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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Former SJP president: FAU has a history of repressing Palestinian voices

In October, university officials released two statements voicing their support for Israel and the Israeli student population, leaving Palestinians on campus feeling alienated.
Arab+and+Jewish+students+protest+at+FAUs+Protest+for+Palestine+event+on+Oct.+11%2C+2023.+
Jason Steinfeld
Arab and Jewish students protest at FAU’s Protest for Palestine event on Oct. 11, 2023.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Dec. 29 to correctly state the group that held the solidarity march for Israel and on Dec. 30 to correct the details of Morse’s account of the pro-Israel march as well as the year Hamas was founded.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, FAU students have held solidarity marches for Israel and Palestine, as the war is part of a century-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. FAU officials have voiced their support for Israel, leaving some Palestinian students feeling unseen and unsupported by the university, according to FAU alumna Nadine Aly.

Aly was the president of FAU’s inactive Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, as well as the vice president of Dream Defenders, an inactive student organization that aimed to bring together different minority groups.

Though Aly graduated in 2014, she feels the atmosphere of campus free speech for Palestinians has only been worsening over the years.

“It’s disappointing, but honestly, it doesn’t come as any surprise. FAU has quite a notoriously disturbing track record when it comes to repressing free speech, and in particular, those who are pro-Palestine,” she said regarding FAU’s response to an Oct. 11 pro-Palestine solidarity march on campus. 

The UP contacted the Muslim Student Association and the Young Arab Leaders Association but did not receive a response prior to publication.

Stacy Volnick, FAU’s interim president, released a statement in support of Israel on Oct. 9, two days after the attack, guiding students, faculty and staff to Counseling and Psychological Services and the Dean of Students Office if they need further support. That same day, Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a student group, held a solidarity march in support of Israel.

On Oct. 11, another group of students held a solidarity march in support of Palestine. The UP was not able to identify which student group or groups were involved. After this demonstration, FAU released another official statement reaffirming their support of Israel, regarding the SSI march as “peaceful” and the pro-Palestine march as resulting in arrests on charges of battery, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. 

Nicole Morse, a communications professor and the director of the Center for Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies, attended Students Supporting Israel’s march on Oct. 9, which Volnick and Board of Trustees Chair Brad Levine regarded as peaceful in their Oct. 11 email announcement. In Morse’s view, however, it was anything but peaceful.

Morse felt disrespected and unsafe as a religious, queer Jew, after facing physical threats at the demonstration. They said a sign had been knocked out of their hand by members of the student club Owls for Israel who made homophobic transphobic comments, even calling them “the Hebrew word for prostitute.”

“And I can only imagine if I was treated that way as a visible Jewish person, that my Palestinian students and colleagues who had contacted me over the weekend had every reason to feel that campus was not safe for them today,” said Morse. “And I think that the university could have made a clear statement that Palestinians are welcome and supported at FAU.”

FAU has a global partnership with educational institutions in Israel, in which the Florida-Israel Institute helps fund collaborative research projects, academics and cultural exchanges. Additionally, the university partners with Insightec, a healthcare company based in Haifa, Israel, to further its research in brain diseases. FAU also has a Hillel International facility on its Boca Raton campus. Hillel is the largest Jewish campus life organization, with branches in over 850 college campuses worldwide.

FAU Board of Trustees Vice Chair Barbara Feingold has worked with Rep. Randy Fine to stamp out what they believe is antisemitism in South Florida, which has a large Jewish population, with the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan area making up 67% of the total Jewish population in Florida, according to the 2020 American Jewish Population Project report.

Feingold also serves as a board member for the Republican Jewish Coalition, which bridges the gap between Republican lawmakers and the Jewish community.

With South Florida’s large Jewish population and FAU’s ties to Israel, Arab, Palestinian and Muslim individuals on campus feel distraught, said Angela Nichols, a political science professor. 

“They don’t know what to do because they thought that general suffering would be acknowledged, right?” said Nichols. “They understand that people might feel inclined to support one side or the other, but as a public institution in the state of Florida, they expected FAU to at least acknowledge the suffering of the folks in Gaza. And we’ve seen a very one-sided approach and what just happened in the protests was really alarming.”

Nearing the end of Aly’s time at FAU, SJP attempted to hold a protest during a presentation by Israeli Col. Bentzi Gruber. It didn’t even last two minutes.

“Nobody really did anything, like I just stood up and I was holding one end of a banner and then we walked out,” she said. “That was it.”

Aly said the university stripped her and other participants of their leadership titles and forced them to take online diversity courses, an alternative to expulsion, in an attempt not to be defunded. FAU history professor Eric Hanne was the advisor of SJP at the time.

Now: Israel-Hamas War

The Times of Israel reported on Dec. 12 that according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, the death toll in Gaza since Oct. 7 has surpassed 18,412 with at least 50,000 people wounded, and it continues to increase. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, a little over two million people currently live in Gaza. 

