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Students protest against events hosting ICE and IDF

Protesters expressed opposition to ICE and IDF campus visits, drawing some criticism

ICE and IDF protest

Student activists participate in a protest on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus in Tempe, Arizona. 

Student protesters were out in full force Wednesday night on the Tempe campus, raising concerns over the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Israel Defense Forces

The combined protests lasted for almost four hours and included students marching and chanting in and around the Memorial Union. 

Campus clubs that protested included No Más Muertes, MEChA de ASU, Young Democratic Socialists of America at ASU, Students for Justice in Palestine and Students for Socialism.

Protesters gather

College Republicans United was set to host ICE in the Business Administration C-Wing building with protesters gathering 30 minutes prior to the scheduled event.

Sahara Sajjadi, a freshman studying global studies, said she was protesting because she felt it was important to protect immigrants in the community.

"It’s important for us as a college campus to stay united and true to our beliefs," Sajjadi said. "It’s easy for us to forget that our immigrant population makes up such a large part of our ASU community."

Outside the BAC, the group chanted, "From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go," and "IDF and ICE, same s--t twice."

ICE cancels event with CRU

Soon after the event was scheduled to start, word had spread that ICE was not going to show up.

A spokesperson for ICE said in an email that a community relations officer with Homeland Security Investigations "was scheduled to give a program overview, similar to a 101 presentation at the request of a student organization," and that the presentation had been canceled. 

The spokesperson directed any questions regarding the cancellation to CRU. Members of CRU declined to comment.

Protesters move to Memorial Union

The protesters then moved to the Memorial Union, where several student groups were hosting an event called "Courage and Sacrifice: Israeli Soldiers Speak on Campus," featuring IDF soldiers who had been wounded while they were serving in Israel. 

Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel of Chabad at ASU said in an email that the IDF soldiers were invited by various Jewish organizations on campus to help students learn from the soldiers and show support.

"Many of our students have family and friends in Israel, and the opportunity to hear from people their own age who dedicate themselves to helping others is both educational and inspirational," Tiechtel said. 

The protesters continued their, "From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go," chant as they walked through the MU and into room 246, where the event was meant to be held, but were forced to move because of the protests. 

Maria Harris, a senior studying theatre and president of SJP, said the group did not plan on protesting initially because they expected a small number of students to show up.

Harris said that when they found out that ICE was also invited to campus the same night, the plans for the evening changed. 

"We said, let’s do a protest (for) human rights," Harris said. "This is a protest against colonialism."

Protesters denied entry to the event

Students were told by an ASU employee they were not allowed to protest inside the room because it was a reserved room and there were too many students, violating the fire code.

The groups were told they could continue the protest outside of the building but could not go into the event because it was private.

Some protesters were visibly upset and mentioned the Facebook event page advertises it as a public event. An MU employee said that clubs who host events can decide to make them private, and when they do the club can decide who is allowed to attend.

Shahd Abdelkarim, a freshman studying computer science and a member of SJP, said that it was important for the Palestinian students to get someone into the event to represent them.

"We wanted them to know how we feel and hear our side of things," Abdelkarim said. "We wanted to let them know that there is another side of the things that are happening in Palestine … Get them to see that we are people that are being affected by this."

Tiechtel wrote in his email that the event was originally public, but made it private after being advised by police officers to do so. 

To Abdelkarim, having the organizers of the event make it private sent the message that they were not willing to listen to the other students.

"We're trying to be respectful, we were trying to just get our voices to be heard," Abdelkarim said.

The ASU employee directed students' questions and concerns to the chief of police. The protesters were warned they would be removed if they were a disturbance as other events taking place in the MU.

The group negotiated with ASU police officers and the event hosts to allow a few Palestinian students into the event. The students were allowed in as long as they did not protest during the event. 

Students continue protests into the night

After some disagreement between the groups on what to do during the event, a majority of the students went outside to stage a "die-in" — where students lie on the ground, imitating death. Some decided to stay and sit outside of the event room. 

Harris said that doing the die-in went with SJP's original plan which was to have everyone go inside of the event and hold papers with the names of Palestinians killed in the 2014 Gaza attacks.

Fallon Cochlin, a senior studying philosophy, was one of the few students who stayed inside of the MU after most of the group left.

Cochlin said she participated in the die-in but soon came back to sit outside of the event to support the few Palestinian students who were allowed inside to speak to the soldiers.

"Hopefully our Palestinian friends said their piece, and now we’ll calmly organize," Cochlin said. "It’s important for us to be with them and support them."

Cochlin also spoke about how she went to the ICE protest with no idea that IDF was on campus.

"I went out for ICE because concentration camps on our soil should make anyone want to protest," Cochlin said. "But IDF is particularly something I care about protesting."

As the IDF event ended around 9 p.m., the protesters came back inside to wait outside the room for the attendees and Palestinian students to leave the event.

Initially protesters began to chant, and an ASU PD officer warned the students that anyone being disruptive would be arrested. Protesters decided to sit outside of the room quietly holding up the signs from the die-in and raising their fists into the air.

The few Palestinian students that were allowed into the event were some of the last to leave. By the time the final attendees left the room, the protesters continued to chant, "Free, free Palestine," behind them, ending with cheers.

The response

Abdelkarim said that when she first heard about the IDF event, she was surprised. 

“I'm Palestinian and I go to Palestine every year, and it's where my family is, my home,” Abdelkarim said. “When I go, I always feel like I'm not welcome there by the IDF soldiers, and I'm always threatened and I feel unsafe in my own country.” 

She said she was surprised that the people who make her feel unsafe at home would be on campus. 

“I was scared that people like that were going to be in the place that I study, in the place that I come and I should feel safe,” Abdelkarim said. 

The Hillel Jewish Student Center at ASU, one of the event’s organizers, published a Facebook statement the next day. In the statement, the organization expressed concerns over its members’ free speech.

"... These actions of intimidation are antithetical to our campus values, as they disrespect our students’ and our guests’ right to free expression," the statement read. "While we respect all students’ right to express their opinion, doing so in a way that denies other students their right to hear differing perspectives runs counter to our values of academic freedom and respectful dialogue."

The statement also brought up concerns regarding anti-Semitism. 

"The messages of these protests can often include anti-Semitic language, causing Jewish students to feel unsafe and unwelcome on campus."

Harris said that the pro-Palestine movement often gets accused of anti-Semitism, but that is not the group’s intention. 

"We’re not mad at any religious group, those claims are false," Harris said. "We’re just mad at colonialism and these extremist beliefs. We’re all human, we all have the right to the land."

Abdelkarim said in the future, she hopes she and other students receive more support from the University and the student body.

"I just felt like we weren’t given a chance to be heard," Abdelkarim said.

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