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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

Pro-Palestine protest promotes peace, generates backlash

Photo by Jenny Davis for The Lafayette
Members of the student group that organized the protest decried hate speech after one of their posters sparked controversy.

Roughly three dozen students participated in a protest on Wednesday in support of Palestinian people affected by the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, some walking out of their classes to participate in the demonstration. 

Students who spoke at the demonstration pleaded for peace in the region, but the demonstration caused controversy for its inclusion of a poster with the phrase “from the river to the sea.”

The protest was organized by Pards for Palestine, a student coalition that was recently formed. The group urged the college administration to “move beyond the space of silence” and foster learning about “Palestinian liberation in a way that’s critical and … necessary for education,” according to Mariama Bah ‘24, an organizer of the group. The coalition hosted other events throughout the week intending to educate students about the conflict and its history.

Yaseen Saleh ‘25, one of the students who participated in the demonstration, called for peace and understanding on both sides of the conflict. 

“We must always remember mercy and compassion when we deal with ourselves and when we deal with others,” Saleh said to the gathered students. “Don’t shut down Jewish voices as they cry for those who were lost. Don’t shut down Palestinian voices as they cry for those who were lost.”

Despite an otherwise unifying message propagated by the demonstrators, the sign reading “from the river to the sea” prompted a stern response from college President Nicole Hurd.

In a message to the campus community released several hours after the protest, Hurd denounced the message as antisemitic and reminded students of the college’s policy against hate speech.

“This incident was immediately reviewed by our student life team, and will be addressed through our bias incident accountability process,” Hurd wrote in her message.

Several students expressed concern about the sign which, like all of the signs at the demonstration, was a collaborative effort by Pards for Palestine. According to Ari Ismail ‘26, an organizer of the protest, the phrase’s definition was researched due to concerns about its possible impact. 

“It’s intimidating,” one Jewish student, who wished to remain anonymous, said of the sign. “As somebody who chose a college because I knew I’d be accepted for being Jewish, it was eye-opening. Calling for the eradication of Israel and the pushing out of everyone ‘from the river to the sea’ is a dangerous message to have.”

According to a second Jewish student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of being targeted for her faith, there is a clear distinction between advocating for Palestinian people and embracing antisemitism. She believes the phrase crosses into the latter.

The phrase has a complicated history. According to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that combats antisemitism, the phrase “can be understood as a call for a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, territory that includes the State of Israel, implying the dismantling of the Jewish state.”

The phrase appears in a 2017 Hamas manifesto. Some insist the phrase should be considered separate from its recent association with Hamas as it predates the group’s creation by decades, gaining traction in the 1960s.

“This phrase is used by many different people with many different intentions,” history professor Rachel Goshgarian wrote in an email. “The most overarching intent of the phrase, to my understanding, is to recognize the shared experiences of the Palestinian people within the contemporary context of Zionism.”

Goshgarian studies the Middle East and attended the protest.

Protests like those by Pards for Palestine have received national backlash for championing the phrase. Several George Washington University alumni called on the university to condemn and investigate a student protest after it used the phrase.

Pards for Palestine, in an op-ed published in this issue of The Lafayette, denied that the phrase is antisemitic.

“We stand against hate speech in general,” Bah said.

Goshgarian feels that the message from the president misrepresents what she saw at the protest.

“All I heard were students expressing their desire for humanity, compassion and mercy. All I heard were the voices of students saying they wanted to empathetically and thoughtfully talk about what was happening in Gaza and in Israel,” she wrote. “It is a little shocking to me, as a member of this community, that the College has chosen one small sign at a peaceful student communal conversation to respond to in the context of everything happening in Israel and Gaza.”

Miles Asher Dorai-Raj ‘25 was the student holding the sign in question. He stuck by the wording of the poster after being subject to a OnePard bias report, being informed of its association with Hamas – a terrorist group, according to the United States government – and repudiation by Hurd.

Dorai-Raj said that he did not know that the phrase was used by Hamas prior to the OnePard report. 

“But [I] now know and that doesn’t really change my opinion on my sign,” he said. “The words that I put on that sign were words taken from the … Palestinian Liberation Organization, who do not in any way intend for a genocide of Israelis. I stand by what I put on that poster and I do believe that I was totally misinterpreted, possibly even on purpose.”

“I’m very aware what the difference in terms of intent and impact is,” Bah said. “[The sign’s] impact is backed by potentially lack of knowledge and context on the issue.”

Ariel Haber-Fawcett ‘24, another organizer of the protest, emphasized that the demonstration was pro-Palestine and anti-Hamas.

