Last week, students at the University of Virginia protested during a campus event featuring a group of Israeli soldiers.
The soldiers were part of Reservists on Duty, an organization that aims to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights on US college campuses.
They were brought to campus by Israel-aligned groups in order to “humanize the conflict” – in other words, to distract from Israel’s human rights abuses and help brand the Israeli military as “the most moral army in the world.”
Protesters held signs and chanted slogans including, “Fight the power, turn the tide, end Israeli apartheid.”
Following their action in solidarity with Palestinians living under Israeli military rule, the University of Virginia’s dean of students Allen Groves accused the protesters of violating univerisity rules and hampering free speech.
In a campus-wide email, Groves claimed that the protest “runs counter to our important shared values of respect and intellectual inquiry, and should be firmly rejected.”
He suggested instead that the protesters should “engage in dialogue” with soldiers whose task it is to enforce – often with lethal violence – and whitewash a brutal decades-long military occupation that denies millions of Palestinians their most fundamental rights, including the rights to free speech, education and life itself.
Defending the protest, student organizers criticized the administration’s reaction, saying that the dean “presented a certain group of students robbing another group of students of their right to free speech, categorically demoting protest below a vague idea of engagement.”
“Your letter presumed to establish a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ side by invoking a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to engage in the issue of political violence, all in the name of an ostensibly neutral commitment to “free and open dialogue,” the students wrote.
University of California administrations are also sending prospective students coded messages of what kind of protest is acceptable, while posing – falsely – as champions of free speech.
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