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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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day 8 recap cover pic

GW encampment continues into second week as pro-Israel rally takes place nearby

Calm falls over University Yard as protesters withstand heat

As the University Yard encampment at George Washington University reached its eighth day, a pro-Israel rally take place one block over at G Street Park. 

Beginning at 11 a.m. on Thursday, a rally against campus antisemitism that called for supporters to “Show your Jewish pride.” The demonstration was organized by the Israeli American Council Mishelanu at Maryland, GW for Israel and Students Supporting Israel at American University.

A line of faculty and staff from D.C.-area universities linked arms and formed a physical barrier to protect students in the encampment from anticipated pro-Israel counter-protesters. They stood on the intersection of H Street and 20th Street through the morning to the early afternoon.

day 8 faculty line

Though no sizable crowd of counter-protesters came to the encampment, only a few individuals who dispersed after brief verbal altercations with protester, many faculty members in the line said they feared that students in the encampment would be met with a similar level of violence that University of California, Los Angeles protesters did on Tuesday night.

“We are deeply alarmed by images we saw from UCLA’s campus where pro-Israeli counter-protesters physically attacked the camp, injuring many people, including student journalists. And we are here to try to prevent that kind of intimidation, violence, harassment from occurring,” William Youmans, an associate professor in GW’s School of Media and Public Affairs, told The Eagle in an interview.

The rally at G Street Park consisted of around 100 attendees who waved Israeli and American flags and chanted “Bring them home,” referring to the over 100 Israeli hostages held in Gaza. Around half a dozen people spoke to the crowd, including an Oct. 7 survivor. The rally ended around 12 p.m. as Israeli music played through speakers. 

day 8 pro israel counter protest

Rabbi Shua Hecht, the rabbi for AU Chabad, attended the pro-Israel rally with student members of AU Chabad. 

“When we come to a rally, often after the speech, we have music. There’s always an environment of positivity and reinforcing each other, but also of spreading that message beyond the rally,” he said. 

Rabbi Hecht said he came to the rally to “support the AU students that participated and, of course, to show support for Israel because in a time like this, it’s important to be united and be able to come together to do things that create positivity.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) stopped by the rally around 11 a.m. He walked around the crowd surrounded by staffers and a couple of Metropolitan Police officers, occasionally pausing to talk and take pictures with demonstrators in the pro-Israel rally. 

In a video posted on his website, clips of the University Yard encampment are shown, but Scott is only present in the clips at the G Street Park rally. 

In reference to the encampment, Scott said to the cameras, “It’s despicable what these protestors are doing. They’re violating the law, they’re spewing hatred … These individuals that are trespassing on the property of George Washington University have to leave.”

“Everyone has a right to protest, but you don’t have a right to trespass,” he added. “You don’t have a right to spew hatred, you don’t have a right to be antisemitic.”

Scott called on the D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser to “do her job” and “to allow the law enforcement here in D.C … to do their job.”

On May 1, Scott met with a group of Jewish and pro-Israel students at GW to discuss the “disgusting rise of antisemitism and violence stemming from pro-Hamas encampments on college campuses across America.” 

During this meeting he said, “My message to these protestors is clear: if you choose to engage in these vile incitements to acts of violence against Jewish students and Jewish members of the community, you should be held fully accountable, prosecuted and expelled.” 

Michael Beer, an Arlington resident and the director of Nonviolence International, observed the rally from the sidewalk, wearing a shirt that read “Ceasefire Now.” He noted differences between the rally and the encampment, which he has stopped by intermittently over the past week. 

“I think most of us feared that there would be some sort of UCLA kind of replay, but the police saw what happened in LA and they’re not going to permit anything like that to go because they’re very well-staffed here today,” Beer said. “And this group is a bunch of old geezers, they aren’t going anywhere, so I don’t see any potential clash.”

Tamara Listenberg, a senior in the School of International Service and the president of SSI AU, is from Israel and spoke at the pro-Israel rally alongside another AU student, Whitaker Swann, a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs. They condemned antisemitism on college campuses and stressed what they said is the importance of American support for Israel. 

Listenberg introduced herself as Jewish and Israeli, while Swann introduced himself as Christian and American. Together, they announced, “We are both proud Zionists.”

“As people from two very different backgrounds, we come here today to show you that standing up for Jewish, Israeli and Zionist students is something anyone can get behind, regardless of religion, nationality, political ideology,” Swann said. “Hatred in all forms should be unanimously denounced.”

The pair finished their speech as Listenberg said, “We are not going anywhere, and with people like Whitaker by my side, we have no reason to hide.”

Throughout the rally, Rabbi Hecht and student members of Chabad approached men in attendance and asked if they were interested in being wrapped in tefillin. 

