Content warning: This article contains descriptions of violence and discussions of death.
Violence in Israel and Gaza has sparked intense outcry from Brown community members, with several campus organizations holding vigils to commemorate the loss of civilian lives. Several student organizations have released statements of mourning while simultaneously condemning what they identify as the root causes of the violence.
Brown Students for Israel has criticized pro-Palestine groups on campus for their characterization of the recent violence. Meanwhile, groups including Students for Justice in Palestine and the newly-formed Talk for Tomorrow have condemned what they say is a one-sided response from the University.
On Oct. 7, Hamas militants launched an attack on southern Israel. The attacks by Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by multiple countries, triggered a declaration of war by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli military has responded with continual air strikes on Gaza and by intensifying its years-long blockade of the Strip, completely cutting off food, water, fuel and electricity. Last Friday, Israel ordered one million civilians to evacuate northern Gaza ahead of an expected ground offensive. A United Nations spokesperson has called the order “impossible” and warned of “devastating humanitarian consequences.”
Hamas attacks have killed an estimated 1,400 people in Israel, and the retaliatory Israeli airstrikes in Gaza have killed approximately 3,000 people and wounded more than 12,000, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Brown Students for Israel was the first University club to publicly comment on the conflict, releasing a statement on Oct. 8 pledging to “stand, always and forever, with Israel.”
“Israel is defending itself with all its strength, as it must,” the statement continued.
On Oct. 10, President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 wrote in a letter to the Brown community that her “thoughts are with the individuals and families most directly impacted by the violence and those who remain in fear as the conflict persists.”
Later that same day, Brown Students for Justice in Palestine released a statement holding “the Israeli regime and its allies unequivocally responsible for all suffering and loss of life, Palestinian or Israeli.”
“While all loss of life deserves to be mourned, we cannot stand by as the root cause of this violence is not only ignored but strengthened: Israel’s settler-colonial regime of apartheid and military occupation and its brutal 16-year blockade of Gaza,” the statement read. “We stand in solidarity with Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.”
Multiple human rights organizations, as well as an independent human rights expert commissioned by the United Nations, have published reports labeling the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians “apartheid.”
Criticizing Paxson’s public response, SJP also wrote that Paxson “has unequivocally privileged Israeli interests and initiatives.” The statement reaffirmed the organization’s long-standing demand that Paxson and the administration “end Brown’s complicity in the Israeli apartheid regime.”
University Spokesman Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald that the University does “not have a practice of responding through news media to matters expressed in online statements or demands,” saying that these calls “come from statements that we have not received directly.”
“We remain committed to engaging with students who are in touch directly with ideas or concerns,” he wrote.
SJP delivered a letter to Paxson in March demanding that the University divest “from companies profiting from human rights abuses in Palestine.”
Paxson has previously said that the endowment is “not a political instrument to be used to express views on complex social and political issues, especially those over which thoughtful and intelligent people vehemently disagree.”
As of Oct. 17, 28 student and local organizations have signed on to SJP’s Oct. 10 statement. Among the signatories are the Graduate Labor Organization, Students for Educational Equity and Direct Action for Rights and Equality.
According to statements provided to The Herald, leadership teams at GLO, SEE and DARE decided to sign on to the SJP statement to uphold their organizational values and missions in relation to the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Last Friday, Jillian Lederman ’24, president of BSI, said in a live CNN interview that “the response by individuals on Brown’s campus, by students on Brown’s campus, particularly Students for Justice in Palestine, has been horrendous.”
“It’s made students on campus feel unsafe in a way that I’ve never experienced before,” Lederman said, citing her conversations with Jewish students on campus. She added that many students feel “threatened.”
In an email to The Herald, Lederman wrote she feels that those “‘contextualizing’ this brutality … are responsible for a traumatic environment in which, in the midst of the most devastating period for the Jewish people since the Holocaust, Jews on Brown’s campus must confront the fact that some of our classmates justify terror against our people.”
Lederman also referenced rhetoric circulating on Instagram and Brown Sidechat, an anonymous social media platform for Brown students, that she said blames “Israel for the violence.”
When asked about these claims, SJP organizers wrote that they “condemn all forms of antisemitism on campus and beyond, and we reject the notion that criticism of Israel’s apartheid government and war crimes is antisemitic.”