“The walkout is definitely not supporting Hamas,” Haber-Fawcett, a leader of the ill-fated Students for Justice in Palestine group, said. Lafayette’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, itself the subject of a bias report, was denied club status by the college earlier this year for fear of it targeting other groups.

“The point of our walkout is specifically calling for the U.S. government to stop condoning and sending money to Israel for them to keep bombing Gaza,” Haber-Fawcett continued.

Hurd’s message to the student body reflected the peaceful message of the walkout’s speakers.

“We owe it to each other to treat one another with care and respect, especially in times of fear and deep sorrow,” Hurd wrote.

Jenny Davis ‘26 contributed reporting

View Comments (16)
About the Contributors
Selma O'Malley, News Editor
Waiting for someone to write a sitcom about a college newspaper.
Madeline Marriott, Editor-in-Chief
Maddie (she/her) is a senior English major with a Government & Law minor. As the Editor-in-Chief, a Mentor Writing Associate, a Senior Student Contributor for Lafayette Communications, a Communications Intern for the Office of Sustainability, co-founder and Vice President of English Club, and a Senior Interviewer for Lafayette Admissions, no writing happens on campus without her knowing about it. Her Google Calendar would make your head spin. She is a die-hard Swiftie and Phillies fan, a collector of tote bags, a builder of a Hay Day empire, and an avid Goodreads and Letterboxd user. She smokes cigars and uses an old-timey typewriter and notepad in the newsroom.
Trebor Maitin, Managing Editor
Pennsylvania enthusiast.
Jenny Davis, Staff News Writer

Comments (16)

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  • A

    an exhausted alumOct 28, 2023 at 7:17 pm

    Protests are currently occurring all over United States’ college campuses and across main US cities. Historically, this is the ONE safe space for students to protest. Let’s think back to Lafayette’s campus during the 2016 elections. While it was a charged environment, protests still occurred, and Lafayette’s administration response was VERY different than what we are seeing now. If you have not attended a pro-Palestinian protest, you have no right to say what comes out of these gatherings. For one, they are meant to promote peace and call for ceasefires, unlike the United States’ vote of NO in the United Nations General Assembly resolution yesterday. Additionally, they are never counter-protesting what happened on October 7th. Instead, they are protesting what is currently happening in RESPONSE to the October 7th massacre. After the October 7th attacks, many campuses hosted vigils. Out of respect for the October 7th victims, many organizations postponed protests to allow for vigils and grief, despite the declaration of war against Gaza.

    In addition, pro-Palestine forms of protests have been occurring prior to the October 7th events. These are not new events. A quick google search will take you to the 2018-2019 Gaza protests. Please read and educate yourselves. If you look at all the IVY institutions, MANY of them have SJP chapters. And guess what, they also have Jewish Voice for Peace organizations as well as former IDF soldiers registered as students on campus… and guess what, everyone has gotten along the past few years.

    The phrase “from the river to the sea” stands for Palestinian liberation. We ALL know they are called the OCCUPIED TERRORITIES. Thus, if someone is occupied, one can ask for their own liberation. There is no crime in asking for liberation from the river to the sea (that is literally the geography of the country in case one did not know). To assume that a pro-Palestine protest is antisemitic (because of solely this phrase nonetheless) or that it is promoting violence is RACIST. To assume the worst of people asking for liberation (directly jumping to Jewish people being pushed out of Palestinian land) is RACIST. Additionally, the phrase “from the river to the sea” can NOT be an anti- semitic statement since it is LITERALLY the land of the people who speak or spoke a Semitic language, including in particular the Jews and Arabs. This phrase existed long before Hamas existed. It existed when countries were discussing 2-state solutions. It existed even when Britain had colonized Palestine.

    Also, one should learn the history of Hamas and how it came to be. Just because they use this phrase in their constitution does not mean that no one else can use it. Hamas is one entity. Just like no one US president will represent every or the majority of its citizens (our 2-party divided country), you cannot expect the same of the people of Gaza.

    Additionally, one should ask themselves if Hamas is truly the governing body of Gaza, why does Israel still control Gaza’s water or electricity? For example: Russia can’t control Ukraine’s water or electricity because they are 2 separate entities.

    Additionally, google how Iraq, an ARAB country, was 30% Jewish prior to the creation of Israel. Arab Jews were and will always be an integral part of an Arab culture. Read Ella Shohat’s (a professor at NYU) work.

    A free Palestine means liberation for all, Jews included. Google the history of Samaritan Jews living in the West Bank at this moment.

