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Perspectives from Brandeis community members following Palestine-Israel protest

Following the pro-Palestine protest held by Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine and subsequent pro-Israel counter-protest, The Brandeis Hoot spoke with various members of the Brandeis community. The Hoot conducted an online interview with Brandeis Student Union President Peyton Gillespie ’25, another online interview with Brandeis Hillel President Eitan Marks ’24 and one more online interview with an anonymous member of Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). These interviews provided an opportunity for these students to share their varying perspectives on the event and what remains for the Brandeis community to do in its aftermath.


Some of the following questions were asked to multiple interviewees, and their responses are labeled to indicate which community member is attached to each statement. 

 

Were you at the protest? Did you witness the event at all, and how did you react if so?

Marks (Brandeis Hillel President): I stopped by briefly. I was personally disgusted by comparisons to Hitler, and calling for an Intifada. I was upset to see that an outside organization encouraged a counter-protest, and I generally think counter protests are not productive.

 

Member of Brandeis SJP: I think our part of the event went pretty well, however, the Zionist students part was shameful to say the least since they were laughing and mocking my struggle.

 

Gillespie (Student Union President): I witnessed about 15 minutes of the protest from the second floor inside of the SCC. I chose to stay there because I didn’t want to be perceived as directly involved in any part of the protest or counter-protest, but remain a neutral observer.

 

Do you feel unsafe at Brandeis after this event?

Marks (Brandeis Hillel President): Not at all. Sadly I was personally targeted by a member of SJP on social media, which worries me as to where the general campus climate is at, and what types of behavior people think is acceptable. I’m glad to have the support of public safety, the Hillel staff, student union, and the university administration, who I’ve worked closely with throughout this whole week.

Gillespie (Student Union President): No. I know that I and other students on campus have the support of our community, the administration, organizations such as Brandeis Hillel and the Student Union, and additionally have access to resources such as the Dean’s Office, the Brandeis Counseling Center, and the Office of Equal Opportunity.

 

Do any Palestinian community members feel unsafe on campus after this protest?

Member of Brandeis SJP: I am one of the few Palestinians on this campus, and yes I feel unsafe knowing there is a student union member walking around campus who has praised Nakba which caused the displacement of my family in 1948, while we, the people who called for revolution against the occupation are called [antisemitic]. But then again, I have always felt unsafe on this campus because I reported incidents of racism previously and they were disregarded as freedom of speech.

 

What do you think Brandeis should do to help resolve this situation?

Marks (Brandeis Hillel President): I’m not sure there’s anything Brandeis can do to resolve geopolitical conflict on the other side of the world. Supporting students emotionally as they’ve done already, and continuing to create space for real constructive, respectful dialogue around complex issues as they regularly do is a great way to keep going.

 

Member of Brandeis SJP: Brandeis should have at least stayed silent and reprimanded the counter-protestors who invaded our space (who claim that they did not organize it as clubs but they were there before any of us got there with flags, signs, pre-purchased food, and had e-board members!) that we booked as a club, and didn’t have the slightest respect to any of the protocols that they should follow as official clubs. Additionally, there were student union members there who should be politically objective, and to top it all, the ‘protest against hate’ that took place on Tuesday was to promote visiting the Israeli occupation! This all just shows that Brandeis isn’t against antisemitism, but more like against the hate of the Israeli occupation.

 

Gillespie (Student Union President): I would like to take a moment to thank members of the Brandeis administration for their support during such a stressful time. They worked closely with Eitan and I to help facilitate our community gathering and additionally outlined the appropriate resources for us to share with the community. I hope that continuing to facilitate spaces for open and respectful gatherings remains a priority!

 

Does the Student Union have an official stance on the protest?

Gillespie (Student Union President): Hate of any kind, towards any group, identity or belief has no place on our campus, and is antithetical to our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We believe students can, and should advocate for issues they believe in without engaging in hateful or inflammatory speech or actions, which goes against our University’s founding values, including integrity, respect, and civility.

 

What is your organization doing for the community after the protest?

Marks (Brandeis Hillel President): Hillel is continuing to explore ways that the Jewish community and the greater Brandeis community can come together. To that end, I’d like to extend an open invitation to the greater community to come and attend a Shabbat dinner after February break. It’s a great way to meet new people and enjoy a nice meal. You can sign up by Tuesday weekly at brandeishillel.org/dinner. Come as you are, there are no prerequisites, except maybe an appetite for a delicious meal. 

Additionally, Hillel is the only organization that takes students to Israel and the Palestinian Territories each year to learn about the conflict and the region firsthand. The trip is open to all student leaders of any background and political views.

 

Gillespie (Student Union President): The Student Union is continuing to refer students to resources such as the Brandeis Counseling Center, the Dean’s Office, the Intercultural Center, and the Office of Equal Opportunity. Please feel free to reach out if you would like further help connecting with resources via studentunion@brandeis.edu or unionpresident@brandeis.edu!

How did the responsibility to make a statement feel for you?

Marks (Brandeis Hillel President): Many people in the Jewish community are hurting and upset right now. I see my role as being a source of support and comfort. I think it’s always important to condemn hate speech and anti-Jewish speech, but a situation like this needs a point of action. We saw students looking for an outlet to process some of the difficult emotions that arose from what they heard and saw, which is the purpose of the gathering we announced. 

 

Gillespie (Student Union President): Protesting is a fundamental right of every person in the United States, including for each student on every college campus. It’s when the language or messaging used in a protest calls for violence or evolves into hate speech that it becomes a serious issue and requires addressing. 

 

After listening to and watching video recordings of protesters calling for a “global Intifada” (violent, armed uprising) against the Jewish people and making comparisons and references to the Holocaust, I felt that as the president of the Student Union, I had a responsibility to make a clear statement that this kind of hateful and antisemitic rhetoric has no place on our campus. Making a statement felt especially important as antisemitic rhetoric is on the rise in a concerning trend across the United States, including on college campuses.

 

In addition to addressing the language, though, I recognized that many members of our community, especially Jewish students, who were upset and affected by this incident were in need of resources, support, and a place to come together peacefully, which is something Eitan Marks (President of Brandeis Hillel) and I agreed on and worked to organize. Hillel is the department on campus that is most representative of our Jewish community and has experience working to mitigate antisemitism in addition to supporting those affected by it.

 

Why wasn’t SJP consulted in the writing of the Student Union’s email to students?

Gillespie (Student Union President): Reflecting on writing the email, I think that it would have been more appropriate to consult with more groups before sending it out, and this is something to learn from and consider in the future. However, given the fact that members of SJP were at the core of those accused of antisemitic rhetoric and hate speech, we felt that it would be improper and counterproductive to ask them to comment on the same.

 

How did the University’s email response to the protest impact you?

Member of Brandeis SJP: The University’s response was also shameful. The fact that the university cannot differentiate between Zionism and Judaism says a lot about the university’s interests. Our safety and protection is not important, but the donations are apparently.

What were your goals for the “Hate Has No Home Here” event?

Marks (Brandeis Hillel President): We wanted to provide a space for students to come together as a community, and have a moment of peace, silence, and reflection about what it means to be part of a greater campus community. I’ve heard a lot of great feedback from those who were in attendance. I think it also set a more peaceful and relaxed tone going into the break. 

Gillespie (Student Union President): Our goals included providing a space for our community to come together and reflect on the recent protest, highlighting resources for those in need of them, and sharing a moment of silence against all kinds of hate speech on our campus. Following the event, many people have shared that the event was effective at achieving all of these goals and that they were grateful for the space to come together. 

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