The United States has often used its veto power with the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) concerning the conflict since 1972. On Oct. 18, the U.S. vetoed a UNSC resolution for a “humanitarian pause” that would allow the fighting to pause to allow humanitarian assistance for Gaza, UN News reported.

The U.S. is one of five countries (including China, Russia, France, the U.S. and the UK) with veto power in the UNSC. A singular veto can block a resolution from passing regardless of a majority of other votes to adopt, according to Democracy Without Borders.

On Dec. 8, the U.S. vetoed a new UNSC resolution proposing an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, greatly disappointing Palestinian officials, reported CNBC. The UN General Assembly (UNGA) overwhelmingly voted to favor the resolution, with backing from 153 countries.

The UNGA’s vote carries heavy political weight, though legally unbinding.

History: Israel-Gaza Land Conflict

The Israel-Gaza conflict goes back decades to 1948 with the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli War, when five Arab nations invaded Israel immediately after it declared independence on May 14, 1948.

Hanne, an expert in medieval Islamic history and culture, says the conflict started with the creation of Israel in 1948. He says before 1967, Egypt controlled the land that is the Gaza Strip. Israel took control of the Gaza Strip and West Bank in 1967, and that control ended in 2005.

Map of Israel, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Courtesy of U.S. Department of State website.

The Gaza Strip, which many commonly refer to as Palestine, is one of Earth’s most densely populated places, coming in at 25 miles long and six miles wide. That is just twice the size of Washington, D.C., the Institute for Middle East Understanding reported. However, Gaza is home to a little over two million people.

“In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip for any number of reasons,” Hanne said. “Unfortunately, since then, there has been this ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel. It’s a complex issue. Hamas came about… in 1987.”

Hanne said Hamas originated as a religious group but eventually became militant; any attack they carried out starting in the 1990s was against the Israel Defense Forces and other military targets. Hamas is also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement.

In 1994, right after Israeli and Palestinian officials signed the Oslo Accords, Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein attacked a mosque, killing 29 people. Hanne said this act of terrorism caused Hamas to target Israeli civilians.

Hamas leaders won an election in 2005 that caused Israel to pull out of the land.

“Hamas takes over the governance of the Gaza Strip, they win an election, and they were competing against the Palestinian National Authority… And then we of course, have any number of battles, conflicts with a massive loss of life, blood loss of life, on the Palestinian side, but also loss of life on the Israeli side as well, but not as much,” Hanne said.

Hamas is the official governing body in Gaza.

Hanne warned people not to get information from social media due to the inability to verify the information and a lack of context. Most people, he said, are singularly focused on what has happened in recent months but not the longer history of the conflict.

“However, my focus is on a massive loss of life,” Hanne said. “It is unprecedented on the Israeli side. They have never lost as much in this way. And this is just completely a shock to the system.”

Robert Rabil, an FAU professor who has researched the Arab-Israeli conflict and terrorism, says that street fighting will be common in Gaza because Israelis want to punish Hamas, though many of the people in Gaza are innocent.

He said that most civilians in Gaza won’t speak out against Hamas because they are scared for their own safety.

“I don’t think that you’re going to see many Palestinians going against Hamas because there is war, and they are afraid for themselves,” Rabil said. “You cannot go against Hamas.” 

Jessica Abramsky is the Editor-in-Chief of the University Press. For more information on this article or others, you can reach Jessica at [email protected] or tweet her @jessabramsky.

Elisabeth Gaffney is the Managing Editor for the University Press. For more information on this article or others, you can reach Elisabeth at [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @elisabethgaff.

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About the Contributors
Jessica Abramsky, Editor-in-Chief
Jessica Abramsky is the Editor-in-Chief of the University Press. She previously served as News Editor during the Spring 2023 semester and is a junior majoring in multimedia journalism. She hopes to be a respected editor at a major news organization. You can reach Jessica at [email protected] or DM her on Instagram @jessabramsky.
Elisabeth Gaffney, Managing Editor
Elisabeth is a junior majoring in multimedia journalism and double minoring in linguistics and sociology. She is a creative, kitten and coffee-loving workaholic with a love for the performing arts and storytelling. She hopes to one day work as a reporter at an established newspaper.

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  • K

    KirkJan 25, 2024 at 4:07 pm

    I am disgusted by the actions of the leadership of FAU. They display a deep ignorance of the situation in Israel.

    I come from the deep south and grew up in the 60s but had to move to Israel to see what blacks must have felt like in the US in the 60s because the Israelis treat even their own Arab citizens like garbage.

    I have seen the IDF chain Arab children to the hood of their jeep so they could travel through occupied territories without conflict.

    Reply
  • K

    KaylaDec 30, 2023 at 12:10 am

    Informative article!

    Reply