Voices for Justice in Palestine celebrates the passion and moral integrity of our American college students, and wholeheartedly supports them in their protest against the genocide in Gaza. We share their outrage, and are inspired by their courage. We are inspired by their hopefulness that a better, more just and compassionate world is possible, and their willingness to sacrifice to make it a reality  They understand that Israel has massacred over 35,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, withheld the essentials of life, and caused catastrophic famine. The destruction of housing for nearly 2 million people, the bombing of hospitals, universities, schools, houses of worship and cultural heritage sites, the targeting of journalists and aid workers, has been well-documented. The Gaza solidarity encampments that have sprung up on over 100 university campuses across the country are rooted in deep empathy for the victims of this American-Israeli war on the Palestinian people, and a strong motivation to stop the brutal collective punishment of the Palestinians carried out in our name and with our tax dollars. The students’ demands are eminently reasonable and we fully support them: university administrations acknowledge that a genocide is occurring, university investments be transparent, universities divest from companies that are supporting the occupation and the genocide.

Voices for Justice in Palestine deplores university administrators’ decisions to dismantle the Gaza solidarity encampments, bring militarized police in riot gear onto campus to violently arrest students, in many cases employing pepper spray and tear gas. Administrators have evicted Gaza solidarity students from their dorms, revoked their meal tickets, banned them from campus, canceled their graduate fellowships, and kept them from graduating. This failure to honor the free expression of its students is anti-democratic, repressive, and deeply disturbing. There are smarter, more responsible choices. For example, the University of Chicago has allowed its Gaza solidarity encampment to continue with the blessing of the administration, provided negotiated guardrails agreed to by all parties are observed. Evergreen State College has reached agreements with student activists to divest from companies profiting from the occupation and the genocide, and student bargaining teams agreed with Brown University to enter into consultative negotiations toward the goal of divesting. University of Minnesota, Northwestern, and Rutgers have followed suit.

The brutal crackdown on students protesting Gaza genocide is completely unnecessary. The charge that  the encampments are antisemitic is untrue, and is being pushed by bad faith actors who support Israel at all costs, and will stop at nothing to shut down any criticism of Israel. The Gaza solidarity encampments have been peaceful .The violence has come from police and from belligerent counter-protesters attacking the Palestinian solidarity activiists. The student movement to stop the genocide in Gaza is a diverse coalition that includes Jewish students, often in leadership positions. They are proud of their Jewish identity but do not adhere to Zionism and have disassociated themselves from the apartheid state of Israel. The charge that the encampments are sowing chaos and disorder on campus is also unfounded. Right-wing politicians are exploiting this charge as part of a so-called culture war against “woke” liberals. Students should not be demonized and made to pay a price for falsehoods and misinformation.

The student encampment movement has been misconstrued in the mainstream and conservative press. Chants such as “from the River to the Sea, Palestine shall be free,” or references to “intifada” or “apartheid” are cited as supposed evidence of violent hate speech. But these chants are not antisemitic..They describe the longings and aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom, justice, and self-determination. Genuine antisemitism – hatred or hostility toward Jews solely because of their identity as Jews -is a vile and dangerous form of racism and should never be tolerated. But hatred of Jews is an attitude found among White nationalists and neo-Nazis, not well-educated students collaborating with their Jewish friends to try to stop a genocide. The fact that some pro-Israel Jewish students charge that Palestinian liberation language makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe does not in itself validate that claim. Universities do have a responsibility to protect all students from actual physical threats. But it is not the business of universities to censor and penalize legitimate free speech that some find objectionable because it challenges their beliefs. Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis stated that the best remedy for contested speech is “more speech, not enforced silence.” In the spirit of participatory democracy, we join the Gaza solidairity student movement in calling for informed dialogue, not arrest and detention, and respectful exchange of ideas, not repression and punishment.

History, if we will but learn from it, teaches us that student protesters are often at the vanguard of important societal change. One remembers the Freedom Riders and the lunch counter sit-ins during the struggle for racial justice, the demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, the movement for the equality of women and the LGBTQ community, student activism to halt gun violence, the next generation rising up against the climate crisis, and now the Gaza solidarity encampments. The students are our best hope for a better world. We are indebted to them. They deserve our thanks and praise, and may their tribe increase!