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Rep. Rashida Tlaib calls into pro-Palestine protest after ASU cancels event

Students, faculty and local organizations protested on the Tempe campus in support of Palestine, resulting in one arrest

Rep. Rashida Tlaib speaks to crowd through a Zoom call on a laptop in front of Neeb Hall on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023 in Tempe.

Dozens of protesters holding Palestinian flags and signs congregated on the Tempe campus Friday afternoon after ASU canceled the on-campus "Palestine as an American Issue" event set to feature Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. 

Many local organizations including Students for Justice in Palestine at ASU, Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance and Progressive Democrats of America protested the event's cancellation alongside ASU students and faculty members. 

The protest began at Neeb Hall and moved to the Fulton Center and the Memorial Union. Protesters later returned to Neeb Hall, where Tlaib addressed attendees remotely through a Zoom call on a laptop due to safety concerns, according to the protest's organizers. 

READ MORE: ASU cancels event featuring Rep. Rashida Tlaib 

"This is not about me only. It's a movement that's growing beyond just one person, and that is what's so threatening to Arizona State University," Tlaib said. 

Tlaib also said that she will continue to be hopeful for "coexistence" and "push for real peace." She encouraged the protesters to do the same.

"Do not let the University sway you all. What you are doing is powerful and impactful," Tlaib said. "People are going to ask you where you were during this moment. And you're going to say I was focused on saving lives – nothing controversial about that."

After Tlaib's speech, attendees heard from Palestinian American Arizona state Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe. Salman also remotely called into the protest, and said she was disappointed in ASU "trying to pull the plug" on the event, saying it was "not accidental." 

"The University has chosen ethnic intimidation, to shut down the voice of the person who is speaking out against such violence against the Palestinian people," Salman said. "What message does that send to the student body, to the Arab students, to the Muslim students, to the students who are advocating for peace, advocating for ceasefire, advocating for solutions?" 

Protesters march down University Drive toward Fulton Center on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023 in Tempe.

After other protesters spoke, the group moved back to the Fulton Center. A group of protesters then blocked the intersection of College Avenue and University Drive, resulting in one arrest. A man was arrested and charged with two counts of obstructing a public thoroughfare, both misdemeanors, after instructing protesters to block the roadway, according to Tempe PD.

President of SJP at ASU Finn Howe said ASU canceling the event — which was planned in August and approved in October — was unusual and concerning. Howe said over 450 people RSVP'd, and the event cancellation put organizers in a "difficult position" to reschedule in a short amount of time. 

"I have never seen ASU release a public statement to cancel an event the night before it's supposed to happen," Howe said. "Procedural issues is just code for 'we're going to silence you because you're pro-Palestine.'"

Howe mentioned that the University allowed College Republicans United at ASU to host controversial speaker Jared Taylor on campus last year. As a result, he said that canceling SJP's event with Rep. Tlaib "showed where (ASU's) priorities are."

"They can invite a white supremacist, but they can't have a sitting congresswoman here to speak," Howe said. "We're here today to demonstrate that and that we're here for Rashida and that we're here for Palestinians who ASU is not here for."

Sujey Vega, a professor and director of ASU's Community Collaborative Initiatives program, said the University's decision makes her concerned about free speech on campus. 

"ASU PD knew about it. Campus knew about it. So the abrupt termination has me very concerned with free speech on campus, and extremely concerned for the safety of my pro-Palestinian students," she said.

Mastaani Qureshi, an ASU alumna, said that the University needs to include Palestinian students' voices. 

"Since ASU upholds diversity and inclusion constantly in its BS statements, they should be inclusive of Palestinian students. They should be inclusive of our voices and succumb to pressure," Qureshi said. "All types of education and all types of views should be allowed to happen."

Reporters Sophia Ramirez, Phineas Hogan and editor Walker Smith contributed to the reporting of this article. 

Edited by Sadie Buggle, Jasmine Kabiri and Shane Brennan

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