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The Indiana Daily Student

campus student life

Students rally against Islamophobia and lack of support for Palestinian students at IU

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When a handful of counter protesters approached the rally against Islamophobia in Dunn Meadow on Tuesday night, no harsh words were exchanged. Instead, Esteban Hernandez, standing with the pro-Palestinian demonstrators, began to play the violin.  

A brief feeling of tension swept across the crowd, but Hernandez continued playing, cutting through the silence with “Leve Palestina” by Kofia — a 1970s Swedish song that translates to “Long Live Palestine” in English — and “Mawtini,” an Arabic poem set to music that serves as an unofficial Palestinian anthem. The pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanted “free Palestine” for a moment before the tension cleared and the protesters began marching toward Kirkwood Avenue, away from the counter protesters. 

The protesters had gathered in the meadow after months of violence in Gaza and a series of decisions by IU that left Muslim and Arab students feeling unsupported.  

But the inciting event for the protest was a now postponed IU Hillel event featuring Hamas member-turned-Israeli-spy Mosab Hassan Yousef, whose derogatory comments about Muslims sparked criticism from the Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Middle Eastern Student Association.  

 “We’re here to show them and show ourselves that hate does not triumph. Love remains,” PSC graduate advisor Bryce Greene said. 

IU asked Hillel to cancel the event a few days prior due to credible security concerns. According to a post from Yousef on X, IU told Yousef’s agent the security concerns involved “the Muslim community and several white supremacist groups.” Hillel officially postponed the event in an email Monday night, saying it will be rescheduled to the fall, but no exact date has been set.  

In the email, Hillel rejected criticism calling Yousef Islamophobic and reiterated the false narrative that the event was supported by the IU Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The office’s logo was on Hillel’s original event flyer posted to Instagram, which has since been deleted. 

However, the office was never an official sponsor according to Mark Bode, executive director of media relations at IU. Bode did not provide a comment by publication. 

The Anti-Defamation League Midwest repeated Hillel’s claim that the event was supported by the office in a statement released on X on Monday, where they also condemned IU’s decision to ask Hillel to postpone the event. 

“We are dismayed by the forced postponement of Tuesday’s IU Hillel event featuring Mosab Hassan Yousef. The event was supported by the IU Department of Diversity and Inclusion and was cancelled at IU’s request based on the threat of protests by individuals who harass and intimidate to spread their extreme, hateful, and antisemitic views. We are disappointed IU leadership gave in,” the statement read. “The postponement of tomorrow’s event at IU is another disappointing example of a double standard that allows hate and antisemitism to manifest while silencing opposing voices.” 

Malkah Bird, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace Indiana who traveled from Indianapolis to attend Tuesday’s rally, said she was relieved to hear the office was not sponsoring the event but is still extremely concerned Hillel would attempt to platform Yousef. 

“This speaker that the Hillel group was trying to bring is a notorious Islamophobe, and the idea that he was being brought here in the name of Jewish people, we are strongly opposed to that,” Bird said. “It’s not something we would ever want to be associated with.”  

Bird said IU computer science professor Amr Sabry sent a letter, which JVP co-signed, to OVPDEI about their supposed sponsorship of the event. Also copied on the email were Maliha Zafar, executive director of the Indiana Muslim Advocacy Network, JVP representative Daniel Segal, IU professor Beverly Stoeltje and IU Academics for Justice in Palestine.  

A copy of the emailed letter, sent March 20, showed it was also sent to Whitten and IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Rahul Shrivastav.  

The letter requested that IU withdraw its alleged support for Yousef’s talk, publicly condemn his “message of hate” and request that Hillel hold the talk off campus. Additionally, Sabry detailed grievances about IU’s response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and subsequent actions taken by the university, including collaboration with pro-Israel organizations, the cancellation of artist Samia Halaby’s exhibit, professor Abdulkader Sinno’s suspension, the lack of a Middle Eastern culture center and the cancellation of a panel on discrimination against pro-Palestinian voices.  

The email also mentioned the lack of supportive statements and alleged disregard for communication by faculty informing OVPDEI of threats against Muslim students.  

Wimbush emailed a response the same day confirming OVPDEI was not a sponsor of the event and was listed erroneously in Hillel marketing materials. Wimbush said the safety of students will always be top priority and that IU encourages the free and civil exchange of ideas, but he did not directly address any of Sabry’s specific comments.  

Another email from Sabry asked for IU to publicly condemn Hillel for its use of the OVPDEI logo and issue an official statement saying OVPDEI was not involved in the event. 

The rally is the latest event in five months of frustration experience by Arab and Muslim students who claim to not feel supported by the university’s actions following Hamas’ attack on Israel which left 1,200 dead and the subsequent war in Gaza which has resulted in more than 32,000 deaths. Since then, groups like the PSC have criticized official IU statements, saying university President Pamela Whitten has not acknowledged Palestinian suffering in statements about the war.  

