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On Columbia’s Lawn, the Curtain Rises on a Day of Political Theater

At Columbia University’s campus on Wednesday, the main quad looked like a stage set for confrontation.

On one end stood Butler Library, a neoclassical colonnaded structure. At its base, a brightly tented encampment of more than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators persisted for the sixth straight day after the police had swept away an earlier village and arrested its student inhabitants.

On the other end stood Low Library, similarly grand and colonnaded. A crush of reporters had gathered on its stairs because the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, was due to speak after meeting with Jewish students. In the morning, Mr. Johnson had called for the resignation of Columbia’s embattled president, Nemat Shafik, who he said had failed to protect the Jewish students from antisemitic attacks.

Speaker Mike Johnson at Columbia University on Wednesday.Credit…Bing Guan for The New York Times
Speaker Johnson was booed and heckled by some onlookers.Credit…Bing Guan for The New York Times

But after Columbia on Tuesday night backed off a threat to call in the police to dismantle the tents, the mood in the encampment had relaxed. Students picnicked on Dunkin’ Donuts and Popeyes.

Columbia had said it would continue negotiating with the protesters, who are demanding that it divest from companies with financial ties to Israel. At a news conference near the encampment, a student protest leader, Khymani James, declared, “This is a win for us.”

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