On Monday, Talk for Tomorrow — a new group founded by students who have opted to remain anonymous — shared an open letter addressed to Paxson. It begins, “This statement has been written by Jewish, Israeli, Palestinian and Arab students at Brown University. We have been vilified, told what to believe and told whose lives we’re to allowed to mourn.”
“On the deadliest day for Israelis since 1948, over 1,000 people, including women, children and the elderly were killed. Hundreds more were kidnapped and taken hostage by Hamas,” the letter reads. “We unequivocally condemn this and all acts of terror. Acknowledging this atrocity does not necessitate our silence concerning other atrocities.”
The letter goes on to condemn “Israel’s inexcusable acts in Palestine,” urging Paxson and the Brown community “to protect Palestinians and those advocating for Palestinian rights on campus from censorship and harassment and to stand up against the continued suppression of pro-Palestinian advocacy.”
Michael Farrell-Rosen ’24, a member of the J Street U Brown executive board, said he has spoken with Jewish students who feel “unsafe or, at least, uncomfortable” due to community responses to Hamas attacks, as well as students who feel unsafe supporting “Palestinian liberation” because of backlash on college campuses.
“I was disgusted by Hamas’s killing of Israeli civilians and taking of hostages, disturbed by statements that seemed to celebrate Hamas’s massacres of Israeli civilians, and I was disturbed by those who used Hamas’s crimes to make dehumanizing generalizations about the Palestinian people or called for violence against civilians in Gaza,” Farrell-Rosen wrote, describing a sentiment he thought “many progressive Jewish students” shared.
“SJP will not be silenced by threats of doxxing,” SJP organizers wrote in an email to The Herald. The group intends to continue “organizing for the end of Israel’s ongoing genocide of Gaza.”
Clark reiterated the University’s commitment to “ensuring that Brown is safe and welcoming for all members of our community.” He wrote that students should refer to a letter sent by Vice President Eric Estes listing resources for students, faculty and staff. Clark also wrote that “the Department of Public Safety remains the best immediate point of contact for anyone with a timely concern about personal safety.”
Last Sunday, BSI released an additional statement criticizing SJP for what BSI described as “support of the actions of Hamas” and the implication that Hamas’s actions are “resistance,” alleging that this characterization “condoned repulsive acts of terror.”
“We reject the portrayal of mourning as a justification of terrorism,” SJP wrote in response.
The BSI statement also called on the co-signatories of SJP’s statement to retract their signatures. SJP noted that some organizations “have withdrawn their signatures from SJP’s statement … out of concern for individual members’ safety.”
Representatives from GLO, SEE and DARE all said that they do not intend to remove their organization’s signature from the statement.
“GLO’s elected leadership voted unanimously to stand with Students for Justice in Palestine and reiterate our union’s democratic decision to support Brown Divest,” GLO representatives wrote in a statement to The Herald. “We will certainly not abandon them now.”
Talk for Tomorrow has invited community members to a vigil on the Main Green to be held Wednesday evening to “mourn all innocent lives (lost) — Palestinian and Israeli.”
Farell-Rosen separately urged unity on campus, including the creation of a space that “successfully facilitates Jewish and Muslim students grieving together.”
Talk for Tomorrow’s letter asks Paxson to “publicize the joint vigil, …vow to protect the free speech, advocacy and safety” of all student activists and expand her “condemnation to include the condemnation of the Israeli state’s inexcusable acts.”
Clark wrote that the administration will “read and consider the points they’ve shared,” as Talk for Tomorrow directly sent the letter to Paxson.
In its statement to The Herald, SJP agreed with Talk for Tomorrow’s calls for “more spaces for Palestinian voices and grief,” adding that “we as an organization are committed to empowering those students.”
With continuing airstrikes killing civilians in Gaza, as well as the ongoing humanitarian crisis and hostage situation, the conflict remains at the forefront of students’ minds.
Owen Dahlkamp is a Section Editor overseeing coverage for University News and Science & Research. Hailing from San Diego, CA, he is concentrating in political science and cognitive neuroscience with an interest in data analytics. In his free time, you can find him making spreadsheets at Dave’s Coffee.