PEC’S Statement on police attacking non-violent protesters of Israel’s genocide in Gaza

PEC’S Statement on police attacking non-violent protesters of Israel’s genocide in Gaza

The Lansing Area Peace Education Center calls for educational, law enforcement and political leaders to cease their physical and McCarthy-era-like political attacks on college students and their supporters peacefully protesting Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. For six months Israel has continued its genocidal bombardment of Gaza dropping more than 30,000 bombs in an area smaller than Ingham County; killing more than 35,000 defenseless Palestinians; destroying at least two-thirds of its housing stock; decimating its medical, water, sewage, and educational infrastructures; sabotaging the delivery of humanitarian aid; and leaving 1.6 million people facing starvation. In the face of what much of the world, especially the “Global South,” recognizes as heinous war crimes, thousands of students at universities and colleges all over the country have mobilized peacefully, mostly in encampments, to protest these crimes, especially to call on the Biden administration to end military aid to Israel, to have a ceasefire, and to have their institutions divest from companies doing business in Israel. But for many of Israel’s supporters, Israel’s genocide is not the problem; instead, it is the false claim that some simplistic chants open to different interpretations, like “From the river to the sea Palestine shall be free,” are actually antisemitic calls to exterminate all Jews instead of pleas seeking justice for Palestinians.

Virtually all these student protests have been peaceful exercises of Americans’ rights to free speech and to petition the government for a redress of grievances as guaranteed under the First Amendment to our Constitution. And this right to free speech stands as especially essential for universities, which pride themselves on being bastions of academic freedom. But the response of many political, law enforcement, and educational leaders has been to forcibly repress and to penalize those peacefully seeking to stop these war crimes and to end universities’ complicity in them — now all over the country with hundreds of police in full riot gear bringing down violence, chaos, and arrests on these peaceful protesters. The Peace Center condemns both the police assaults on peaceful demonstrators and the slander about their actions and motives. These attacks on protesters are part of a cynical political campaign to divert attention away from Israel’s war crimes and to demonize protesters instead.

This campaign takes several forms. In the face of these peaceful protests, students and their supporters are being vilified and attacked physically and verbally by Israel’s supporters, by politically pressed college administrators, and by political demagogues seeking to gain votes from fearful Americans. And now these leaders are calling in scores of riot police to crush these peaceful protests like President Putin does in Russia. While the police’s physical assaults on protesters represent the most dramatic attack on protests, it is only the start of a concerted campaign to demonize protesters.

Israel’s supporters are also playing the antisemitism card to discredit protesters. They will claim that criticism of Israel represents antisemitism for which students and others should be punished. Already, the US House of Representatives has passed legislation that effectively makes criticizing Israel an antisemitic act compelling college administrator to take disciplinary action against students and professors. Legislation to penalize 501c3 non-profit corporations that support protesters is also in the works. Israel’s supporters are also playing the law-and-order card on protesters. The TV coverage of police breaking up encampments and violently arresting protesters creates the impression that the protesters were violent when in fact it is the police who are violent and are creating the apparent chaos. Critics of Israel and President Biden’s support for Israel must mobilize to challenge these attacks on protesters. 

In the current moment of attacks on protesters, the Peace Education Center calls for at least the following interim actions:

  • College administrators and political leaders should not use physical violence to remove peaceful demonstrators protesting Israel’s and President Biden’s policies.
  • College administrators should negotiate in good faith with students to find ways to implement some of the protesters’ demands related to colleges’ involvement with Israel; 
  • All criminal charges arising from the arrests of peaceful demonstrators should be dropped;
  • No students arrested while engaged in peaceful protests should be suspended or expelled from their institutions;
  • Congress and other political bodies, including universities, should neither pass nor support legislation the equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism or that penalizes non-profit corporations supporting the exercise of free speech by groups supporting protesters;
  • Universities must affirm their principle of academic freedom to allow the fullest range of speech on important issues such as the nature of Israel’s assault on Gaza and what the proper government policies and universities’ reaction on this assault should be.

Passed by the Board of the Peace Education Center, May 2, 2024.

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