Mike Johnson Columbia University visit met with boos and heckling from protestors

House Speaker Mike Johnson arrived on the campus of Columbia University on Wednesday armed with a stern message for school administrators and protesters after days of anti-war demonstrations, arrests and campus closures at colleges across the country.

Johnson, R-La., described instances of antisemitism on college campuses, called for the resignation of the university president and warned that students perpetrating violence should be arrested.

His lecture was met with boos from nearby protesters and chants of “We can’t hear you!”

“Enjoy your free speech,” Johnson shot back.

In his remarks on campus, Johnson shamed students and faculty involved in the protests, as well as administrators for not doing enough to prevent them.

“It's detestable. As Columbia has allowed these lawless agitators and radicals to take over, the virus of antisemitism has spread across other campus,” Johnson told the crowd. “Anti-Israel encampments are popping up in universities all across this country. The madness has to stop.”

Students at Columbia University have pledged to continue protesting in an encampment they set up last week until the university agrees to a complete divestment from Israel. Protesters have demanded divestment from a student-exchange program and the university's campus in Tel Aviv.

More: Ukraine, Israel aid package heads to Biden as Congress caps monthslong struggle

The contentious protests led to the arrest and suspension of more than 100 students from Columbia University and Barnard College last week − including U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar's daughter, Isra Hirsi.

As Johnson finished, he turned things over to Republican Rep. Virgnia Foxx (R-NC), the Chair of the House Committee on Education, who said Columbia University is "in a free fall.”

“As Speaker of the House, I am committing today that the Congress will not be silent as Jewish students are expected to run for their lives and stay home from their classes hiding in fear,” Johnson said. “We have passed a number of statutes to address this matter and we call upon the U.S. Senate to act upon our legislation.”

Some Columbia University leaders said they were open to negotiating with protesters, but students from a group called Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine said they are not currently interested.

In a statement Tuesday, the group alleged that university negotiators threatened to call the National Guard and NYPD if they "do not acquiesce to their demands."

In a campus update Tuesday, Shafik said the university is working to identify and discipline protesters who violated its policies against discrimination and harassment.

"The right to protest is essential and protected at Columbia, but harassment and discrimination is antithetical to our values and an affront to our commitment to be a community of mutual respect and kindness," Shafik said in the statement.

The protests have fueled an ongoing national debate about Jewish students' safety after a documented rise in antisemitism on college campuses following Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel and Israel's military response.

More: Harvard, Stanford and MIT get an 'F' from ADL on antisemitism report card

"Amid anti-Israel protests, Jewish students at Columbia University don't feel safe," Johnson said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Let's be clear: these are not peaceful protests, these are antisemitic mobs."

According to a spokesperson from the Speaker’s office, Johnson wanted to speak to students at Columbia because he felt New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has not done enough to protect them.

“Hochul and other officials in New York have completely failed in their duty to protect Jewish students and combat the rise of antisemitism in their party,” Athina Lawson said in a statement. “We wish it weren’t necessary.”

House Republicans Anthony D'Esposito (R-NY), Mike Lawler (R-NY), and Nicole Mallotakis (R-NY) joined Johnson and Foxx at the campus Wednesday.

"Together, we're going to send a message that Shafik's failure to secure campus for her Jewish students is unacceptable. She MUST resign," D’Esposito said in a post ahead of their visit.

More: Columbia University president fends off questions that took down her Ivy League peers

Their visit comes two days after House Democrats Dan Goldman (D-NY), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Kathy Manning (D-NC), and Jared Moskowitz (D-FL) met with administrators and Jewish students on campus Monday.

Rachel Barber is a 2024 election fellow at USA TODAY, focusing on politics and education. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, as @rachelbarber_

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Johnson gives speech at Columbia University as protests continue