    If you shut down discussion, this is how you create vacuums. Labeling something as hate speech without investigating first is disheartening and not a good reflection of the academic institution Lafayette prides itself to be. The campus should be stimulating discussion and circulating knowledge.

  • P

    Pard'on MeOct 28, 2023 at 11:57 am

    It’s an embarrassment that the student admitted to Lafayette, who’s hold the “to the sea” sign, is (1) part of this very group rejected in May for club status, (2) ignorantly (or purposely) attributes with credibility that slogan to the PLO – the original terrorist group of the middle east, and (3) is by proxy supported by this professor who sponsored this rejected club.

    Where’s Lafayette’s admissions standards for students and faculty alike? Where’s President Hurd’s condemnation of her faculty employee? Each is MIA, to use military lingo.

    • W

      Wisam Bellan '18Oct 28, 2023 at 9:57 pm

      While the PLO did, indeed, engage in unjustified terrorism, that itself caused an internal rift in the organization, which originated with the purpose of peaceful resolution. Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin came very close to a peaceful two-state solution before the assassination of Rabin by right-wing Israeli factions, incited by Benjamin Netanyahu. That was the turning point for this never ending cycle of violence we see now.

      The origin of the phrase “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free” is not a violent one. Even if it has been used violently by Hamas and others, it is clearly a phrase which is dependent on the context in which it was spoken, as well as the speaker themselves.

      The Lafayette student holding a sign with this phrase was attending a peaceful protest, advocating for peace. To interpret their sign as antisemetic or calling for genocide is either done in ignorance or in purposely twisting the truth and projecting violent intent onto a peaceful protester.

      Professor Goshgarian did a wonderful job facilitating this educational and peaceful protest. President Hurd should have been educated before making their unfair and brazen statement. You should be embarrased for posting this comment as, if you got accepted to Lafayette, then the standards were never that high.

  • J

    JHOct 27, 2023 at 12:16 pm

    I am a Jewish student on campus and I fully support Pards for Palestine and the Pro-Palestine movement. I understand that Israel is seen as the Jewish promised land, but to be Jewish and support a government that is actively creating a genocide toward another group is extremely disgraceful to our own history and not having it be repeated. If you are Jewish, know that your faith is not rooted in the state Israel, it is within our own people. Do not blindly support a government committing atrocities in defense of our faith.
    I stand with the Jewish community and I stand with Palestine. They are not mutually exclusive, and if anything they should stand together.

    • C

      Concerned AlumOct 27, 2023 at 12:57 pm

      Thank you. I have been encouraged to see the activism from many Jewish people in recent days. Your voices are extremely valuable because we know Israel’s right wing leadership, that since the 1990s has made peace and a two-state solution less possible with every passing day, does not speak for all Israelis and certainly not all Jewish people everywhere. We also know extremists within Palestinian society don’t represent all Palestinians, and their aspirations for a shared, dignified, peaceful future within their historic homeland.

      Know that we stand with you knowing that you may face far more pressure and isolation from within the community, and you have a home with us. A shared, peaceful Jewish and Arab future is possible in Israel and Palestine.

    • A

      AnissaNov 4, 2023 at 9:25 am

      Thank you!!! Please let your school know. All they want is freedom. I have walked the streets of Israel and Palestine and the Palestines are beautiful people that should not be in cages. Thank you again for choosing humanity. I will stand foe the oppressed over Nationality every sing day! free Palestine.
      Bless you for the good you are doing for others

    • E

      edNov 9, 2023 at 6:07 pm

      You support terrorists & kidnapping innocent people including Holocaust survivors. You are a disgrace. I am a Christian….what happened to “never again”.

  • W

    Wherever I Stand, I stand with IsraelOct 27, 2023 at 11:15 am

    It’s time to Make Israel Great Again and protect/ foster the Zionist vision that has historically protected one of the most oppressed and persecuted race in history.

  • A

    AlumOct 27, 2023 at 10:12 am

    “From the River to the Sea” is an inherently antisemitic statement that calls for the dismantlement of the state of Israel. There is not an alternative reading. It is written into Hamas’ founding documents.

    • A

      AnonymousOct 27, 2023 at 11:44 am

      Hamas did not invent this saying, and as someone who was actually THERE, I can tell you that every single person at the protest condemned Hamas. When Palestinians call for freedom from the river to the sea, they are calling for decolonization and the dismantling of the colonial entity that dominates their lives, and seek to replace it with a state that would not exist at the expense of the subjugation of others. The fact that you completely ignored what every person that was interviewed said, and that this was your only takeaway from the article speaks volumes.

