling on the university to reinstate Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Last week, the Ivy League university suspended the two student groups for holding a nonviolent but unsanctioned protest demanding a ceasefire in Gaza.

“On behalf of the Columbia community and our constituents, we, as elected officials from New York, urge you to reverse your decision to suspend Jewish Voice for Peace (‘JVP’) and Students for Justice in Palestine (‘SJP’) as social student groups through the fall term. … We support the University’s stated desire to maintain an atmosphere that is safe and free of hate; however, suspending these student groups based on the pretext of ‘safety’ does the opposite,” reads the letter, which was shared exclusively with City & State.

The letter’s signatories include Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman and Nydia Velázquez; state Sens. Kristen Gonzalez, Jabari Brisport, Julia Salazar and Robert Jackson; Assembly Members Zohran Mamdani, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Marcela Mitanyes, Sarahana Shrestha, Emily Gallagher, Jessica Gozález-Rojas and Harvey Epstein; and New York City Council Members Alexa Avilés, Tiffany Cabán, Jennifer Gutiérrez, Shahana Hanif, Sandy Nurse, Charles Barron and Kristin Richardson Jordan. Three of the signatories actually attended Columbia University: Avilés, Gonzalez and Salazar.

“Protests, dissent, critical inquiry, freedom of speech is really important on a campus like Columbia, and every university college campus,” Avilés told City & State. “I think the university is mistaken in suspending events for these two groups.”

“We reject antisemitism and Islamophobia in all of its forms, and we want every student on campus to feel safe,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “That’s why as a Columbia Alum, I was disappointed to hear that these groups were disbanded as a result of a peaceful silent protest on campus. The university has a vibrant history of activism and to honor that history we hope the university reverses its decision and instead commits to creating an environment where students are free from hate and free to protest.”

The letter was organized by the Democratic Socialists of America and the leftist Jewish group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, two organizations that have been heavily involved in pro-ceasefire protests across the city which critics have labeled “antisemitic.”

The letter is the latest flashpoint in ongoing controversies related to Israel’s war in Gaza. In the weeks since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, many New York politicians have offered unqualified support to Israel. But as the death toll from Israel’s invasion of Gaza City has increased, a growing number of progressive politicians have begun calling for a ceasefire. In turn, many of the politicians supporting a ceasefire have been accused of antisemitism.

“Unfortunately, I have already been accused of antisemitism,” Avilés said. “Which is deeply disturbing to me as someone who holds all people sacred, and has done a lot of work to hold the dignity of Jewish community – members of an oppressed group, much like Latinos and other people of color.”

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