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Palestine Solidarity Caucus: Brown can no longer be ‘progressive except for Palestine’

On May 15, the Palestine Solidarity Caucus first shared Brown Community’s Letter of Solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle, which condemns the May 2021 escalations in Israeli state and settler-mob violence against Palestinians across historic Palestine. In that period, Israel forcibly dispossessed families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, conducted a violent military assault on civilians and infrastructure in Gaza, attacked Palestinian Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan and Palestinian Christian worshippers at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter eve and wielded joint settler-mob and police violence against Palestinian citizens in Israel — all situated within the context of the ongoing Nakba (“catastrophe”).

In support of Palestinian liberation, the letter calls on the Brown community to take action at the individual and institutional levels. Since May 15, the letter has garnered over one thousand signatures from faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, staff and alumni. The large number of signatories signals strong campus-wide support for divestment from corporations profiting from Israeli apartheid, war crimes and human rights violations.

The letter echoes the demands of the successful 2019 student referendum on divestment and the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Practices recommendation for divestment, which was delivered to President Christina Paxson P’19 in January 2020. Paxson deemed this report — and a subsequent revision — inadequate. But in light of the current circumstances of accelerated violence against Palestinians by the Israeli settler-colonial apartheid regime, the case for divestment must be reopened. More than a thousand university workers, students, and members of the intellectual community on campus join us in refusing complicity with an institution that actively supports the occupation of Palestine and the subjugation, dehumanization and traumatization of Palestinians. This refusal is particularly important in the context of U.S. support for Israel, in the form of nearly $4 billion in annual military aid, ideological cover for an apartheid regime that serves its imperial interests in the region and recurrent vetoes of international resolutions condemning Israel’s human rights violations. The situation in Palestine demands the Brown community’s sustained attention and action.

During the 11-day Israeli military assault on Gaza in May, at least 256 Palestinians were killed. The Israeli state targeted and pulverized residential buildings, schools, bookshops, media offices, vital infrastructure and medical facilities in Gaza amid the global pandemic. After a so-called ceasefire was reached on May 24, Palestinians did not have a second to catch their breath or begin to grieve in the wake of immense racialized violence and repeated military bombardments resulting in the annihilation of entire family lines. Mere hours after the ceasefire announcement, Israeli soldiers stormed Al Aqsa Mosque again. They attacked Palestinians with tear gas and stun grenades, injuring at least 20 people. In recent weeks, several Palestinian youth have been murdered by occupation forces at protests and killed while passing through the checkpoints they are forced to cross daily in the occupied West Bank. Between May 9 and June 10, the Israeli police arrested over 2,000 Palestinians —  including resident activists Muna El Kurd and her brother Mohammed El Kurd of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood —  in retaliation for the protests that took place across the country.

Where is the outcry from the Brown University leadership? Not only has Brown failed to divest, but Paxson’s statements have been disappointingly brief and insufficient. The administration has not supported its Palestinian students.

In the recent statement “Addressing anti-Semitic Violence,” Paxson denounced the “sharp increase in violence and intimidation against Jewish people” in the United States. The statement, while a welcome affirmation of support for Jewish students and community members, is unfortunately brief and vague. As stated in our May 15 letter, we stand against anti-Semitism at Brown and everywhere in the world. The struggle against Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid is an issue of justice, freedom and equality, and we have been joined by countless Jewish friends, comrades, and organizations who vehemently oppose the notion that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic.

Indeed, there have been condemnable anti-Semitic assaults in the past couple months. However, the “sharp increase” in anti-Semitism that Paxson cited reflects a conflation of that anti-Zionist speech and action with anti-Semitism. Mari Cohen in Jewish Currents has shown that the large increase in anti-Semitic violence mentioned by Paxson and reported by U.S. media relies on a single Anti-Defamation League report. That report summarizes the findings of the ADL hate-tracker, the methodology of which is highly questionable. Furthermore, Cohen shows that despite the ADL directly connecting the “uptick” in anti-Semitic violence in the United States to May 2021 violence in Israel and Palestine, only seven of the 43 reported incidents in May were connected to what had been happening across historic Palestine. Most of the tracked incidents were in fact instigated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists. That these deceitful conflations come at a time of unprecedented mobilization in defense of Palestinian life is not a coincidence. Such deflections not only castigate Palestine solidarity actions and silence criticisms of Israeli apartheid, but also obscure the violent white supremacist origins of such attacks, as also evidenced in Canada.

Furthermore, Paxson’s statement raises the question of whether the University is really prepared to carry out its duties of care to all students equally. The University repeatedly assures us of its commitment to confront “anti-Black racism, anti-Asian violence, Islamophobia, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, policies harming undocumented/DACA individuals and immigrants and other forms of discrimination and hate.” But where was Paxson’s statement supporting Palestinian students, who for 11 days watched their homes and neighborhoods crumble? Who for 11 days feared for their loved ones in mortal danger or watched their loved ones die from the non-stop violence meted out by the Israeli state and settlers? Where is the administration’s statement supporting the same students whose families, friends and neighbors are still in the grip of terror in the wake of the so-called ceasefire? Where is the statement offering resources and refuge from threats of racial and sexual violence — like those made against the all-women staff of a Palestinian community center in New Jersey — against Palestinians, including diasporic Palestinians in the United States? 

Palestinian members of the Brown community, along with our allies who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian right to life, resistance, liberation and return, have felt  abandoned — unheard at best, and censored and intimidated at worst. In this lacuna of support, the Palestine Solidarity Caucus has formed among grad workers at Brown. As unionized workers, we assert our right to have a say in our workplace and defend all grad workers against racism, discrimination and harassment. We uphold our responsibility to take a stand against the exploitation and oppression of the Palestinian community both on and off campus. The Graduate Labor Organization has asserted its unequivocal support for the Palestinian cause on several occasions. In concert with GLO and other labor organizations, the Palestine Solidarity Caucus reaffirms that the movement for Palestinian liberation is an anti-racist and feminist workplace issue, and requires the solidarity of workers everywhere.

Brown University administration’s progressive except for Palestine stance is not only unacceptable, but deplorable. There are clear indications that the Brown community feels strongly in its commitment toward Palestinian liberation. Divesting from companies complicit in the “social harms” of Israeli apartheid and supporting Palestinian students are the bare minimum that one should expect from Brown University.

This op-ed was written collectively by members of the Palestine Solidarity Caucus. The op-ed is attributed to the caucus as a whole rather than individual contributors due to safety and mobility concerns. The Palestine Solidarity Caucus can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to



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