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Columbia University says it has banned protester who said ‘Zionists don’t deserve to live’

Columbia University says it has banned protester who said ‘Zionists don’t deserve to live’

Columbia University said Friday that it has banned a student protest leader from campus after a video resurfaced Thursday that showed the student saying Zionists “don’t deserve to live.”

A university spokesperson said the student, Khymani James, has been “banned from campus.” The university did not provide any further details on the circumstances surrounding the ban or offer any information on disciplinary proceedings.

In a statement Friday night about the ongoing protests, Columbia officials said a person whose “vile videos” had recently surfaced has been banned.

“Chants, signs, taunts, and social media posts from our own students that mock and threaten to ‘kill’ Jewish people are totally unacceptable, and Columbia students who are involved in such incidents will be held accountable,” the statement said.

James, a junior and member of the group Columbia University Apartheid Divest, or CUAD, and a self-identified spokesperson for the student encampment at Columbia, is seen making the comments in a clip of the video verified by NBC News.

“Zionists, they don’t deserve to live comfortably, let alone, Zionists don’t deserve to live,” James said in the video, which has been circulating on social media.

“The same way we’re very comfortable accepting that Nazis don’t deserve to live, fascists don’t deserve to live, racists don’t deserve to live, Zionists, they shouldn’t live in this world,” James added.

The resurfaced video comes amid a wave of pro-Palestinian encampments and protests against Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza that have been established on college campuses across the United States. The demonstrations have, at times, resulted in arrests and some pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters have clashed. Jewish students have also reported instances of antisemitism.

Talks between protesters and administrators about dismantling the encampment at Columbia, which has been in place since April 17, are ongoing, the university has said. Protesters there and on other campuses have called on schools to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

James, who uses he/she/they pronouns, said in a statement posted to X on Friday that their comments were “wrong” and that they “regret” them, adding “every member of our community deserves to feel safe without qualification.”

James added that they wish they had said instead that, “Zionism is an ideology that necessitates the genocide of Palestinian people. I oppose that in the strongest terms.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, “Zionism is the movement for the self-determination and statehood for the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel.”

It does not necessarily refer to Jewish people as a whole, as Jews do not have to be Zionists.

James said in the statement that the comments were made before they were involved with CUAD and that both it and the Gaza Solidarity Encampment “have made clear” that their comments on the video “are not in line with the CUAD community guidelines.”

“Those words do not represent CUAD,” James said. “They also do not represent me.”

It’s unclear whether James is still serving a a spokesperson. James did not appear to be at the protests Friday.

CUAD said in an Instagram post earlier Friday that James’ “words in January do not reflect his views, our values, nor the encampment’s community agreements” and that the group remains “committed to our peaceful protest and will continue to call for the University to divest from the Israel’s brutal genocide against Palestinians.”

NBC News has not confirmed the circumstances around why the video was made, but The New York Times and the university’s student publication, the Columbia Spectator, reported James made the comments while in a meeting with Columbia’s Center for Student Success and Intervention in January. James recorded and broadcast the meeting on Instagram Live.

The January meeting was called in reference to an earlier comment James made on social media regarding fighting Zionists in which James said: “I don’t fight to injure or for there to be a winner or a loser, I fight to kill,” according to the Times and the Spectator.

Columbia’s Center for Student Success and Intervention did not immediately reply to a request for comment and more information.

In a longer version of the video edited and posted by The Daily Wire on Thursday evening, James said they didn’t understand why their comments were problematic, compared Zionists to white supremacists and Nazis, and said they feel comfortable calling for Zionists to die.

James also said administrators should be grateful that James wasn’t acting on their words.

In the Friday statement, James said the comments were edited without context and that at the time they made the statements, “I had been feeling unusually upset after an online mob targeted me because I am visibly queer and Black.”

James did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday on X. Other contact information could not immediately be found.

In a statement, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said that President Joe Biden has been clear that “violent rhetoric, hate speech, and Antisemitic remarks have no place in America whatsoever.”

“These dangerous, appalling statements turn the stomach and should serve as a wakeup call,” Bates said. “It is hideous to advocate for the murder of Jews.”

Rebecca Cohen

Rebecca Cohen is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.

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