U.S. universities side with pro-Israel corporate funders over students resisting occupation
Hundreds march through Yale campus in support of Palestinian rights, Oct. 22, 2023. | Renee Kraemer / People's World

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—On Oct. 9, Yale students were horrified to find that someone had written “Death to Palestine, children of whores” on a whiteboard in a dormitory hallway. Concerned about the hateful and violent message, students reported the incident to university administrators, seeking recourse under the university’s policy against discrimination and harassment. The administration responded that the message was simply a “political sentiment and not a personal threat,” leaving Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students and their allies fearing for their safety.

This inadequate approach to protecting vulnerable students—especially when it comes to the issue of Palestine—is nothing new for universities, particularly those with many corporate donors like Yale. The situation has intensified in recent weeks, however, since the beginning of the siege on Gaza following the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7.

Despite widespread community solidarity with Gazans and the growing calls for a ceasefire, university administrators remain largely silent on the Israeli military’s massive bombing campaign in Gaza. The university has even condemned student groups protesting the violence, emboldening right-wing hate and rhetoric against Muslim and Arab students, activists, and allies.

At Yale, a statement signed by over 700 students, faculty, and affiliates underlines the level of support for Palestinian liberation on campus. It decries “the University’s one-sided response to the events unfolding in Palestine and on campus, predicated upon the dehumanization of Palestinians,” referring to an earlier message from Yale University President Peter Salovey, in which he exclusively condemns Hamas and only briefly mentions “non-militant Palestinians.”

The community statement denounces Salovey, who recently announced the end of his term as president, stating “In his final year, President Salovey will be remembered for having supported the genocide of the Palestinian people.”

Recognizing Yale’s financial ties to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the statement alleges that the university’s so-called “political neutrality” is only a cover for rampant “war profiteering,” referring to investment in arms manufacturers. In a final list of demands, the statement called on the Yale administration to take a stand against the genocide of the Palestinian people and denounce anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic hate speech on campus. It asks Connecticut’s U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Rosa DeLauro to support an immediate ceasefire and pushes Yale to divest from U.S.- and Israel-based arms manufacturers complicit in the destruction of Gaza.

Yale University administrators have so far not offered any additional public responses to the hundreds of concerned affiliates.

Institutional support for the Israeli occupation by universities, especially those with large endowments, has been roundly criticized by student groups in the past. A notable example is the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, which advocates ending financial investment in the apartheid state, drawing inspiration from a similar campaign against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s.

In 2022, a BDS campaign at Yale called on the university administration to cut ties with British security firm G4S, which has been a perpetrator of human rights violations in Palestine and on the U.S.-Mexico border. Such campaigns have drawn the attention of right-wing campus organizations, who chiefly use a method of aggressive online stalking and defamation, referred to as doxxing, to intimidate and harass pro-peace students and faculty.

The most prominent example of such harassment is the website Canary Mission, which poses as a whistleblower publication exposing university students and faculty for “anti-Semitism.” The website almost exclusively doxes pro-Palestinian activists, fueling Islamophobic hate and conflating activists with genuine anti-Semitic white supremacists.

In the wake of Israel launching its latest siege of Gaza, corporate interests have pushed political leaders and the media to justify the calls for war and squash the movement for peace, intensifying the pressure on ceasefire activists.

Kenneth Griffin, a billionaire hedge fund manager, has pushed for Harvard Corporation to render both a statement firmly in support of the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an additional denunciation of its own Palestine-solidarity student groups, leaving students to face intimidation, harassment, and doxxing. He is only one example among donors who have threatened to pull money from universities if they do not adequately “Stand with Israel,” that is, denounce student groups and refuse to acknowledge the culpability of Israel in any deaths.

As universities issue statements that generally fail to mention Palestinians and the Israeli government ramps up rhetoric referring to Palestinians as “human animals” and “children of darkness,” right-wing forces have been emboldened to intensify racist harassment and doxxing campaigns attacking academic freedom.

A petition calling for a Yale University faculty member to resign for “promotion of violence” is being circulated by national right-wing news outlets such as Fox News and the National Review. Students are also on heightened alert against racist attacks and intimidation. At Columbia University, Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace reported that Muslim students had been subject to various hate incidents, such as being spat on and having hijabs torn off by other Columbia students. A Columbia administrator, who was present at a pro-Israel counterprotest, reportedly called pro-peace protesters “motherfuckers” and said, “I hope every one of these people die.”

When universities fail to defend students from hateful attacks, the pro-peace movement is stifled by fear of retaliation, including loss of employment opportunities and discrimination.

In response, student groups across the country declared a “Week of Action,” calling on students, faculty, and other affiliates to join together in broad coalitions to stand in solidarity against the ongoing genocide in Palestine. Despite right-wing media’s efforts to depict pro-Palestinian student organizations as isolated and marginal, the movement is garnering widespread support from within college campuses and from their surrounding communities.

Even if university leaders continue to remain unmoved by these calls, the movement for Palestinian liberation on college campuses has reached an unprecedented intensity. Students and faculty continue to protest, launch petitions, phone bank, and call on their peers to demand support for an immediate ceasefire from their representatives and demand their universities to divest from companies that are complicit in the genocide of Palestinians.

A rally for Palestine, jointly led by campus and community organizations—including American Muslims for Palestine Connecticut, Students for Justice in Palestine at UConn, and Yalies4Palestine—drew thousands of participants to New Haven on Oct. 22. The rally is only one of many across the country, bringing out masses of people in support of Palestinian liberation and strengthening the solidarity between student groups and their surrounding communities.

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Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.