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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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UB protest demands divestment from companies ‘complicit in human rights abuse in Palestine’

Organizers called on UB administrators to respond to a list of demands by Monday

About 75 demonstrators marched on UB’s North Campus Tuesday afternoon to demand UB immediately respond to atrocities Israel has committed in Gaza since Oct. 7.

The list of demands, released the night before the protest by UB’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), calls on UB to divest from companies “complicit in human rights abuse in Palestine,” increase financial transparency for the UB Foundation’s investments and issue a public statement condemning Israel’s actions and affirming the university’s support for Palestinian students.

The organization set a deadline of next Monday, March 11, for university administrators to respond.

The protest comes as Israel’s offensive — which began after Hamas attackers killed over a thousand Israelis on Oct. 7, 2023 — has choked access to necessities in what UN officials have termed “a campaign of starvation.” The death toll in Palestine surpassed 30,000 last Thursday, with thousands more unaccounted for, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Last week, UB’s chapter of SUNY BDS held its first meeting to compel SUNY to cut ties with Israel.

Sara Abdalla, a junior architecture major and president of the Organization of Arab Students (OAS), expressed frustration with SUNY’s lack of action on behalf of Arab students.

“I want SUNY to leave the companies that support Israel,” Abdalla said. “I want them to support us the same way they’ve supported every other cause.”

After circling the Academic Spine, the crowd entered One World Café and chanted, “Tripathi, you can’t hide — you’re complicit in genocide.” 

The last time UB made an explicit statement on the violence in Israel and Gaza was on Oct. 19, when Vice President for Student Life Brian Hamluk and Dean of Students Tomás Aguirre sent a mass email urging the UB community “to maintain a climate of understanding and respect.” UB President Satish Tripathi also vaguely referred to the conflict’s effects on campus in a Nov. 1 email denouncing “antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab harassment, or any other harassing conduct,” singling out “unauthorized chalking and graffiti.”

Several protesters who spoke with The Spectrum said UB’s lack of a stance reveals the university’s true values.

Addressing gathered demonstrators at Founders’ Plaza, in front of One World Café, Salam Lobad, a member of SJP’s executive board, compared Tuesday’s protest to movements in the 1970s and 80s that successfully persuaded SUNY to divest from companies doing business in apartheid South Africa in 1985.

“Earlier today we chanted, ‘Divestment, yes, apartheid, no;’ ‘Freedom, yes, apartheid, no.’ Students at this university almost 40 years ago said those identical chants,” Lobad said. “They recognized that there was something immoral happening on the other side of the world… Today we are calling upon UB and the SUNY system to take that same stance against apartheid and genocide today in Palestine.”

Three UB faculty members spoke to demonstrators at Tuesday’s march. They included English professor and longtime campus activist Jim Holstun, who said the Biden administration is complicit in persecution. 

“Americans are cold killers,” Holstun told The Spectrum. “It’s ridiculous to think that there’s a lack of involvement from America — President Biden was there every step of the way.”

Marion Werner, a UB geography professor and member of Buffalo’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, told the crowd that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians echoes the “genocide, starvation, displacement, ethnic cleansing and persecution” Jews have faced throughout history.

“We know the price of silence, and we refuse to be silent,” Werner said. “‘Never again’ means never again to anyone — and ‘never again’ is now.” 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the date of UB's most recent statement regarding violence in Gaza and Israel. It was an Oct. 19, 2023, statement from Vice President of Student Life Brian Hamluk and Dean of Students Tomás Aguirre, not an Oct. 10, 2023, statement from UB President Satish Tripathi. We regret this error.

Ricardo Castillo and Sarah Owusu contributed to the reporting of this article.

Mylien Lai is an arts editor and can be reached at mylien.lai@ubspectrum.com

Sol Hauser is the senior news editor and can be reached at sol.hauser@ubspectrum.com 


MYLIEN LAI
mylien-lai.jpg

Mylien Lai is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum. Outside of getting lost in Buffalo, she enjoys practicing the piano and being a bean plant mom. She can be found at @my_my_my_myliennnn on Instagram. 

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