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George Washington University Pro-Palestinian Message Sparks Outrage

Images of provocative pro-Palestinian messages projected onto the wall of a George Washington University (GWU) building have led to an outcry.

Pictures posted online by anti-hate watchdog StopAntisemitism on Tuesday showed phrases including “Glory to our martyrs,” “Divestment from Zionist genocide now” and “Free Palestine from the river to the sea” projected onto the side of the Gelman Library in the Washington D.C. university’s Foggy Bottom campus.

The watchdog said the stunt had been conducted by students, and that the “horrifying” messages were “glorifying Hamas terrorists.” It called on GWU president Ellen Granberg to “immediately expel those involved.”

In a statement on Wednesday, GWU said the messages “in no way reflect the views of the university” and that its leadership intervened when it became aware of the projections as they “violated university policy.”

While StopAntisemitism took the “martyrs” message to be referring to Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants, who on October 7 staged a surprise attack on Israel, killing civilians including children and the elderly, it has also recently been used to refer to Palestinian civilians who have died as a result of Israeli air strikes on Gaza aimed at Hamas targets.

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a chant commonly voiced at pro-Palestinian rallies, but is controversial as it implies support for the dismantling of the Israeli state, as it references the Jordan River on Israel’s eastern border and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

According to the American Jewish Committee, while calling for a Palestinian state is not antisemitic, calling for the elimination of Israel can be taken to be. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism includes the example of “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.” However, others deny the chant amounts to hate speech.

An exterior view of the Gelman Library in the Foggy Bottom campus of George Washington University in Washington D.C. at an unknown date. Provocative pro-Palestinian messages were projected onto the side of the building by students.

Among the slew of outrage on social media, many took the projected messages to be endorsing the actions of Hamas, which in the U.S. is proscribed as a terrorist organization.

“Forget only expelling these students, when it comes to ‘Glory to the Martyrs’ I wonder if it’s time for the FBI to get involved,” Sara Yael Hirschhorn, a visiting assistant professor in Israel studies at Northwestern University and a research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, wrote.

“These are messages openly promoting the genocide of the Jewish people,” Bari Weiss, a Jewish journalist who authored the 2019 book How to Fight Anti-Semitism, said.

Former chess world champion Garry Kasparov speculated: “Let me guess, when these people start smashing up Jewish businesses, homes, and synagogues, they’ll be defended for free speech and just breaking a few windows.”

Simon Schama, a British Jewish historian, wrote that “this has to STOP,” while Bloomberg columnist Matthew Yglesias suggested that “the most generous interpretation here is that these people are extremely stupid.”

StopAntisemitism later published footage of four students projecting the slogans arguing with police officers about whether what they were doing was against the law while sitting on the sidewalk. In the video, the people are wearing face coverings.

The four students responsible for the pro terrorist light show are now being confronted by police.
They refuse to move and continue to argue with police.

“You have to stop,” one of the officers tells them. “So you can stop willingly and calmly and peacefully, or we’re just going to take it down. Those are your two options.”

“We are reviewing this incident and will take any appropriate steps with respect to the individuals involved in accordance with university policies,” GWU said in a statement.

“We recognize the distress, hurt, and pain this has caused for many members of our community,” it added. “The university will continue to communicate with all members of its community about the support resources available during this difficult time.”

Since the outbreak of violence in the Middle East, there have been rising tensions on U.S. college campuses over expressions of support for Palestine, which in some cases have spilled over into expressions of support for Hamas’s actions.

At Harvard University, 31 student groups alleged in an open letter that Israel was “solely responsible” for Hamas’s attack, something that has lost some students job offers.

On October 11, Granberg issued a statement regarding the conflict in which she wrote of the attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad: “The extent of this brutal violence and the staggering loss of innocent lives has continued to come to light, and I am horrified and grief-stricken. In no uncertain terms, I condemn these acts of terrorism.”

She added that she does “not only condemn terrorism, but I also abhor the celebration of terrorism and attempts to perpetuate rhetoric or imagery that glorifies acts of violence. Such messages do not speak on behalf of me, our administrators, or [GWU].”

More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed in the Hamas attacks, and the Israeli military says 222 people remain hostage in Gaza, according to the Associated Press. The news agency cited the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza as saying that at least 6,546 Palestinians have been killed.