On protests, encampments, freedom of expression

I’ve been writing about the situation in Israel and Gaza since October 7th when I posted a blog entry here. More recently, I have called for a humanitarian cease fire, considered issues of academic freedom, and thought about the relevance of Passover to these events.

Yesterday, I sent the following message to the Wesleyan community about protests on campus. I reproduce it here:

Dear friends,

This morning you can find pro-Palestinian protesters camped out behind North College. The students there know that they are in violation of university rules and seem willing to accept the consequences. The protest has been non-violent and has not disrupted normal campus operations. As long as it continues in this way, the University will not attempt to clear the encampment. The University will not tolerate intimidation or harassment of students, staff, or faculty. Protesters assure us that they have no intention of engaging in these kinds of actions. We will continue to monitor the situation to keep everyone safe and will send updates as necessary.

There will be many on campus who cheer on the protesters, and many who are offended or even frightened by their rallies and messages. But as long as we all reject violence, we have opportunities to listen and to learn from one another. This may not happen during the chanting and drumming, but it can happen during some of the planned discussion sessions and deep conversations that will take place throughout the week.

This is a challenging time in world affairs and in the lives of many—including college students—concerned about their own relation to the brutal war in the Middle East. May we at Wesleyan find ways to learn from this difficult moment—determining what it is we can do to serve the goal of a sustainable peace—even as we finish out this academic year.

With hope,

Michael S. Roth

10 thoughts on “On protests, encampments, freedom of expression”

  1. As I’m sure you are aware, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” And because Wesleyan University receives federal assistance it is subject to this federal law. If Jewish students, or frankly any other students not participating in this “peaceful protest encampment” are blocked from going to class or are forced to take their classes via Zoom (see Columbia), Wesleyan will be in violation of federal law.

    My prediction: as goes Columbia so goes Wesleyan. Where are the adults? If your pro-Palestinian students want to protest peacefully, they are subject to time, place, and manner restrictions. Allow them to peacefully protest, at a certain time and place, with a specific end time. You are letting these kids know that any time, any place, and any manner is alright by you.

    What exactly is the plan when these kids get bored glamping in their encampments and decide that maybe taking over a building would be fun? Or when the pro-Palestinian chants actually become pro-Hamas? Or what about the calling for death to America, Zionists, and Israel? Or what about protest signs that claim rape and beheading are forms of resistance? What will happen when students no longer feel safe on campus? What will you do when things are so out of control that you will have to cancel commencement? Have you not been watching what is happening at Columbia and UCLA? Are you really so naive to think this won’t happen at Wesleyan?

    Good luck, sir. Your abdication of authority is signaling to these kids anything goes. You are about to lose your University to the mob.

  2. Thank you. I attempt to deal with circumstances beyond my control in the same ways that you are demonstrating your intention of doing. Together we can be fair to others who are reluctant to hear our views. I am sad that my health does not allow me to be physically there with you.

  3. Well said. I hope that pro-Palestinian protesters at Wes have continued to, and will continue to, express their views using legitimate means.

    I support safety, dignity and self-determination for Palestinians and Israelis alike. I shouldn’t have to say it, but calling for Israel’s destruction and/or denying Israelis the right to self-determination is not the answer.


    Brad Kramer ’88

  4. I’m relieved to see that Wesleyan students are joining the global movements that reject the astonishing, indeed genocidal violence of Israel against the people of Gaza and settlers in the occupied West Bank. I took part in the 1970 protests against the Vietnam war, the illegal US bombings of Cambodia, and the outrageous killing of Kent State students by the disgraced Ohio National Guard, and am dismayed at the world’s repeated failures to learn the lessons of failed colonization, failing empire, and failed militarism. Students worldwide are arising once again to denounce the false nobility of militarized injustice and atrocity. Protests in favor of Palestinian safety and human rights are in no way equivalent to anti-semitism or a call for the destruction of Israel. A two-state solution has been a practical and moral imperative for decades, subverted for decades with multilateral obstinacies. We are witnesses to over 75 years of utterly failed policies, failed religious beliefs and leadership across the board, showing us that “all are punished” when internecine hatreds are allowed to prevail, and are provisioned with vast armamentariums of national vanity. The Israel/Palestine debacle will not be solved by ideological, ethnic or religious irredentism, geopolitical mafias or one-dimensional thinking. Neither Hamas, the US, nor Israel authorities have any remaining legitimacy to lead in the next stage of nation-building in the physical ruins of Gaza, the moral ruins of Israel, and the political ruins of US complicity in documented genocide. Peaceful assembly of students and faculty to register just grievances against unjust horrors is probably the most educational activity that will take place on any campus in this decade.

  5. Don’t kid yourself; the situation is dire. The FBI can best lend support by putting Pro-Hamas led Palestinian Government supporters on the terrorist watch list. Good luck with the encampment now forming on your campus!

  6. Thank you for penning these words and your commitment to lead by them. It is what we expect from university presidents, many of whom are sadly failing the job responsibilities with which they were entrusted, including my hometown UNH administration, with whom I will be sharing this letter.

  7. When October 7 occurred, there were immediately multiple student bodies at multiple schools widely across the US that protested Israel’s cause of Hamas’s violence, murder, rapes, and kidnapping. To me, the question is what caused that bizarre reaction to an organization taking action to start a mid-east war? Is Iranian money supporting both Hamas and organization of US student attitudes?

  8. Why don’t you protest for Hamas to leave Gaza, why don’t you protest for Hamas to release the young women who are being raped daily if they are even still alive. Why don’t you protest for Hamas to end the terror against Israel. Explain to me why there is no war between Israel and the other Palestinian Territories in Israel. What genocide. The Jewish people almost got extinct in WWII with many who survived tortured. The answer is because your protest is antisemitic. Shame on you all for support the rape and slaughter of Jewish people who fought for peace. You all disgust me.

Comments are closed.