IU warned hosting rally could put organizers in violation 

When the PSC and MESA advertised the rally for Tuesday despite the cancelation of Yousef’s talk, IU asked the organizers to postpone the event so it could go through IU’s official event registration process, according to an email obtained by the IDS. In an email Tuesday afternoon, Vicka Bell-Robinson, associate vice provost for involvement and belonging, told organizers that the rally classified as a planned event rather than a spontaneous protest because organizers advertised information about parking, food and water.  

“Events follow different rules, and it appears in this instance; the rules have not been followed,” she wrote. 

This process, according to the email, includes submitting events with “50 or more planned attendees” to the University Event Registration Committee but could also require other approvals depending on the event. 

In the email, Bell-Robinson said the university worried the timing and size of the event put the safety and security of the participants at risk.  

About an hour later, Bell-Robinson emailed again.  

“At this point, the rally as currently planned, is in violation of our expectations and policies regarding sponsored student organization events,” she wrote. “Your right to assemble as individuals under the U.S. constitution is preserved, but your student organizations will be in violation should the event occur as planned and advertised later today.” 

According to IU policy, Dunn Meadow is designated as an assembly ground, where students “may express any point of view on any subject ... with or without advance notice, within the limits of applicable laws and regulations.” 

PSC President Aidan Khamis told the IDS he believed the email was an attempt at retaliation against the organization. 

On Tuesday evening, the PSC and MESA both posted statements on Instagram saying they were not affiliated with the demonstration, though the PSC emphasized individuals could still decide to exercise their free speech rights. 

Speakers discuss Islamophobia, postponed Hillel event 

Greene, a founder of the PSC, spoke first at the rally to welcome the participants and address the postponed Yousef talk.  

“Even if we’re not here in anger, we’re still here in solidarity,” he said.  

Greene pointed out a perceived double standard in how IU treats student groups, calling it the “Palestine exception.” Despite the university’s lack of support for Palestinian students and attempts to silence those speaking out, Greene alleged, it is important to continue advocating, Greene said. 

“They’re scared of it because it matters,” he said. “Are they providing a safe space when they apply a double standard to organizations like ours?”  

Khamis, who is Palestinian, also shared his grievances with Hillel attempting to bring Yousef to speak.  

“We’re not going to let them platform a genocide apologist, a traitor to his people and an Islamophobe,” Khamis said. “We will not let someone who is platforming the annihilation of our people walk onto this campus.”  

Khamis expressed his disappointment in the attempted blockage of the pro-Palestinian rally during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting in Islam.  

“We must remember in our fast those in Gaza, whose fast began six months ago,” he said.  

Additionally, Khamis criticized IU’s collaboration with the Naval Service Warfare Center, Crane Division, which led to an investment of $111 million into microelectronics and defense. 

IU’s involvement includes hiring faculty members with U.S. Department of Defense experience to teach courses on microelectronics, supporting research with defense applications, launching a center focused on building microelectronics in extreme environments and creating new microelectronics degree programs. The NSWC is part of a research and development agreement with Israeli defense company Smart Shooter, which creates weapon control systems made to significantly increase weapon accuracy for militaries.  

While the crowd appeared to be mostly IU students, some people had arrived from other Indiana cities. Damon Berkley, a protester from Evansville and a member of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition of Southern Indiana, said his decision to attend was spurred by Yousef being scheduled to speak, which he thought was unfair given the cancelation of Halaby’s exhibition. 

Yaqoub Saadeh, another protestor and president of the Middle Eastern Student Association at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said 10 people from his organization came down to participate in the event.  

“We’d like for the student organizations that wrongfully used the DEI office’s logo to be held accountable to the same standards that other student organizations have been held on campus,” Saadeh said, referencing Hillel’s use of the OVPDEI logo on flyers for Yousef’s talk. “It just kind of left a sour taste in our mouth because we felt like the other student organizations are not being held to the same standard.”   

Saadeh said before the event the safety of the participants and the surrounding community was of the utmost concern and importance, and that participants in the rally did not want to violate IU policy or put anyone in harm’s way.   

During the protest, cars driving down Seventh Street honked their horns in support, but the protesters’ cause was not received positively by everyone. One woman hung out of the passenger window of a car, shouting “Long live Israel!” Demonstrators chanted even louder in response.  

Eventually the group left Dunn Meadow and began marching around downtown Bloomington through Kirkwood Avenue. Security personnel stopped traffic to allow demonstrators to cross the street safely. Many people dining or working at local restaurants and walking through the city stopped to observe the demonstration; a few filtered into the line of participants.  Demonstrators wound around Sixth Street — past a group of men holding an Israeli flag and shaking noisemakers on the porch of a house — before returning to Dunn Meadow.  

By then it was 8 p.m. and as the sun began to set, a man led the crowd in a call to prayer while organizers handed out dates and water, an opportunity for those observing Ramadan to break their fast. 

The wind rustled across the silent meadow, save for the melodic recitations of the prayer, and protestors bowed their heads for a sacred, uninterrupted moment.  

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