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Student Walk Out Calls for SUNY’s Divestment from Israel and Palestinian Liberation

By Henry Fisher | February 12, 2024

Protesters at the student walk out on Feb. 8 in front of the Campus Center. 

Photo Credit: Henry Fisher / The ASP

“Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes” and “SUNY, SUNY, what do you say? How many kids did you kill today?” were two of several chants that echoed across the University at Albany’s Academic Podium on Thursday, Feb. 8 as student groups claimed both SUNY and UAlbany as complicit in civilian deaths in Palestine.

The walk out at noon, organized by UAlbany’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), called for SUNY’s divestment from Israel and for them to support a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. To UAlbany, they demanded that the university end its relationship with three Israeli Universities – including partnerships and study abroad programs. 

SJP and YDSA at UAlbany organized the protest on social media, with a duplicated social media post later explaining their reasons for protesting at UAlbany specifically. The demands are largely related to UAlbany’s relationships with the aforementioned Israeli universities: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Tel Aviv University, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

UAlbany's SJP's post explaining the reasoning behind the walk out, identical to another posted on YDSA's Instagram.

Photo Credit: UAlbany SJP / @ualbanysjp on Instagram

In addition, SJP and YDSA have claimed that Israel’s travel restrictions for Palestinians violate UAlbany’s own Statement on Equal Opportunity & Non-Discrimination by restricting access to a study abroad program based on national or ethnic origin. 

The walk out was a part of the national SJP’s “National Student Day of Action for Divestment,” which called for walk outs and marches on Feb. 8. The Fashion Institute of Technology’s SJP branch, UCLA’s SJP branch, and eight CUNY schools were among the participating groups. 

Both organizations were trying to get signatures for the SUNY Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions’s (SUNY BDS) petition, which has 1,314 signatures as of writing (though this total includes anonymous signatures). SUNY BDS is an organization dedicated to creating a “SUNY-wide Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement” in order to divest from Israel. 

According to their website, the larger BDS movement “is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.” 

“Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall… Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality… [and] Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194,” are some of the listed demands on BDS’s website

Protestors and speakers spoke on UAlbany’s College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, and Cybersecurity’s (CEHC) relationship with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, noting the 2019 partnership which sought to “promote international dialogue and growth in cyber security research, education and industry. The institutions will join together for a two-week exchange summit on cyber security, research and industry….”

They also noted a trip taken in 2019 by former Governor Andrew Cuomo and current dean of CEHC, Robert Griffin to Israel, which included a visit to Ben-Gurion University to discuss potential partnerships. 

It is unclear the current nature of UAlbany’s relationship with Ben-Gurion University. While UAlbany’s page for international partnerships notes it having a study abroad program, the UAlbany Study Abroad page does not have it listed. 

What is listed on UAlbany’s Study Abroad program, however, are opportunities for both Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Tel Aviv University has collaborated with different security and arms companies, with BDS citing a 2021 technology employment fair. Hebrew University of Jerusalem has allegedly collaborated with Israel’s military and secret service

Protestors in front of the Campus Center with a speaker in the center.

Photo Credit: Henry Fisher / The ASP

Zara Tarafdar, the content creator for UAlbany’s SJP, said after the protest, “Our goal today was to call out the school on its partnership with Ben-Gurion University and Hebrew University in Israel and talk about how it's wrong that they’re partnering with UAlbany. [This is when] there are people in Palestine who can’t even get an education, but we’re sending students to occupied-Palestine and allowing them to get a free education with the university’s money.”

Various student speakers from both SJP and YDSA spoke at the protest, breaking up and concluding their speeches with various chants. These chants called on SUNY, UAlbany and its President Havidán Rodríguez, and the various Israeli colleges. Notable chants included: “Havidán, you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide,” “UAlbany stop the silence, you fund Israeli violence,” and “Justice is our demand, no peace on stolen land.”

“From here, from our privileged position as students in the United States, which gives more than $3.8 billion of our tax money to Israel every year,” Mirabel, one of the speakers and a member of YDSA, said at the protest.  “And even more to fund its genocide right now – and New York State, which gives more than $314 million to Israel. We must do everything in our power to work for Palestinian liberation.” 

According to the U.S. News & World Report, more than $260 billion has been sent by the United States in aid since World War II. Since 1980, the U.S. has sent $3-$4 billion each year in military aid, according to the Council on Foreign Relations

“I’m ashamed to be American, an active citizen of a country that aids in waging war on people abroad,” Jed Pacheco, another speaker, said. “I’m ashamed to be a student, to go to class, stress about grades, when there are no universities left in Gaza…. When people are murdered, intellectuals have been targeted, poets are murdered, books and holy spaces have been destroyed, I am ashamed to be human, to eat, to smile and hang out with my friends when life lines disappear, when a little girl finds out she’s the only baby left in her classroom.”

Two Palestinian students were present at the protest as participants, and they both shared their thoughts with the ASP. 

“I like how we always do protests here at UAlbany because not many people like to talk about it. The fact that I see a lot of people showing up and a lot of people talking about it, shows how much support we are getting… I feel really proud of everybody coming and showing support,” Saja Hamayel, a Palestinian-American student, said. 

Roaa Abdalrahman, a Palestinian-Jordanian student who also took pictures for the two organizations, said, “I’m just glad it was a very peaceful protest and no one interrupted. We just did our thing, we expressed our feelings, we put our voice out there for all the people who can’t put their voices out there.”

Also present were members of the UAlbany Student Association (SA), including President Jalen Rose and Senator Dylan Klein. 

“The Student Association can’t officially take a position, but I’m fully for a ceasefire,” President Rose said. 

“I’m ashamed, but I don’t let my shame hide me from the rest of the world,” Pacheco said. “We as a people living in America, in the belly of the beast, have so much to learn about revolution from our siblings abroad. What are we willing to lose when they have lost everything? What are we willing to give up when Palestinians are robbed of the most valuable thing each day?”

Mirabel said at the end of her speech, “As students, we cannot allow our universities to remain complicit. We have the power, and it is our duty to use it. So I’d ask you all to continue organizing with us, to go to the SJP meeting tonight, to sign the SUNY BDS petition, to talk to your friends, to call your representatives, to post on social media, and to continue to demand that UAlbany do better, because the students, united, will never be defeated.”

The SUNY BDS petition is on a Google Form, with the full list of signatories also available.  

Protestors chanting outside of the Campus Center.

Video Credit: Henry Fisher / The ASP


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