In Protests

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Students gathered outside of the Smith Center on Friday to protest GW’s response to the Israel-Hamas war and demand officials release a statement condemning the Israeli military’s action in the Gaza Strip as Ellen Granberg officially became the University’s 19th president inside the building.

About 40 pro-Palestinian demonstrators, including representatives from a dozen student organizations, gathered in Kogan Plaza on Friday morning and marched through campus, ending their route at the Smith Center where Granberg’s inauguration ceremony was underway. Representatives from the organizations Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice For Peace, Black Defiance and GW Dissenters called for the University to retract all their statements on the war, condemn Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip and cut GW’s financial ties with Palestinian “genocide.”

“It is our duty to speak for those dead and alive in Gaza,” one demonstrator in Kogan Plaza said during the beginning of the demonstration. “It is our duty to speak for all those whose homes have been raided in the West Bank.”

Officials moved Granberg’s Friday investiture ceremony to a virtual format Wednesday and closed the event to the public in response to growing local and international unrest following the Israeli military’s escalating offensive in Gaza and upcoming protests in D.C. Officials also canceled or postponed other inauguration ceremonies scheduled for the weekend and increased the presence of GW Police Department officers and security guards on campus, requiring GWorld tap access to enter all Foggy Bottom Campus buildings from Friday to Monday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that the Israeli military will continue its ground advancement into Gaza after he moved the army into its second phase of military operations last week. As of Friday, more than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed — the majority women and children — according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Demonstrators gathered in Kogan at 11 a.m. amid a heavy police presence, with many protesters wearing keffiyehs and face masks and others holding signs and banging sticks on pots and pans. Speakers told the demonstrators not to speak with the media and none of the speakers gave their names, as pro-Palestinian protesters have been under threats of harassment and doxing.

GWPD and Metropolitan Police Department officers convened in Kogan and a block away near the Smith Center as the group arrived, with some officers on foot and others on bicycles.

While demonstrators made a round of speeches with a megaphone in Kogan Plaza, protesters brought out two banners, one reading “End the siege on Gaza” and another that read “From the River to the Sea.” The group of demonstrators marched east down H Street after putting away the “From the River to the Sea” banner, chanting phrases like “Granberg you can’t hide, you’re complicit in genocide,” “GW you can’t hide, you are funding genocide” and “No justice, no peace.” At least two GWPD cars tailed the crowd as protesters took to the street, with other officers flanking the demonstrators on foot and bike.

The crowd turned right on 21st Street and then headed west on G Street, circling the Smith Center once before making their final stop in the middle of G Street, chanting while facing toward the Smith Center. At least eight MPD cars and one GWPD vehicle blocked off traffic from the intersection, while many officers on foot guarded the Smith Center.

A demonstrator who spoke before the crowd in front of the Smith Center said representatives from SJP chapters at American, George Mason and Georgetown universities and the University of Maryland were present at the demonstration, along with other GW student organizations including JVP, Black Defiance, Students Against Imperialism, the Armenian Students Association, GW Dissenters, the Indian Students Association and the Pakistani Students Association.

The protester said the group would be on the street every week to voice their demands. They said though the University will try to wait them out, protesters will continue to organize for their demands.

“We are here to make it clear that every single day, from now to Granberg’s inauguration to the end of her f*cking term, that we will be here on the streets demanding that she divest and that she end all financial ties between this University and the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” the demonstrator said.

Four SJP members projected about 10 messages onto Gelman Library last week that included “Glory to our martyrs,” “GW the blood of Palestine is on your hands,” and “Divestment from Zionist genocide now.” A representative for SJP said last week that the messaging calls for an end to GW’s funding and profits from weapons companies and defense contractors that supply arms to Israel.

The projections sparked backlash from GW alumni, advocacy groups and politicians, who urged Granberg to discipline the students involved and threatened to halt their funding to the University. Granberg said in a statement the next day that the projections were antisemitic and a violation of GW policy.

Five SJP chapters from universities in D.C., Maryland and Virginia released a statement in solidarity with GW’s SJP chapter after the group’s Tuesday projections onto Gelman Library and the subsequent condemnation from GW. Student organizations Jewish Voice for Peace at GWU and GW Black Defiance also released separate statements in support of SJP following the projections.

A demonstrator speaking on behalf of JVP said Granberg’s statement to GW community members following the anti-Israel messages projected onto Gelman Library does not reflect the views of all community members because some students supported the messages in the projections.

“Whose community is Granberg addressing? Clearly it is not Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and anti-Zionist communities,” the demonstrator said.

A speaker from GW Dissenters said Granberg has “silenced” her friends who protested against Granberg’s “complicity,” adding that Granberg has done “absolutely nothing” to protect Arab and Muslim students. The speaker, who identified herself as an anti-Zionist Jewish woman, said Granberg’s statements about campus events following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war incorrectly speak for the Jewish community at GW by implying all members felt hurt by the organization’s demonstrations.

“How dare you try to speak for us?” the demonstrator said. “How dare you use the name of the Jewish people, a people intimately familiar with oppression, brutality and evil, to justify genocide and hate on campus?”

Granberg said in a statement Tuesday that she was “alarmed” to hear reports of identity-based mistreatment on campus after meeting with Jewish, Muslim and Arab community members over the last few weeks, denouncing local and international displays of antisemitism and Islamophobia. She directed GW leadership to bolster support for student groups on campus and training for faculty and staff on student support and requested that officials reconcile the need to preserve the right to free speech with their responsibility to uphold community values.

In a separate message last month, Granberg condemned any “celebration of terrorism” on campus following a vigil SJP held for Palestinians killed in Gaza by the Israeli military. SJP criticized her characterization of their vigil in response to her statement.

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