The Collegian
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

UPDATED: Free-Palestine Protestors Demonstrate and Speak in UR Forum

Editor's note: The Collegian has added additional information regarding an Instagram story that was taken at the protest. 

Pro-Palestinian protestors gathered in the University of Richmond Forum on Oct. 25 and were later met with counter-protestors holding the Israeli and the Israel Defense Forces flag at the demonstration. 

Spiders Against Apartheid, a group of over 100 UR students and recent graduates, demonstrated its support for Palestinians by wearing black clothing and holding posters that read: “Free Palestine,” “ceasefire now,” “Free Palestine till it’s backwards” and “this is not war, this is genocide.” The demonstration was held to honor and recognize over 7,000 Palestinians who have died since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, according to the Associated Press reporting figures from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. 

Junior Vanessa Romero, who attended the demonstration, posted a since deleted Instagram story of the counter-protestors holding the Israeli and Israeli Defense Force flag. The story had a heading on the top left corner reading "ugliest ppl on campus award" with a shower sticker over the counter protestors and a Free Palestine sticker to the bottom right corner. Students have expressed the post is antisemitic, with the shower sticker referencing gas chambers that were used by Nazi Germany for mass killings against Jews.  

In an Instagram story Thursday night, Romero wrote she was not referencing gas chambers and said she was sorry. 

"The only reason I made that joke is because of what happened yesterday with the students in the post and how they treated the protesters," Romero wrote. "I wish the person had come to me privately first and explained, I would have immediately taken down the post and apologized." 

Romero did not respond to The Collegian's request for a comment. 

First-year Taylor Levy said the behavior from the counter-protestors did not represent the Jewish community but the Instagram story left her feeling physically scared. 

"I've had people supporting me," Levy said. She thanked the Jewish and Muslim Life Chaplaincy for being one of the few spaces for students to have open dialogue. 

Senior Jordan Jones posted on her story Thursday night said she condemned all acts of antisemitism, including Romero's post.

"The complete lack of empathy and basic cultural awareness is unacceptable," Jones said. "I acknowledge the toll it will take on the Jewish community at UR." 

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Forty-five minutes after the protest began, about five students gathered in counter-protest holding both the Israeli flag and the Israel Defense Forces flag. The counter-protest was not organized by Hillel, UR’s on-campus Jewish Organization, as they hosted an event from 2-6 p.m. on Oct. 25 in The Web.

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University of Richmond police officers moved in between the Free-Palestine protestors and counter protestors as the two groups began to confront each other in the Forum on Oct. 25 2023.

As junior Alexis Rogers read an anonymous Palestinian student’s testimony, an unidentified student behind the Israeli flag said “They’re Nazis. They’re all just Nazis” in a video obtained by The Collegian.

The exchange between the protesters and counter-protestors garnered attention from police officers on scene when senior Eva Steinitz, a speaker at the protest, confronted the counter-protestors. 

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Senior Eva Steinitz confronts the counter protestors at the Free-Palestine protest in the Forum on Oct. 25 2023.

“My family was harmed by Nazi and you are going to call me a fucking Nazi?” Steinitz said. 

Footage taken by The Collegian shows police officers standing between counter-protestors and Steinitz. 

The five police officers present declined The Collegian’s request for comment.

Rogers said she and junior Jamilah Ganyuma had initially walked up to the counter-protesters and politely offered them a QR code linked to Palestinian history and the letter to President Kevin Hallock to recognize the rising death toll and violence in Gaza. Rogers said one counter-protester responded, saying “no thanks, I’m not a terrorist.” The Collegian was unable to identify who the counter-protester was. 

First-years Sam Powell and Thomas Ysrael shouted their anger at the protestor’s claim that Israel has blood on its hands. 

“If you are supporting a terrorist, you are a terrorist,” Powell said. 

Jones was the first speaker in a series that included members of the Black Student Alliance, Muslim students, readers of anonymous letters and a UR alumnus. 

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“We are frustrated and strongly standing against the increasing xenophobia, antisemitism and Islamophobia in the campus community and around the world,” Jones said.

Jones referenced the mass deaths of Palestinian women and children occurring in Gaza and said that UR had failed to acknowledge the crisis. 

“We are deeply disappointed by the silence from the University of Richmond administration about the ongoing terror against Palestinian civilians,” Jones said. “We are disappointed by your long silence on Palestinian suffering.” 

Jones ended her speech by urging students to flood the inbox of President Kevin Hallock and other UR administrators with a letter of their frustration.

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During the moment of silence the demonstration held, there were audible laughs from counter-protestors, Jones said. 

Junioe Ifti Alam said that while he was glad that Hallock expressed sorrow at the initial attack, he thinks Hallock should condemn the continuing loss of Palestinian lives. 

Razan Khalil, a Palestinian-American who graduated from UR in 2023, said Israel has been oppressing Palestinians in the Palestinian territories for the past 75 years. They said they were angry over the United States funding of the Israeli military.

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Protestors created a circle as a number of speakers gave speeches during the Free-Palestine Protest at the Forum on Oct. 25 2023.

“The media has stripped people like myself who are Palestinian, Arab and Muslim into people who are incapable of feeling or being in need,” Khalil said.

The organizers shared other goals including an immediate ceasefire, allowing aid and fuel into the besieged territory, the protection of hospitals, an end to the forced displacement and the opening of international borders for refugees.  

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The Black Student Coalition is completely committed to the Palestinian cause, with continual oppression linking the two groups, Ganyuma said. 

In a video obtained by The Collegian, the protestors chanted at the end of the demonstration “Free free Palestine,” “Hey hey, ho ho, the occupation’s got to go,” “Israel has blood on their hands,” “Israel is a terrorist state” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Vice President for Student Development Steve Bisese and Executive Vice President and Provost Joan Saab sent an email to the campus community Thursday night. The email wrote that the administration was reviewing reported incidents of derogatory name-calling and social media posts “that are antithetical to our values as an institution and have no place on this campus.” The incidents were reported after the demonstration took place. 

Contact news writer Katharine Wells at Executive co-editor Ananya Chetia contributed to reporting.

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