Cooper Union criticized over pro-Palestinian rally that led to tense scenes at school library

Tempers flared Thursday afternoon as pro-Israel supporters held a press conference outside Cooper Union, where they say students on Wednesday were barricaded inside the school library as a pro-Palestinian demonstration moved inside. 

"Students felt afraid for their safety," said pro-Israel supporter and lawyer with the Lawfare Project Gerard Filliti. "They feared for their lives."

Filliti says the pro-Palestinian student protestors were threatening students and "chanting the motto of Hamas."

"This school held a pro-Hamas rally," said Jewish City Councilwoman Inna Vernikov.

 Vernikov was arrested two weeks ago for bringing a gun to a pro-Palestinian rally. She refused to take questions Thursday, but in her remarks, she called on the school’s president to step down. 

She and other advocates say the president was "funneled out through a tunnel in the back" by private security. They could not provide evidence of this claim.

School officials at Cooper Union said that President Laura Sparks "was in the building until after the protesting students dispersed."

In addition, a school spokesperson wrote: "We are reviewing reports and footage from yesterday’s events and will initiate any necessary actions consistent with our policies. We have already increased our security and are working with NYPD and our external security partner to make sure our students, faculty, and staff feel safe and protected."

"While there is room for productive debate and dissent here, there is no place for any discriminatory, hateful, or threatening acts of any kind," the statement concluded.


Pro-Palestinian student walkouts take place at Princeton, NYU and Columbia

The student groups are organizing the walkouts at Princeton, New York University, and Columbia – calling for a walkout in solidary with the Palestinian people amid the war in Israel.

"We brought a box so [the school president] can pack her stuff," Vernikov said, before proceeding to read a fake resignation she drafted on the school’s behalf. 

But the press conference was, for a brief period, interrupted by protestors. 

"This is fake news!" shouted one young woman who called herself a student. "You were not here at that protest."

Her interruptions were met with jeers, and one pro-Israel attendee shouting, "Shut the [expletive] up, you [expletive]!"

"We were never pro-Hamas!" the protestors continued. "No one was ever pro-Hamas!"

Jewish students who were in the library Wednesday were not at the press conference. Supporters say they feared for their safety. But one parent who was at the press conference says her daughter was inside.

"She felt they were trying to bang to get in, like to break the windows," she said. "And get in there and do something.  They were frightened."

Pro-Israel supporters also blame the NYPD for not doing enough. 


Israeli troops conduct brief raid in Gaza to 'prepare' for expected full-scale incursion

The war, sparked by Hamas' bloody incursion into southern Israel on Oct. 7, is already the deadliest of five fought between Israel and Hamas in the last 15 years.

"We always appreciate the fine work that the NYPD does," Filliti said. "However, when a student in a library calls 911 feeling threatened and unsafe, we don’t want a replay of Columbine."

The NYPD’s Chief of Patrol John Chell, however, in a press conference said point blank that "there was no direct threat" at Cooper Union.  He added that plainclothes officers were requested by the school and were in attendance. 

"There was no damage, and there was no danger to any student in that school."

The NYPD is making one change in protocol following the school protest Wednesday: they say no longer will officers deploy to campuses in plain clothes. They will now always be in uniform when responding to similar situations.