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Hundreds Gather to Call for SUNY Divestment from Israel

By Vince Gasparini | May 1, 2024

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) held their largest, and longest, protest of the semester on Monday afternoon. Hundreds of students marched alongside the pro-Palestinian organizations, calling on the State University of New York (SUNY) and, specifically, the University at Albany to divest from Israeli universities and businesses.

UAlbany has had study abroad programs with three Israeli universities in the past: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University. The university renewed their study abroad agreement with Tel Aviv University in January, and the other two schools are pending renewal.

Protesters march on the Entry Plaza towards University Hall.

Photo Credit: Henry Fisher / The ASP

The demonstration began at 1:00 p.m. in front of the Campus Center, where chants of “free, free Palestine” and “Israel bombs, SUNY pays, how many kids did you kill today,” were shouted by students, many of whom were wearing keffiyehs, which are black and white scarves that are seen as a symbol of Palestinian liberation.

As the students made their way around the podium, they were heard chanting “disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest,” as they were led by demonstrators carrying signs that read “Honor Palestine’s Martyrs” and “SUNY BDS United to Divest.” 

The sentiment echoed that of the broader boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement, which “call[s] upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era,” according to their website.

“As SUNY students, as UAlbany students, how can we go to class, do our homework, work on our finals, as we know that students in Gaza and Palestine have been systematically denied the right to education,” said Mirabel, one of the demonstrators who was leading the protest, while speaking on the destruction of universities in Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces. Protestors shouted “shame” in response.

“I’m a student and I’m a human being who believes that lives in Gaza should still be here with us,” said Arnold, another protest leader. Arnold requested that the ASP not disclose his full name.

“We have seen 30,000 lives be taken by the Israeli genocidal apartheid system,” Arnold continued, “and we want to be here to tell SUNY to divest from that system, because we do not want to be complicit in this genocide anymore.”

Protesters marching on UAlbany’s academic podium.

Photo Credit: Vince Gasparini / The ASP

The students took several laps around the podium before they marched towards the Entry Plaza and situated themselves directly in front of University Hall. One Palestinian student, who only went by Zayn, spoke to the ASP about why he attended the protest.

“My uncle actually lost his whole family in Gaza. All three of his daughters and his wife were murdered,” Zayn said. “These women and children should not be being killed. They should not be involved in the war. This is not something that should be normalized.”

As students gathered in the Entry Plaza, some sat in the lawn and made signs while others made chalk art, writing out calls of “end the occupation” and “you’ve been referred to justice” on the sidewalk outside of University Hall.

Chalk art drawn by protestors in front of University Hall. Students can be seen in the background making posters on the lawn.

Photo Credit: Vince Gasparini / The ASP

Several Student Association (SA) Senators were present at the protest. SA passed a Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) resolution on April 3 with 11 “yes” votes, one “no” vote, and six abstentions.

“I’ve been Muslim and Arab my whole life, this is the first time in my 20 years of existence that people have been paying attention to Palestinian liberation,” Senator Selwa Khan said.

“This is something that’s been passed down my family for generations,” Khan continued, noting that her parents met while protesting. “Seeing the way that college students are mobilizing, why would you be anywhere else?”

When Senator Shania Blair was asked why she came out to protest, she responded “because I’m human, and you can quote me on that.”

Other members of the UAlbany community, including professors and alumni, joined the students in protest.

“I’m not all that political,” began Steve Plotnick, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, “[but] there’s ethnic cleansing going on and I don’t support that.”

Deborah Newman, a UAlbany alumni who attended the school in the 1980’s, said she attended the protest because she was outraged at the university for its investments towards Israel.

“I am a firm Jewish anti-Zionist,” Newman said. “I find it ridiculous that there are university administrators who have never – at least it seems to me – educated themselves on the history of Zionism and the history of Israel.”

Protestors also called for transparency regarding the SUNY Research Foundation and the UAlbany Foundation’s institutional investments.

Many protesters were wearing different sorts of facial coverings, which they were encouraged to do by organizers out of concerns of online harassment and also to accommodate immunocompromised attendees.

Members of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) were also present. Distinguishable by their signature lime green hats, they are volunteers that were invited by organizers to serve as watchdogs to police.

The NLG stated in a press release on April 25 that it “unequivocally condemns the ongoing repression of pro-Palestinian activism taking place on university campuses across the country.”

Two University Police Department officers were in the area during the protest. They said that they knew the protest was happening but that they were not patrolling specifically because of it. UAlbany was unable to be reached for comment.

Shabbos House and UAlbany Hillel, Jewish organizations that serve UAlbany students and that have stated support for Israel, were also unable to be reached for comment.

Video Credit: Henry Fisher / The ASP


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