    • W

      Wisam Bellan '18Oct 28, 2023 at 9:45 pm

      You do not dictate how a phrase is interpreted so that you can validate your racist fear mongering. The Palestinian identity is an ethnic one, not a political one. To equate it and its support to anti-semitism is, in itself, racism.

      There are Palestinians in the West Bank of the Jordan River who continuously face violence and land theft from illegal settlers, indiscriminate policing by a foreign military, and consistent subjugation under apartheid.

      There are Gazans by the Mediterranean Sea who live in the world’s largest open air prison, which has recently turned into an extermination camp for their genocide by western powers hoping to secure influence and positioning in the Middle East.

      There are Palestinian-Israelis who are indiscriminately arrested, threatened, and treated as second class citizens, in their own country and on their own land.

      From the West Bankers by the Jordan River, to the Palestinian-Israelis, and the Gazans by the Mediterranean, the occupation, apartheid, and abuse of Palestinians will be stopped.

      From the river to the sea, Palestinians should receive justice, equality, peace, and freedom. The freedom of Palestine is the freedom of Palestinians. Free Palestinians are not an obstactle of, nor mutually exclusive to, Jewish and Israeli freedom. Both can coexist.

      From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free

  • C

    Concerned AlumOct 27, 2023 at 10:12 am

    Once again, Lafayette demonstrates its lack of willingness to create an inclusive environment and allow students of color and other minorities to exercise their right to assemble. It is clear that there are multiple interpretations of this phrase, but why would the interpretation of pro-Israel organizations be considered more credible than those of the Palestinians and their allies using them, who historically consider it a demand to end the occupation of internationally recognized Palestinian territories and also equality for Arabs living in Israel. Would we let the Republican Party define what Black Lives Matter really means?

    • A

      Another concerned alumNov 16, 2023 at 10:58 am

      So why do non Jews get to define what is or isn’t antisemitism? Your argument makes no sense.
      This has nothing to do with preventing American “students of color” from assembling in campus.

  • A

    AnonymousOct 27, 2023 at 10:04 am

    Thank you to the members of the Lafayette for attending the media literacy teach in yesterday! It is clear that the newspaper is making an effort to actually understand the nuance of what is going on and that is commendable.

  • J

    Jessica SmithOct 27, 2023 at 9:43 am

    The Jewish students are being made to feel uncomfortable and the statement is antisemitic and incendiary. The group is making claims of the genocide of two million people. That is not factual. This campaign is the opposite of peaceful and is only diving the college community.

    • M

      MJOct 27, 2023 at 10:31 am

      How is the statement making claims of genocide of two million people? “From the river to the sea” is used in protest context in conjunction with the refrain “Palestine will be free”. The liberation of Palestine from a colonial and oppressive state is not inherently genocidal.

      Did the decolonization of India lead to the genocide of all British citizens? Does calling for Land Back equate to calling for the massacre of the white Americans who occupy native land? Did the freedom of South Africa from apartheid and the liberation of other African and Asian colonies cause bloodshed in Europe?

      Liberation can be achieved without genocide, anyone with critical thinking and an understanding of activism knows this. Calls for liberation are not the same as calls for genocide. It is in fact hypocritical to decry the removal of Israeli settlers from their homes when the exact same thing is forced on Palestinian residents.

      As was mentioned in the article, the phrase existed well before Hamas; what the article fails to mention is that Hamas claims a specific version of “Palestine from the river to the sea”, which the sign did NOT say. Again, the sign was used in a protest context, where it is followed by the refrain “Palestine will be free.” Again, freedom is not the same thing as genocide and I beg you to understand that. Nothing about the phrase as it was used in the protest suggests the eradication of Israel, the genocide of Jewish individuals, of “embracing antisemitism”. It suggests freedom of the West Bank (at the Jordan River) and the Gaza Strip (at the Mediterranean Sea) from Israeli occupation and control.

      As a side note, Israel has a population of 9.83 million. There are 4 million people living within the state of Palestine, with 3 million of them living in the West Bank and 1.9 million in Gaza. Your statement “the group is making claims of the genocide of two million people” is accurate of Israel’s carpet bombing of the Gaza Strip. I’m not quite sure which population you were referring to, but based on your previous sentence you are likely referring to Israelis.

      My sources are from the Jewish Currents article “What Does From the River to the Sea Mean?”; the Middle East Eye article “‘From the river to the sea’: What does the pro-Palestine chant actually mean?”; and the BreakThrough News video “Israel is a Racist, Supremacist State”