In Protests

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University President Ellen Granberg called anti-Israel statements that students projected on Gelman Library Tuesday night antisemitic and a violation of GW policy after receiving intense national and local pressure to condemn the students.

Granberg said GW students, faculty and staff have the right to be vocal but must express their views within boundaries of the law and University policies, per the statement Wednesday evening. Granberg’s message is the second statement from GW as officials respond to the fallout following members of Students for Justice in Palestine’s projection of messages on Gelman Library that criticized Israel, Granberg and the University’s response to the Israel-Hamas war Tuesday night.

Granberg said students’ projected statements do not contribute to the environment of rigorous debate and discussion expected at GW. She added that officials removal of the projections “as quickly as possible” does not heal the “deep and painful wounds” the words opened up on campus.

“These images included antisemitic phrases that have caused fear and anxiety for many members of our Jewish and broader GW community, and we wholly denounce this type of conduct,” Granberg’s statement reads.

In an unsigned GW statement Wednesday afternoon, which preceded Granberg’s, officials said they will take the “appropriate steps” against the students involved after they removed the “unauthorized” projections Tuesday.

Four SJP members in Kogan Plaza projected a slideshow onto the library with phrases like “Divestment from Zionist genocide now,” “Glory to our martyrs,” “GW the blood of Palestine is on your hands” and “President Granberg is complicit in genocide in Gaza” for roughly two and half hours. A GW Police Department officer on the scene said Dean of Students Colette Coleman advised officers to stop the demonstration.

The group turned off their projections after a 15-minute confrontation with GWPD officers and University officials.

An SJP representative, who asked to speak under the condition of anonymity because of threats of doxxing and harassment, said after the demonstration that the group is calling for GW’s immediate condemnation of Israel’s violence toward Gaza, an end to GW’s funding and profits from weapons companies and defense contractors that supply arms to Israel, and a retraction of all previous statements in which officials have labeled the group’s mourning as celebrations of terrorism.

Granberg released a statement condemning “celebrations of terrorism” on campus earlier this month, the day after SJP held a vigil where members honored Palestinian “martyrs” who have been killed by Israel and chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Many Palestinians view the phrase as a call for independence but some Israeli and Jewish people consider it an antisemitic call for the elimination of the Israeli state.

“I feel very frustrated with how the University has responded,” the SJP representative said. “They have consistently shown that they do not respect our lives. They do not respect our right to free speech. They do not respect our right to organize against the ongoing genocide that is happening to our people.”

Prior to Granberg’s statement Wednesday, politicians, advocacy groups and alumni placed mounting pressure on GW, asking the University to condemn the actions of SJP and take harsh disciplinary actions against the students. Simultaneously, officials have canceled and postponed on-campus events and bolstered security at Gelman Library as events on campus reached international news.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, lambasting the projected messages and calling for President Joe Biden’s administration to recognize the demonstration as antisemitic.

“They issued a call to free Palestine from the river to the sea. For anyone unfamiliar with Israel’s geography, that is a call for the destruction of the Jewish state,” McConnell said in his speech.

GW Hillel Director Adena Kirstein told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the projections were “absolutely” antisemitic and that Jewish GW students feel isolated and alone as they navigate “a really, really difficult climate.”

Seven GW alumni serving in the House of Representatives authored a bipartisan letter to Granberg Wednesday that called for a strong condemnation and an immediate investigation of the students who displayed the projections.

The members said Jewish students, who make up nearly a quarter of GW’s undergraduate population, don’t feel safe on campus. As evidence to a pattern of increasing antisemitism on campus, the letter referenced prior incidents on campus, including swastika graffiti in a student’s residence hall room in 2020, the desecration of a torah in the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house in 2021, and a federal complaint Jewish and Israeli students filed in January against former professor Lara Sheehi, accusing her of antisemitic behavior. A third-party investigation, sponsored by GW, found “no evidence” of discrimination in Sheehi’s course. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is still investigating the case.

Parents of prospective GW students posted on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, criticizing the University’s first statement for not being harsh enough toward the demonstrators and threatening to stop their children from applying. One parent said they will ensure their child does not apply to GW because of officials’ failure to “rein in” the demonstrators.

Apparent donors have threatened to stop their contributions to GW in posts on various social media platforms after the demonstration. Many of the donors said they are withholding their contributions because they feel the University’s initial response to SJP’s projections did not condemn the acts strongly enough. Some urged the University to expel the demonstrators.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement said they postponed the first part of GW’s annual Diversity Summit — a series of workshops and discussions on prominent social issues scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday —  due to the “current climate.” Officials pushed back the first segment to February to place University resources in the “most appropriate” direction and ensure campus safety, per ODECE’s announcement to summit registrants Wednesday.

Officials also announced they locked the revolving doors of Gelman Library in an email to some library staff Wednesday evening, allowing access for people with GWorld cards only through the side doors until the end of the week. The email states that officials locked the doors in an “abundance of caution” to provide “another layer of safety” for library users and staff who felt “threatened” by Tuesday’s projections and Wednesday’s aftermath.

“The doors will remain GWorld tap only until further notice,” the email states. “During this time, we will only admit pre-arranged visitors.”

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