Hundreds gather at ASU events with opposing views of Israelis, Palestinians
The Oct. 11, 2023, event in support of Israel was also a celebration of faith and, at the end, a candlelight vigil to show solidarity and support for those in Israel affected by the fighting. (Photo by Angelina Steel/Cronkite News)
TEMPE – Hamas, which the U.S. State Department has designated a terrorist organization, launched an attack on Israel this past Saturday. More than 1,200 were dead as of Wednesday, according to media reports, and Israel on Sunday declared war on Hamas.
Hamas governs more than 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Founded in 1987, Hamas has called for the elimination of Israel, which was founded in 1948 as a safe haven for Jews fleeing persecution.
Amid news of death and violence in this latest Israel-Hamas war, the diverse communities of Arizona State University have expressed both grief and support for Israelis and Palestinians. The first ASU event took place on the Tempe campus on Wednesday evening, and drew students and others together to grieve for lost loved ones and show solidarity for Israel. On Thursday at 11 a.m., a group marched through the Tempe campus to show their support for Palestinians.
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Rally in support of Israel
Each day Arizona State University student Shy-Lee Ben Ezer answered the phone this week, she learned about a new death.
On Monday, she received official news about the death of her cousin in Israel. On Tuesday, the bodies of two of her friends were found. On Wednesday, she found out another one of her friends died in combat.
Hundreds of ASU students, many with similar stories, gathered on the Student Services Lawn on Wednesday evening to both grieve the losses in Israel and celebrate their Jewish heritage.
“I feel like I’m out of tears. But they come and go all the time,” Ben Ezer said. “The pain that we feel is shared. Whether we knew someone specifically or we share this pain for humanity.”
The students Wednesday gathered to listen to ASU student and staff speakers, and pray and sing together in solidarity. At the beginning of the event, many held Israeli flags in one hand. By the end, they held candles, turning the event into a vigil.
Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel, the director of Chabad at ASU, started the event. As he picked up a microphone, the hundreds of scattered students and staff gathered around. The majority were Jewish, but some identified themselves as allies.
“Today, I cry for one of the worst and hardest days to happen to the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” Tiechtel said.
Tiechtel’s speech emphasized that despite everything, it is important that Jewish people stand with pride.
“When we are proud of who we are it is better for the Jewish people and it is better for history,” Tiechtel said. “If you have a Star of David, wear it proudly. If you don’t have a mezuzah on your door, please put a mezuzah on your door.”
Many attendees wore the Star of David around their necks. Some carried the flag of Israel while others wore it. All stood in solidarity to pray and sing traditional Jewish songs, including “Hatikvah,” the national anthem of Israel.
ASU student Hana Dolgin helped put the event together and was extremely proud of the outcome.
She and other members of Chabad at ASU reached out to other campus Jewish organizations such as Hillel, Alpha Epsilon Pi and Alpha Epsilon Phi, to help host and spread the word about the event.
“I wasn’t expecting to see all of these people come out,” Dolgin said. “It’s really nice to see this. It really shows unity.”
She says that despite the rise of antisemitism in the U.S. this week, she will always show pride in her Jewish culture.
“I’m a proud Jew. I wear my Star of David or even a sweatshirt. I’m not afraid,” Dolgin said. “If someone wants to practice antisemitism, whatever. You’re not going to tear me down. I’m not going to let that affect me at all.”
The event ended with a candlelight vigil and group photo that organizers plan to send to friends and loved ones back in Israel to show solidarity and support.
Rally in support of Palestinians
Hours later, about 200 students, faculty members and activists turned out for a rally supporting Palestinians and promoted as a “day of resistance” outside the Memorial Union building on ASU’s Tempe campus.
The rally, put on Thursday by the Students for Justice in Palestine at Arizona State University, called on the university to cut all ties with Israel and passed around a petition for attendees to sign.
“The ASU student body is really coming together for this moment,” said Finn Howe, president of SJP at ASU. “We would like to hear from ASU to support their Palestinian students.”
The event’s attendees carried Palestinian flags and handmade signs as they marched from the Memorial Union, through the Palm Walk and onto the lawn in front of the Palo Verde East student dormitory while chanting, “free, free Palestine,” and, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”
With counterprotesters in attendance bearing the flag of Israel, Howe and other speakers at the rally made a point to emphasize that supporting Palestine and supporting the Jewish community do not have to be mutually exclusive.
“We strongly stand in opposition to antisemitism. And it’s important that we draw the distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism,” Howe said in his speech.
Sujey Vega, an associate professor at ASU and the faculty adviser for SJP, said that this is one of the most important distinctions to make, and one of the most misunderstood aspects of supporting Palestine, especially after the conflict erupted last weekend. She emphasized that one can support Palestinians, but not support the violent actions of Hamas.
“All of us are suffering,” she said, “and so the question is, how do we come together in those conversations to deal with the violence, and not how do we separate ourselves into those camps?”
Vega said that students are scared to speak out. “People have been doxxed. People have been threatened, your life literally threatened, for saying, ‘I support Palestine.’”
Ace Barakat identified himself as a Palestinian. He marched and chanted at the rally, dressed in a shirt resembling the Palestinian flag and carrying one as well.
“I want to support our people, we’ve been going through messed-up stuff for 70 years,” he said. “We’ve got to bring awareness to the situation, make sure everyone’s involved and knows what’s going on.”
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