March for Palestine

Students gather at the March for Palestine protest on May 15, 2021.

Editor's Note: This story was edited after its initial publication to add information about Hamas, the de-facto governing authority in Gaza. The new information includes material from protest organizers about Hamas.

The historic geopolitical conflict between Israel and Palestine has recently sparked outrage with the American populace as videos surfaced of Israel launching missiles at Palestine.

Activist movements have sprung up across the nation. LSU's Student Government posted a "March for Palestine" event infographic on their Instagram page, and many Jewish students feel it was an inappropriate and offensive move.

The event was co-hosted by three LSU student organizations: Students for Justice in Palestine, the Black Student Union and Cooperation Rouge, formerly Democracy at Work. Student Government was not involved in organizing the event, but sponsored it on their page with the caption: "A coalition of student voices and student led organizations has organized the March for Palestine this Friday (5/14). As student government we aim to represent all students and therefore cannot amplify domestic issues while ignoring struggles that our international students may face."

Computer science sophomore Brooke Rayborn, a Jewish student, said she was shocked when she saw the Instagram post and felt it was divisive to the LSU community. 

“LSU and Student Government are supposed to be places that make us feel inclusive and safe and comfortable and welcome,” Rayborn said. “It felt like a shot to the heart because it’s the complete opposite.”

Romania Israel Palestinians

Members of the Arab community, shout slogans during a protest joined by more than one hundred people in Bucharest, Romania, Saturday, May 15, 2021, against Israel's offensive in Gaza. Anger against the Israeli offensive in Gaza drew protests elsewhere in Europe on Saturday, with thousands of people marching to protest Israel's attacks which included an Israeli airstrike that blew up the 12-story building in Gaza that housed media outlets, including The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

Mechanical engineering senior Colin Roberts, president of the Jewish Student Association at LSU, says the Jewish community at the University is negligible, and they are rarely represented in student leadership positions. Student Government's decision to support the March for Palestine event without speaking to any representatives of the Jewish community was an affront to students with Israeli heritage, Roberts said.  

"At the end of the day, it's just not their place,” Roberts said, noting that those behind the decision were likely ill-informed. “There was a way they could have done this to unify." 

Roberts suggested a “March for Peace” event that supported civilians on both sides of the conflict may have been more well-received and politically neutral. 

Roberts said that his allegiance to Israel comes from his heritage. He said he would "fight tooth and nail for [Israel], because it's my home. I've never lived there, but it's my home. It's where my people had all their history, it's where I can go if I am persecuted – I know I can go to Israel." 

Israel Palestinians

Israeli border police scuffle with protesters in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, where several Palestinian families are under imminent threat of forcible eviction from their homes Saturday, May 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

"I am a proud member of the Jewish community,” International studies senior Claire Neal said. “When I saw what the Student Government Instagram posted, I was shocked. Seeing a student organization that is supposed to represent everyone post something supporting Hamas, a terrorist organization, I was appalled. I felt very unsafe." 

Neal said that there is no representation for the Jewish community in Student Government and seeing the post highlighted that issue.

"Anybody supporting Hamas shooting missiles at Israeli civilians and using their own civilians who they're supposed to be protecting as a not okay. And people who excuse that are misinformed, they're ignorant, and it's terrifying,” Neal said. “I think everyone deserves life and everyone deserves to be in peace, but Hamas wants all Jews killed." 

Neal hopes that the Student Government administration will issue an apology and condemn any forms of anti-Semitism that may arise due to this conflict.

APTOPIX Israel Palestinians

A view of a 11-story building housing AP office and other media in Gaza City is seen as Israeli warplanes demolished it, Saturday, May 15, 2021. The airstrike Saturday came roughly an hour after the Israeli military ordered people to evacuate the building. There was no immediate explanation for why the building was targeted. The building housed The Associated Press, Al-Jazeera and a number of offices and apartments. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Biological engineering senior Soheil Saneei serves as president of the socialist organization Cooperation Rouge and said the pro-Israel students who voiced concerns on the Student Government post are likely not educated on the situation.

