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Jewish students express diverse views on encampment, protests

The Herald spoke with Jewish student leaders about their thoughts on recent encampments

<p>Five Jewish student leaders at Brown expressed mixed views on the encampments and protests escalating across college campuses nationwide.</p>

Five Jewish student leaders at Brown expressed mixed views on the encampments and protests escalating across college campuses nationwide.

As pro-Palestinian encampments continue to proliferate on college campuses around the country, Jewish students have found themselves in a unique spotlight. Some have participated in these demonstrations. Others have publicly renounced them. But many have more nuanced views that lie somewhere in the middle.

Jewish students at Brown are no exception.

The Herald spoke with five Jewish student leaders at Brown who expressed mixed views on the encampments and protests escalating across college campuses nationwide.

At Brown, an encampment of 105 students calling for divestment from companies affiliated with the Israeli government entered its second day on Thursday. At least 130 students have an active case with the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards for potential violations of University protest policy, a consequence made clear in multiple public communications from the University. 


“I’m proud of the continued activism on Brown’s campus,” said Rita Feder ’24, a Jewish student and founding member of Jews for Ceasefire Now. “I'm proud of this wave of campus activism happening all over the country that follows a tradition of campus activism that is anti-war.”

Rafi Ash ’26, a spokesperson for the encampment participants, echoed this sentiment in an interview with The Herald. “I felt like now is the time to join in what could really become a real national conversation and join so many organizations at all sorts of universities across the country.”

Ash was arrested in November during a sit-in that called for divestment and a ceasefire in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The charges against him and the other 19 Jewish students who were arrested have since been dropped.

With educational institutions in Gaza destroyed as a result of the war, Ash said he felt a duty as a student to “stand up for justice in Palestine,” and to use his position as a student at “an Ivy League institution like Brown to really raise awareness and put ourselves on the line for the Palestinian people.” Ash emphasized that the disciplinary risk they face “is so minimal compared to what those students (in Gaza) are facing.”

Jillian Lederman ’24, the executive chair of Hillel International’s Israel Leadership Network, expressed different views on the encampment.

“I was unsurprised to see the encampment emerge on Brown's campus,” Lederman wrote in an email to The Herald.

“It frustrates me that a main campus space, one to which all students should have access, has been co-opted by this demonstration in violation of University policy,” she added.

Brooke Verschleiser ’25, the president of Brown Students for Israel, praised University representatives for making “a strong and immediate statement clearly outlining University policy and the consequences of breaking it.”

Avilev Villalobos-Sharone ’26, a spokesperson for JStreet U Brown, said that the group is concerned about potential escalation, such as arrests, but supports students’ rights to peaceful protest.

Jewish students across the political spectrum have reiterated that the Jewish community in the U.S. is not monolithic. 


“It’s false to even think that Jews have ever agreed on any particular subject,” Feder said. “There’s a reason that there is a traditional joke that ‘when you have two Jews, you will have five opinions.’”

Feder said that her Jewish upbringing taught her to disagree with her peers about the religious tenets they learned. “In Jewish tradition, there isn’t really such a thing as binary. There isn’t such a thing as truth and fiction. There can be two things that seem contradictory, but can both be true,” she said.

“I’m here because I’m Jewish,” Ash said, standing in the heart of the encampment. “I’m not here despite being Jewish.”

Ash added that he was raised with the Jewish values tikkun olam and tzedek — phrases that mean “repair the world” and “justice.” He said that his Jewish faith led him to advocate for Palestinian freedom and join the activists in the encampment.

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He added that safety for Palestinian people and Jewish people is “not mutually exclusive.”

Lederman said that she often felt judged for her pro-Israel views. “I feel that I must choose to either disavow my Zionism, a core aspect of my Jewish identity, or face backlash and exclusion from many of my peers,” she said.

Villalobos-Sharone also described “an emotional attachment to Israel” as a core tenet to many Jewish students on campus. “I think it also makes you extra sensitive when you're seeing who you deem to be your own people going through something terrible,” he said, referring to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

At universities across the country, some reports of antisemitism at campus protests have surfaced in recent days. 

In an email to the Brown community on Wednesday, President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 wrote that the University has “not experienced the troubling incidents that have been reported on some campuses.”

Verschleiser said that she does not feel unsafe on Brown’s campus. Feder agreed.

“I'm not as worried that such instances are going to happen on Brown’s campus, because Jewish students are key organizers in these demonstrations,” Feder said.

Lederman was less optimistic. “Given the violence and blatant antisemitism that have occurred at Columbia and Yale's encampments, I do worry that Brown's encampment will escalate from a peaceful demonstration into something far more insidious,” she wrote.

“I am concerned about the violence and antisemitism on other campuses as a result of similar demonstrations, and I hope the Brown demonstration does not escalate to this level,” Verschleiser said. “Every student has the right to protest, but they do not have the right to intimidate and harass other students.”

Brown and other campuses have been hosts to conflicting rhetoric around the war since the conflict began. With these diverse views, several Jewish students encouraged their peers to listen to differing perspectives.

“I think it’s great that Brown has such diverse opinions and lively debate,” Verschleiser said. “I hope that we can maintain a nonviolent environment where the free exchange of ideas, respectfully, is a priority.” 

Feder said that if students “feel like we can be confident in what we believe, then we should be able to engage with a different narrative, different opinion, a different life story without feeling the need to shut it down.”

“We’re not going to try to sing Kumbaya to bring everyone together, but we do want people to realize that there is a lot more common ground than people may think,” Villalobos-Sharone said. “Almost everybody here is able to agree on dignity and a good quality of life, for both Palestinians and Israelis. And that should be the baseline discussion.”

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article mistakenly attributed an incident that occurred on Columbia to Brown's campus. This claim also did not meet our typical standard for corroboration and has been removed. 

Owen Dahlkamp

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.


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