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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Students call for support amid ongoing Israel, Palestine tensions

Israeli and Palestinian groups at Tulane University both called for stronger school support after a rally and counter-protest on Freret Street briefly became violent on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. (Courtesy of Andrew Balestrery)

Tensions between Israeli and Palestinian groups at Tulane University continued this weekend amid increased security after a rally and counter-protest on Freret Street last week briefly became violent. 

In an open letter sent to university leaders on Saturday night, a group of over 1,200 students, alumni, parents and others led by Tulane’s Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity demanded the school investigate the protest and discipline anyone who grew violent or expressed hate speech. 

“While we fully and wholeheartedly respect the right of EVERY individual and group to express their views and engage in free speech, free protest, and free assembly, it is the central responsibility of the university to ensure that such expressions can NEVER escalate into violence, endanger safety and lives, or perpetrate any form of hate or hate speech,” the letter said. 

Tulane, the letter said, did not do enough to stop “numerous instances of antisemitism” at the protest, including one instance when a man unsuccessfully attempted to burn the Israeli flag. 

The letter also asked Tulane to review its protest protocols, communicate specific safety measures with students and include antisemitism training in freshman curriculums. Eight campus groups signed the letter, including Students Supporting Israel, the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and Sigma Delta Tau and Alpha Epsilon Phi sororities. 

In a statement after Thursday’s protest, Tulane President Mike Fitts called the events “deeply distressing.”

“To be clear,” an email signed by Fitts, Provost Robin Forman and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Norton said, “We condemn and are outraged by today’s violence and the hateful language and rhetoric we heard. It is counter to everything we stand for at Tulane. What started out as a peaceful demonstration unfortunately devolved into a violent incident and a dark day for our community.”

On Friday, Tulane said it would increase the number of police patrols, including on campus grounds, in residence halls and in any area that students frequent on or off campus. 

The school said police have banned the several people who were arrested on Thursday from entering Tulane’s campus. Tulane has said none of those arrested were students, and also announced a Campus Safety Task Force that it said will send a “highly visible police presence” to any future protest. 

The increased security and open letter came after a clash between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protestors on Freret Street last week left at least three students injured and led to several arrests. Police also arrested a student on Thursday who is accused of painting the graffiti message “From the river to the sea” across from the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library. The phrase is common pro-Palestinian chant that many Jews view as an attack on Israel’s right to exist as a state. 

Those cases occurred amid a tense moment at colleges across the country. Cornell University police began investigating online antisemitic threats against the school’s Jewish community on Sunday. Other schools have sought to navigate protests and appease donors and students who increasingly have demanded unfaltering support amid escalating violence in Israel and Gaza.

Tulane4Palestine, the group that organized Thursday’s rally, said in a press release that their protest tried to call attention to the thousands who have died in Israel’s attacks. Israel has bombarded Gaza with airstrikes after fighters from Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, brutally killed more than 1,000 Israelis in a surprise attack earlier this month. 

Tulane4Palestine said its members protested peacefully on Thursday. 

“We demand that the media cover the events fairly, without fearmongering or divisiveness, and that Tulane University protect the organizers of the Tulane4Palestine event, some of whom are already facing verbal threats, doxxing, and intimidation,” the group said in the release. “We remain committed to our demands that the university condemn Israeli occupation, divest from its partnerships with Israel, and protect students who speak out against Zionism.” 

In emails to students last week, Fitts used forceful language to condemn the rally, which he said took place on a public street outside of university control. 

Protestors gathered on Freret Street, which is not owned by the university but cuts through the heart of Tulane’s Uptown campus. Tulane has long distinguished protests on university property from those that occur on Freret. The open letter condemned that distinction, saying the separation “would lead those unaware to believe yesterday’s events were removed from campus, when in reality, they happened in the direct heart of our University.” 

Administrators said last year that Tulane has never denied a protest on university property but was considering ways to minimize harm from off-campus protests that involve hate speech or significantly disrupt university life. 

Fitts said the university is preparing for the possibility of future protests. “We will be encouraging students to avoid participating in any further demonstrations off campus given the involvement of outside disruptors and the possibility of escalation,” a statement said.

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