New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Students call on Mills to publicly address Palestinian deaths in Israel-Hamas conflict

On-campus student groups wrote a letter in response to NYU president Linda Mills’ recent universitywide statement on the Israel-Hamas conflict, saying it neglected Palestinian students.
Qianshan Weng
Excerpts from the NYU SJP’s two responses to President Mills’ statement. (Graphic by Qianshan Weng)

Members of NYU’s Students for Justice in Palestine and over 30 other on-campus student groups criticized university president Linda Mills’ recent statement on the Israel-Hamas conflict in a letter last Monday, accusing the university of “demonstrating a profound disregard” for its Palestinian community.

Mills’ Oct. 8 statement addressed last week’s “deadly terrorist attack on Israel” by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and said students, faculty and staff at NYU’s study abroad site in Tel Aviv were unharmed. The SJP letter criticized Mills for failing to mention Palestinian casualties in her message and said the university has been complicit “in the ongoing occupation” of Palestine. 

In an Oct. 13 email to SJP, Mills responded to the letter, saying that she wants to listen to Palestinian students to better understand how to address their needs. Mills also said NYU is working to provide support for students affected by the conflict in the email.

“A statement about a terrorist attack of the scale we have seen in a location where NYU has an academic site with students and employees present seems not only reasonable, but necessary,” university spokesperson John Beckman said. “As in this case, not every statement the university issues either can or is intended to encompass what may be a long, complex and painful situation that may accompany an emergency incident.”

Last Saturday, Hamas launched a rocket attack into Israeli territory, taking over 150 civilians hostage and causing more than a thousand Israeli deaths. The group’s attack was followed by Israeli airstrikes and heavy artillery in Gaza, and a subsequent total blockade on the region, cutting off food, medicine and electricity for over 2 million Palestinians. More than 2,000 Palestinians have been killed since the initial attacks. 

Among other groups that signed the SJP’s letter were the NYU Young Democratic Socialists of America, Sunrise Movement NYU and the university’s graduate student union. The union, GSOC-UAW Local 2110, issued a separate statement in response to Mills on Oct. 9, condemning her message for not acknowledging the “long and brutal history of Israeli apartheid.” Beckman responded to GSOC’s message on Oct. 13, calling it “deeply and troublingly misguided.”

SJP responded to Mills’ email yesterday, describing Mills’ initial and subsequent emails as “harmful,” and demanded that NYU publicly address the Palestinian lives lost during the ongoing conflict. 

“It is unthinkable that, in the midst of genocidal ethnic cleansing of our people, we are being forced to plead for our university administration to address our most basic humanity, and the humanity of Palestinians,” the letter reads. “We clearly request for you to publicly address Palestinian loss of life, offer support to affected community members and reaffirm the rights to pro-Palestine speech at NYU.”

On Friday, the Israeli military ordered more than 1 million Palestinians to evacuate to southern Gaza ahead of an escalated bombardment on the region, causing thousands to flee in panic. The United Nations announced that many Palestinians in Gaza do not have access to clean drinking water, with many resorting to drinking polluted water amid what The New York Times is calling a “fast-growing humanitarian crisis.”

Rafael Jacobs, president of the student group Law Students Against Anti-Semitism, condemned SJP’s letter in a written statement to WSN. Jacobs said Jewish and Israeli students are afraid of being harassed on campus after Hamas’ Saturday attack, and that there is a difference between supporting Hamas and supporting Palestinian rights. He also condemned the National SJP for calling Hamas’ attacks “a historic win” and that the group is failing to recognize the Israeli lives lost in the conflict.

“These aren’t binary choices — you can advocate for Palestinian rights while not glorifying the vicious terrorist group who claims to fight for them,” Jacobs said. “Every Jew, Israeli and decent person on campus knows that what’s happening in Gaza is terrible, but how do we have a conversation with people who refuse to see in us the same humanity we see in them?”

A member of SJP, who requested to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, said the university’s response to a pro-Palestine message written by the president of the law school’s Student Bar Association is an example of silencing speech in support of Palestine on campus. In their message, the student blamed the violence between Israel and Hamas on the Israeli government and is consequently facing removal from their position in the SBA and the loss of a job offer at a top law firm.

“The refusal to name Palestinian victims in itself is an act of erasure,” the SJP member wrote to WSN. “NYU’s clear anti-Palestinian bias, one which extends to silence during the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, makes it clear that this is an unsafe campus for pro-Palestine speech.”

Contact Yezen Saadah at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Yezen Saadah
Yezen Saadah, Editor-in-Chief
Yezen Saadah is a junior studying cinema studies, journalism and Middle Eastern studies. He's a lover of cinema, history, art and literature, and he enjoys writing about pretty much anything. If he isn't in the newsroom or at the movies, he's probably just trying to enjoy his day off. Contact him on Instagram @yezen.saadah or send tips to [email protected]
Qianshan Weng
Qianshan Weng, Multimedia Editor
Qianshan Weng is a junior studying Media, Culture and Communication and Journalism. You may pronounce his name as "chi''en-shan", or, if it makes your life easier, just call him "Ben." He grew up in Shenzhen, China, and has spent the last five years or so saying that he wants to learn Cantonese. The answers to the questions "when will he finally start?" and "why is this taking him so long?" remain mysteries, even to himself. You can reach out to him at [email protected]

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