Tefillin are a pair of black leather boxes with straps containing passages of the Torah. A set includes two — one for the head and one for the arm.

“Wrapping tefillin is one of the commandments and it has great spiritual powers,” Rabbi Hecht said. “One of the benefits of [wrapping tefillin] is to be able to, even if someone is not religious or observant, to be able to give them an opportunity to really connect with God in just a quick moment by doing a moment of prayer with the tefillin.”  

Rabbi Hecht said that he was grateful that the AU administration “preemptively” sent out an email condemning encampments at universities and ensuring that “encampment and all that was not going to be a problem at American University.” 

“More than anything, people need clarity, people need boundaries, people need to be able to have a set of regulations by which they can know what is tolerable [and] what is allowed and I think that if everyone sort of has these guidelines, we can have a lot more peaceful protest [and] a lot more voices heard in a constructive way,” he said. 

At around 11 a.m. on Thursday, President Joe Biden delivered remarks from the White House about the state of pro-Palestinian college protests.

“I understand people have strong feelings and deep convictions. In America, we respect the right and protect the right for them to express that,” Biden said. “But it doesn’t mean anything goes. It needs to be done without violence, without destruction, without hate and within the law.” 

Ben Mermel, a graduate student in the School of Public Affairs, attended the pro-Israel rally alongside Harris Mowbray, who graduated from the School of International Service in 2022. 

Referring to the nearby encampment, Mermel said, “There’s a lot of points that they’re making over there that I also agree with. I think they’ve done a bad job policing the antisemitism that sometimes rears its head within that movement and I think that’s turned quite a lot of people off.”

Mowbray also spoke on collaboration between opposing sides. 

“It’s not a football game like some people act like it is. This doesn’t have to be like [supporting] one side or the other; we can find a solution for both sides clearly,” Mowbray said. 

Lauren Manus, a D.C. resident, member of the New Synagogue Project and political director of the IfNotNow movement, visited the encampment with other Jewish people who were concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The New Synagogue Project is a D.C.-based religious Jewish community that advocates for racial justice and combats white supremacy, according to its website

“​​I’m here with a dozen Jews from across the DMV who feel so unequivocally deep in our bones that we need to be here. Both, of course, in immense solidarity, standing up against the genocide, against the massacre that the Israeli government and military are inflicting right now in our name, in the name of Jewish safety,” Manus said. “Our safety will only come intrinsically with Palestinian safety and with the safety and liberation of all oppressed people.”

Around 1 p.m., protesters hoisted a large Palestinian flag onto a flagpole in front of Lisner Hall in University Yard. According to The Hatchet, the flag was removed by GW Police officers approximately 10 minutes later. 

day 8 flag raising

When protesters tried to get the flag back, officers unsuccessfully attempted to wrestle it from a crowd of over 100, as shown in a video posted by the DMV Palestine Youth Movement on Instagram. The flag was successfully put back up at around 1:20 p.m. Thursday, but GW Police officers removed it Friday morning at around 3:25 a.m., according to The Hatchet

Mya Walker, a senior at Howard University, witnessed the altercation between protesters and GW Police. 

“It was really sad to see [as] the police tried to take the flag down,” Walker said. “But [it] was so empowering and energizing to see [the protesters] keep the flag and put the flag back up.” 

GW Media Relations released a statement at 7:05 p.m. that “emphatically condemns” protesters for replacing a GW flag with the Palestinian flag.

“While intervening, the officers were surrounded by a crowd yelling hostile chants and were forced to withdraw to prevent further escalation of a volatile situation,” the statement read. 

Chants by the crowd included, “IOF, KKK, MPD, they’re all the same,” and “Who got the flag up? We got the flag up!”

The statement characterizes the altercation as an “aggressive act of lawlessness” and said GW Police will be investigating it further.

“GWPD officers have worked around the clock to ensure our GW community’s safety, and we are grateful for their efforts to keep our campus safe and secure,” the statement read. “Security officials remain present at the unauthorized encampment and are continuing to assess the situation.” 

Otherwise, the scene at the encampment remained largely peaceful throughout the afternoon as organizers continued to hand out food and water, remaining especially vigilant due to the hot weather.

After evening prayer and a small series of speakers, the encampment resumed chants around 6 p.m. 

“Gaza is our demand,” they chanted. “No peace on stolen land.”

In lieu of hostility between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel demonstrations across the country, many see value in maintaining peaceful protest.

“We respect the right of everyone to protest, including the counter-protesters, and [the protesters] welcome that,” Youmans said. “We just want to make sure that the protests remain peaceful.”

This article was edited by Abigail Hatting, Zoe Bell, Tyler Davis and Abigail Turner. Copy editing by Luna Jinks and Isabelle Kravis.

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