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Student protest for Gaza

Students call on university officials to divest, disclose investments in Israel

Students, alumni and Athens residents filled Baker Center with Palestinian flags, protest signs and chants for Ohio University to divest from and disclose any investments it has that support Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza Wednesday.

OU’s Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, organized the protest in solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian cause and for the university to disclose and divest from any investments supporting the war. Around 150-200 people attended and marched from Bicentennial Park in front of Walter Hall, through Baker and ended at College Green.

The protest lasted from 5-6:40 p.m. and no police were present. The protest comes after Israel killed 34,000 Palestinians in response to Hamas’s attack Oct. 7 that killed about 1,200 Israelis. Student protests around the country for Palestine have reached a boiling point. 

Tuesday night at UCLA, counter-protesters shot fireworks into a campus solidarity encampment, the NYPD announced over 300arrests were made at Columbia University and City College, and locally 36 people were arrested at an Ohio State pro-Palestine protest April 23.

Deika Ahmed, a senior studying marketing, acted as SJP’s media relations contact. She said the inspiration for the event was not necessarily from other college protests but was something many students are passionate about. 

OU’s SJP was organized about three months ago, and Ahmed said there have been less than 10 meetings. She and other organizers said they were happy with the protest’s turnout, especially during finals week when many students had gone home.

Ahmed said there were two main corporations involved in Israel that OU is connected with that SJP currently knows about. One was the three-year contract with Coca-Cola OU entered into this summer. Protestors were upset with the partnership because Coca-Cola operates a factory in a settlement in the West Bank.

The second is Siemens, a German technology company, that donated engineering tools to OU and has done business with Israel for a long time, including services like transportation. 

Stan Yerrick, a junior studying political science and linguistics, was one of the contributors to organizing the protest. Yerrick said they want students to know they have the right to boycott if they want. 

People also spoke during the protest outside of Walter and Cutler Hall. One speaker was Davey McNelly, one of the co-organizers for Jewish Voice for Peace. He urged the crowd to find what companies show perceived support for Israel’s ongoing military offensive in Gaza and boycott those companies. He also said it’s important to ask OU to divest any investments.

Sophia Grubbs, a sophomore studying urban planning and the president of SJP, said it was important to organize a protest before the semester ended. They said the meaning behind the protest was for a quick and peaceful resolution to be created.

On the fourth floor of Baker, three silent counter-protesters showed their support for Israel. Two of the counter-protestors held an Israeli flag in front of Baker’s doors. 

Emma Mathy, a sophomore studying sociology, said she doesn’t think the university divesting is a short-term goal but the point of the protest is to show solidarity with Gaza because of the way legislation is written in Ohio. 

“I do think that showing the people of Gaza that people across the world do care about them, (and) we are fighting for them is the most important thing right now because I cannot imagine how hopeless it would feel,” Mathy said. 

Dan Pittman, a university spokesperson, said the Ohio Revised Code prohibits public universities from divesting any interests in Israel or from adopting, or adhering to, a policy that requires a divestment from Israel or with persons or entities associated with it. 

Given the large turnout of students seeking a response from university leadership to divest, Edmond Chang, associate professor of English, said rather than the university responding to the protest in fear, it needs to respond with love, understanding, critical thinking and history, which are all things, he said, the university is supposed to be teaching. 

Other university members were observing the protest from afar, including Dean of Students Kathy Fahl and Interim Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Russell Morrow. Morrows declined to comment on the protest. 

According to the United Nations Genocide Convention, a country shall be punishable for having complicity in genocide. In January 2024, the Center for Constitutional Rights, a U.S. civil liberties group, filed a federal court case against President Joe Biden and two U.S. cabinet officials for allegedly being complicit in a genocide Israel is committing in Gaza. 

Heather Cantina, an Athens resident, said she is concerned about the U.S.’s, alleged,  complicity in genocide. 

“For our dollars to be funding genocide instead of serving human needs in this country is just despicable, and it needs to stop,” Cantina said.

Cantina said as an American Jew, she is horrified of people thinking she is anti-semitic for speaking out against Israel. She said the Jewish culture is about justice. 

“It's what we need to do as Jews, for justice for all people, which is what Judaism is about,” she said.

Grubbs said SJP is discussing building a mass movement of support to Palestine with other universities and groups. 

“I'm getting more hopeful every day,” Grubbs said. “I try not to get my expectations too high, but of course, we all are demanding the best situation … we want Jewish people and Palestinian people to live peacefully together in Palestine.”



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