On Friday, upwards of 70 people gathered at the University of Rochester campus to rally in support of Palestinians and against Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip. Much has been said and speculated in the past six weeks about the role of colleges in stoking—or at least ignoring—anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments, including those in our own community. I wished to see a rally for myself and, more importantly, to share firsthand observations and videos with readers.
The rally was organized by the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine under the hashtag #SHUTITDOWN4PALESTINE. The event was aided by other groups, including ROC DSA—the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America—whose website urged its members “to protest US complicity in genocide and to call for a ceasefire now in Gaza.”
The protest largely mirrored similar events that have taken place since Oct. 7, when Hamas brutally attacked Israel, leaving over 1,200 dead (the vast majority of them civilians) and capturing nearly 240 hostages. Israel’s response—launching rocket strikes and entering the Gaza Strip to root out Hamas militants and dismantle their capacity for future attacks—has been met with increasing protests in pockets of the United States, including on campuses.
Speeches at these protests often invoke the escalating deaths and suffering of innocent civilians in Gaza. The plight of such innocent civilians is—undoubtedly and heartbreakingly—tragic. Though the blame for their plight lies overwhelmingly with Hamas, which hides among civilians and capitalizes on their deaths to garner international support. But notably, the rallies are also broader than the current crisis, and are conspicuously silent even about Israel’s right to exist.
This was not the first such protest at UR, our area’s most influential institution and largest employer. Friday’s rally began at noon near Wilson Commons, the main student union building, before moving on to two other locations: the middle of the main quad and then in front of the administrative office housing university leadership.
Between speeches, protesters repeatedly chanted phrases that are now common at similar events around the nation. These included “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a phrase which many Israelis reasonably interpret as calling for Israel’s removal from the map. Other rallying cries included “Long live the intifada … intifada, intifada” and “Resistance is justified, when people are occupied,” which opponents have logically categorized as excusing the kind of violence recently perpetrated by Hamas.
Multiple speeches at the rally had overlapping themes. These included that “imperialism and capitalism” were central drivers of today’s crisis. There was also a call for “Black and Brown people” to work together to fight “systems of oppressions in all forms.”
One speaker, a young man who was introduced as an alumnus, urged protesters to focus on getting their message directly to the university’s board of trustees. “Not Sarah (UR president Sarah Mangelsdorf), she’s irrelevant—she always has been,” he said. “We need to make sure that our efforts are organized towards those people (the trustees).”
Another speaker, a young woman who identified herself as being one of many “anti-Zionist Jewish students” on campus, aimed her message against “politically Zionist” organizations. “Don’t let the Jewish Federation in Rochester, the leadership of Hillel on our campus, or the administration of this university send you messages full of Islamophobic tropes,” she urged.
The video clips below seek to provide further texture and context about this latest rally, and others like them. Recent events suggest that they may become a common feature of university life, impacting America and Jews for years to come.
■ Protesters chant “Gaza, Gaza don’t you cry, we will never let you die.”
■ Protesters modify the Jewish chant of “Never Again.”
■ Marchers walk from Wilson Commons toward the main University of Rochester quad, chanting “Resistance is justified, when people are occupied.”
■ A Jewish speaker urges support for Palestinians, saying “I am one of very many anti-Zionist Jewish students on this campus.”
Alex Zapesochny is Rochester Beacon publisher. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected].