Protestors demand UNL divests from Israel

1 de Mayo de 2024 a las 17:00 ·

Students Holding Signs
Students hold signs protesting the war in Gaza. (Photo by Jolie Peal/Nebraska Public Media News)

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Nebraska students and community members protested the war and deaths in Gaza on Wednesday.

Those protesting outside the University of Nebraska's city campus union joined several other universities across the country, some of which have been protesting for two weeks.

The UNL students planned to protest until 7 p.m. on Wednesday. They planned a day filled with chanting, educational talks and art.

The group had four demands for UNL: end the study abroad program in Israel, disclose all investments to the country, end those investments and refuse further grants and money.

The University of Nebraska published its Fund N investments, which include donations and gifts to the university. The latest report was from Dec. 31, 2023. It’s unclear if any of these investments are connected to Israel.

Anna Synya is part of both Students for Justice in Palestine at UNL and Lincoln for Palestine. She said the university did cancel the study abroad to Israel this year, but the group wants it to be ended permanently.

“We have Palestinian students on campus, they can’t engage with that study abroad like someone else can, and that’s not equitable” Synya said. “In some cases, Palestinian students aren’t allowed in Israel. In some cases, going there could require a forfeiting of their Palestinian citizenship if they do have it.”

Students Gather for Teach-in
Protestors gather under the overhang in front of the union. (Photo by Jolie Peal/Nebraska Public Media News)

Synya said the protestors worked with the university to keep the event safe and peaceful. But she said the university has not responded to their demands.

“They know our demands,” Synya said. “They're on Instagram publicly, we've told them to their face what our demands are. And it just seems like they're not taking this seriously, which is unfortunate.”

UNL Chancellor Rodney Bennett sent a message to students and staff ahead of the protests. He said protesters assured him it would remain peaceful and would not disrupt campus operations. Bennett made no mention of the protesters' demands.

According to local health officials in Gaza, over 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war. Synya said the protestors want to make students aware of that.

“One impact we want to have is for students to realize that what’s happening in Palestine, what’s happening in Gaza is a genocide. That’s really critical to us,” Synya said. “Also, it’s a scholasticide, every single university in Gaza has been destroyed. As students, I think that should be central to our concerns.”

Karima is with the Palestinian Rights Task Force at Nebraskans for Peace. She didn’t want to use her full name and said they’re asking the government to stop funding for Israel because of the tens of thousands of deaths in Gaza.

“Thousands and thousands of homes have been destroyed," she said. "Millions are displaced and are currently starving and that's being backed by our government and paid for with our tax dollars. So we're saying, ‘enough is enough,’ and we're calling for our politicians to end it. And we’re calling for UNL to disclose and divest from any financial connections that they have with Israel.”

On the federal level, Karima said money and time spent toward Israel could be spent elsewhere.

“That money could be spent here in Nebraska, paying our teachers, paying for health care, lowering property taxes and that's where it should be,” she said.

It’s important for Nebraskans to remember that this issue does affect the state, she said.

Karima said state politicians have presented harmful rhetoric, in regards to a bill proposed in 2023 aimed at banning contracts with companies that boycott Israel. She called the bill “an assault on free speech.”

In October, Gov. Jim Pillen released a written statement asking all national leaders to support Israel. One month later, 40 Nebraska state senators signed an information resolution proclaiming a similar message.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Sen. Pete Ricketts said other college campuses have had issues in keeping students safe.

“What I would encourage the students to do is to protest peacefully and follow university policy," he said. "Certainly, our students have the right to free speech and protest, but they do not have the right to interfere with other students' rights or to, for example, occupy parts of the university.”

Ricketts said antisemitism has been an issue at other colleges and universities.

“Secondly, I would ask the university to make sure that we're protecting Jewish students,” Sen. Ricketts said. “So, we need to make sure we're standing with our Jewish students to make sure that antisemitism does not become the focus of these protests.”

As of late Wednesday afternoon, protests had remained peaceful and discussions focused on the actions of federal and state officials.

Congressman Don Bacon issued a statement Thursday on violent protests at campuses across the nation.

"Our founding fathers believed the freedom of speech and to peaceably assemble was so paramount to our freedoms, that it was included in the First Amendment,” his statement said. “Sadly, what is being ‘exercised’ across campuses in our nation is the complete opposite and is quite frankly, illegal. Jewish American students are being harassed and subjected to racist remarks, restricted from certain areas on campuses, forced to attend classes online, and many other intolerable acts. This is unacceptable and insane. President Biden needs to take the lead and have the FBI enforce Title XI for the safety of our Jewish American citizens. Furthermore, if students or faculty are found participating in these actions and are on visas, they should be immediately expelled from our country."