Cooperation Rouge believes Israel is a white supremacist nation that has contributed to the colonization of Palestine over the past seven decades. Rather than the complete abolition of the Israeli state, Saneei's organization promotes a bi-national Israeli and Palestinian state that "enfranchises both groups of people." Saneei said the goal of the protest is to create a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

"Palestinian self determination does not and has never negated Jewish self determination. But the installment of a highly militant apartheid state in a formerly inhabited country, like Israel, does challenge this premise," Students for Justice in Palestine said. 

Student Government Associate Justice Rehm Maham said that the executive administration’s decision to post the March for Palestine flyer on the main SG page violated a recently established guideline. The language of that ruling specified, "The president does not have the authority to speak on behalf of the entire LSU Student Government." 

Additionally, Maham took issue with SG supporting Cooperation Rouge as an organization. According to Maham, previous collaborations have not gone well. Cooperation Rouge is a self-proclaimed leftists group that Maham deemed “radical” and dangerous ideologically. He pointed to a retweet on their Twitter page that celebrated Hamas bombing innocent Israeli citizens. 

"An organization that is retweeting this kind of celebratory messaging about civilians being in danger is in my opinion in and of itself dangerous for Student Government to be promoting,” Maham said. 

Organizers and participants in the protest said that their event was intended to support the Palestinian people, not Hamas or any other organization. They said the no one at their event mentioned or in any other way indicated support of Hamas.

Hamas is the de-facto governing authority in Gaza. The U.S. government has declared it a foreign terrorist organization.

France Israel Palestinians

A demonstrator covered with a Palestinian flag stops at a street pole during a banned protest in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Saturday, May, 15, 2021 in Paris. Marches in support of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being held Saturday in a dozen French cities, but the focus was on Paris, where riot police got ready as organizers said they would defy a ban on the protest. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Maham was careful to specify that he encourages student demonstrations and the right to free speech. He has not made a public statement regarding this Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His problem with administration is procedural, not political. 

Political communication senior Dylan Blitz said based on his previous experience serving as a Student Government senator, he found the Instagram post out of line with the core objectives of the organization.

"For me, it was a little infuriating for someone who has Jewish heritage and has people who died in the Russian revolution [...] because of being Jewish, for someone who has gone to Israel myself and seen actual firing going on toward the Jewish side,” Blitz said. "I saw it and I had to say something, it’s not right." 

Blitz sent an email to President Thomas Galligan and both the previous and incoming Student Government administrations to address the violation. Galligan responded by saying LSU administration supports the rights of all students to protest.

“LSU does not sponsor or suppress student marches or demonstrations of any topic … freedom of speech is a critically important part of the university community, even when the views expressed directly contradict our beliefs,” Galligan said. 

Shortly before the protest, Student Government took the post down. It had amassed over 400 comments, the majority of which condemned the protest and Student Government's decision to support it.

Roberts and Neal attended the Friday night march and had a productive five-hour-long discussion with student leaders from the Students for Justice in Palestine organization. He said their opinions were shifted throughout the course of their conversation and they came to better understand the Palestinian views in this conflict. 

"Peace in the Middle East is going to come from having a dialogue with the other side,” Roberts said. “You can't get peace without actually seeing each other's viewpoints. And that's what this college experience is about – meeting people who have opposing viewpoints to learn." 

SJP said that their conversation with members of the Jewish community allowed them to debunk certain Islamophobic and anti-Arab concepts often portrayed in the media. 

"The conversation helped us conclude that many students on campus are severely ill informed about what Palestinian self determination entails and that many people neglect the political and theoretical diversity within the Palestinian movement," said Saida Mizyed, president of SJP.

The LSU Student Government Instagram page did not respond to a request for comment. 

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