Twenty Jewish students began a sit-in at University Hall Wednesday afternoon, demanding that the University administration and President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 support a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and divest Brown’s endowment from “companies that enable war crimes in Gaza.”
The group, BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now, announced in an Instagram post that they would “not leave University Hall until President Christina Paxson publicly commits to include and support a divestment resolution in the next meeting of the Brown Corporation,” the University’s highest governing body.
Organizers told The Herald that they delivered a copy of their demands to Paxson’s secretary. At Tuesday’s faculty meeting, Paxson declined to comment on a faculty letter calling for a ceasefire while affirming the University’s commitment to free speech and expression on university campuses.
According to organizers inside University Hall, another administrator informed the students that Paxson would not change her stance. The Herald could not immediately independently verify this claim.
The demands specifically called for the resolution to be based on a 2020 report from the University's Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies recommending that the University divest from “any company that profits from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.” ACCRIP was later replaced with a successor body, the Advisory Committee on University Resources Management.
“It is imperative that the Corporation support the democratic decision of the Brown community on the financial ethics of our institution,” an organizer with BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now said in a speech announcing the sit-in.
"At Brown, we recognize our responsibility for being an educational institution that manages challenging discussions in a way that remains true to the fundamental principle of freedom of expression while emphasizing the importance of safety for all community members," University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in a message to The Herald. "Brown leaders have met with many student groups (affected by the events in Israel and Gaza) in recent weeks to listen to and address concerns, and we will continue to do so moving forward."
Clark did not respond to request for comments on the students' demands at the time of this article's publication.
Before the sit-in began, more than 400 people gathered at the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center in a walkout organized by Brown Students for Justice in Palestine calling for a ceasefire and divestment. Speakers criticized Paxson for declining to respond to the portion of the letter, signed by more than 160 faculty, which urged the University's administration to call for a ceasefire in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
“I have to respectfully decline making public statements on these issues,” Paxson said at the Tuesday faculty meeting, adding that her “responsibility, as president, is not to place a stamp of approval on the views of a subset of the community, even if that subset is large.”
Multiple student speakers at Wednesday’s walkout described the call for a ceasefire as the “bare minimum.”
After hearing speeches on the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, attendees marched around University Hall for about 20 minutes. Protest slogans overlapped between the hundreds of people circling the building, as chants of “ceasefire now” echoed from one part of the picket line to the next. The sound crescendoed when the bell above University Hall rang.
Attendees then gathered at the front of University Hall to hear organizers announce the sit-in, which had already begun.
“As Jewish students who have peers, friends and loved ones, both Israeli and Palestinian, affected by the violence, we've had enough of our university using us as a justification to maintain financial ties to an apartheid state,” said an organizer with BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now in a speech on the steps of University Hall.
Multiple human rights organizations, as well as an independent human rights expert commissioned by the United Nations, have published reports stating that the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to “apartheid.” UN experts have said they are “convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide” as violence has continued to escalate since Oct. 7, according to a Nov. 2 press release.
According to BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now organizers, the group is made up of more than 80 Jewish students who came together after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel and the retaliation by the Israeli military to create a space for “holding the values of Palestinian liberation very closely with the fear they felt for their friends and family” in Israel.
Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel killed over 1,400 people. In the month since, Israel’s retaliation has targeted the Gaza Strip through airstrikes, blockades and a ground invasion, which have killed over 10,000 Palestinians in Gaza, the Associated Press reported.
Some members of BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now separately published a Nov. 8 op-ed in The Herald standing in solidarity with the Palestine Solidarity Caucus and Brown Students for Justice in Palestine, organizers said.
“It became very clear very quickly that we weren't just there to process and talk (but) that we wanted to take action,” said an organizer with BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons.
When asked about their plan for the sit-in, organizers were direct: “We're prepared to stay here,” said Mica Maltzman ’25, an organizer with the group. Organizers told The Herald they had dozens of students prepared to support the 20 students during the sit-in, “whether it’s for one day or if it's for three weeks.”
The University’s protest and demonstration policy states that “protest is a necessary and acceptable means of expression within the Brown community.” It continues to state that “protests or demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others … or that interfere with the rights of others to make use of or enjoy the facilities or attend the functions of the University cannot be tolerated."
Failure to follow the University’s code of conduct can lead to disciplinary action, including “civil and criminal charges” in some circumstances, according to a letter sent to the University community by Provost Francis Doyle.
“I think that at the end of the day, we're asking what we see as a very baseline request,” the anonymous organizer added. “We're asking for a university that claims to represent us to divest from military weapon manufacturers.”
“I'm acting as both a human who recognizes violence when I see it and wants to call it out, and also as a Jew,” Maltzman said. “My very Jewish upbringing taught me ‘tikkun olam’ — to repair the world.”
Students with the group wore shirts saying “Jews for Ceasefire Now,” and some were wearing tallitot, Jewish prayer shawls.
A group of counterprotesters was present at the walkout. One student, Amitai Nelkin ’25, lingered near the edge of the walkout while carrying a stack of 1,400 pieces of paper in his arms to represent the people killed in Hamas’ attack on Israel — a demonstration he called an “ask for recognition” rather than a counterprotest.
“This is 1,400 pieces of paper,” said Nelkin, who is Jewish. “I was here (at the) last rally and I’m here at this rally and they haven’t mentioned once what happened on Oct. 7. This is how many people we lost.”
After the protest dispersed, the 20 students inside University Hall live-streamed on their Instagram, singing hymns, holding banners and reiterating their demands.
“Among the crew here, energy is high and beautiful — we are feeling deeply in community and solidarity,” Edie Fine ’25, an organizer participating in the sit-in, wrote in a message to The Herald. “We’ve been singing and sharing stories and reminding each other and ourselves why we’re committed to this sit-in.”
The group, despite being made aware that Paxson will not change her stance, is unlikely to move, Fine wrote.
“We are prepared to stay here until President Christina Paxson cannot look away,” Fine wrote. “We have a large support network, we have each other and we have the courage of solidarity and the responsibility of ‘tikkun olam.’ Our Judaism, our community, our most simple and plain values as human beings compel us to continue.”
Last updated at 12:50 p.m. on Nov. 9.
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Haley Sandlow is a section editor covering science and research as well as admissions and financial aid. She is a junior from Chicago, Illinois, studying English and French.
Sam Levine is a University News editor from Brooklyn, New York overseeing the staff and student labor and on-campus activism beats. He is a junior concentrating in International and Public Affairs.