A UR campus rally in support of Palestinians

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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.

Additional videos

■ 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]

9 thoughts on “A UR campus rally in support of Palestinians

  1. Brilliant piece. I find it ironic that people
    Calling for violence against a tiny religious minority (Jews are .02 percent of the world while Christians and Muslims make up most of the rest) then claim to actually oppose those people defending themselves from the very ideology that led to the Holocaust. Copies of Mein Kampf in Arabic were found all over Gaza. Defending the indefensible acts of rape, torture and murder of infants makes those protesters seriously lacking a moral compass. Students for Palestine is a group celebrating matrydom that seeks only to harass and intimidate an already traumatized Jewish student population by cos playing Hamas terrorists shrieking for their blood. Paul Kessler, an elderly Jewish man was killed in broad daylight at one of these disgusting displays of anti-Semitism. Enough of this. And the sheer hate on display in these comments makes me wonder when they will start posting about “the Jews replacing us”. Yup, the Tiki torch crowd is alive and well at the University of Rochester. Shameful.

  2. Alex,
    You did an excellent job focusing on the facts about the rally: why you attended, the general context leading up to the event, who organized it, where it was, what was said and done, and then videos of the event – so I can judge for myself about the event.

  3. What an outrageously one-sided article masquerading as even-handed journalism. The deaths have already exceeded an order of magnitude in unevenness, indeed, as they have since the dispossession of the Palestinian population of Palestine 75 years ago and the ever-tightening Zionist noose creating Apartheid in more and more isolated Bantustans.

    The idea that the deaths of October 7 somehow mark the beginning of the sordid history in this blighted corner of the world, the plaything of the world’s imperial powers for generations, is the all too typical erasure of cause and effect. The support given long ago to a Zionist state that itself now threatens crimes that resemble those that at one time gave worldwide, if misguided sympathy to its aims for what was in effect a theocratic proposed state, certainly do not survive the reality of its political history.

    The Likud leadership now discusses openly their plans of ethnic cleansing backed by the genocidal reality of their invasion. “We are rolling out the Gaza Nakba” declares Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter. The Hebrew-language publication Mekomit published a leaked document from the Ministry of Intelligence calling for Israel to “evacuate the civilian population to Sinai.”

    This simply realizes the proposal of then-Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Moshe Feiglin, who in 2014 called for the destruction of Palestinian life in Gaza and explicitly offered a proposal to evict and disperse Gaza Palestinians across the world, to “exterminate nests of resistance [in Gaza], in the event that any should remain,” and “After the IDF completes the ‘softening’ of the targets with its fire-power, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations.”

    He continued, “Gaza is part of our Land and we will remain there forever. Liberation of parts of our land forever is the only thing that justifies endangering our soldiers in battle to capture land. Subsequent to the elimination of terror from Gaza, it will become part of sovereign Israel and will be populated by Jews. This will also serve to ease the housing crisis in Israel. The coastal train line will be extended, as soon as possible, to reach the entire length of Gaza.”

    This ethno-communalist project, backed by the slew of war crimes directed against civilians that would make the Nuremberg tribunal blush, has rightfully earned the horror of millions across the globe. Your publication sides with the butchers. We will remember that.

    • First, there never was a country of Palestine, it was the Ottoman Empire and then the British Mandate.

      It was the Palestinians who walked away from Oslo, specifically Arafat who had his own corrupt agenda. The hysterical rants only serve to give Palestinians the false idea that they can erase Israel. Israelis and Palestinians need to exist beside each other, and revving things up with your rhetoric makes this more elusive.

    • I didn’t know that keeping score of lives lost was part of the “game”. That said, if the United Nations would actually take the lead on this issue and do it with some level of intellect as opposed to knee jerk responses, we could actually solve this issue. But the U.N. rarely practices preventative medicine. It just responds when there is a full blown infection. This can be resolved, their are solutions. I would say that decapitating babies and frying them alive might take this issue the the infection level. That would make any intervention a bit late. Preventative leadership, like medicine, is preferable. Your assessment or learned opinion is just another reason why we have chaos. Chaos that could be prevented if both sides, with a bit of intellect, would sit down at a table and come to a solution. Been tried you say, maybe turning to the U.N. and letting them know that the situation has not met any solution might be warranted. That said, the U.N. is usually a day late and a dollar short. That has taken us to where we are today. Intellectuals who can’t seem to provide a solution. Humanity in general, across the board, is incapable of co-existence. Your thought just add fuel to the fire.
      Semper Fi.

  4. In order to accurately assess the significance of this protest, further information is needed. For example, what is the membership count for the Students for Justice in Palestine and for the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America? Do they represent the many or the few? And did Mr. Zapesochny’s discussions with the attendees give him any idea of how large a segment of the protesters were UofR students, how many were present simply out of curiosity, and how many were supporters of the positions taken by the Students for Justice in Palestine and the Democratic Socialists of America?

  5. When a student population demonstrates about anything, question it. In the military we use to call recruits, shower shoes. That’s because they were just beginning the in-training journey and were a long way from wearing combat boots. Students are students. Nothing is their specialty. They are learning. They have zero experience in life. They are easily swayed. They are fragile. Somehow they feel that they have the handle on life. They are in the know because they attend a university, the University of Rochester on mommy and daddies’ dime and that’s what qualifies them to be intellectually competent to make judgements on world issues. I hope they learn something on their educational journey regarding the world. To sit in judgement is a bit early.

  6. A LOT to unpack here. First of all who “woke” these kids up from their usual routine of demanding student loan forgiveness , supporting anti capitalist movements like Occupy Wall Street? (ironically the source of a lot of endowment money that goes to the college). Or protesting against the City for taking some of the University’s tax exemptions away? (that can’t be in the student’s interest?) In the meantime NYS is trying to eliminate tuition (for SUNY) and water down the Regents degree requirements. (One would think they’d be grateful).

    I look at this situation as being similar to Ukraine, there may be a good reason(s) to support Ukraine and Israel, but I RARELY hear them from our leaders, opinion makers or the media. Perhaps in this vaccum, a left leaning (to the borderline of being antisemitic) curriculum and faculty with no push back from University Management has fostered this.

    This is scary to me in that there appears to be a huge disconnect between the Country’s interests and foreign policy objectives vs the citizen’s perception of them.

  7. Finally!
    An article about this crisis that acknowledges Israel’s right to defend itself and, to continue to exist.
    I’m currently in a debate with a young friend (late 20s) who uses many of the arguments you heard at this rally. While that causes me despair, I won’t give up trying to bring him some history and context.
    Do these rallies on campuses cause concern to me and other Jews? Of course. But I was once a protester against the war in Vietnam at my campus in the late 1960s. I will not try to limit students’ right to protest on their campuses.
    I stand with our Jewish Federation in Rochester, and with Israel.

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