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CWRU community walks out on university’s Israel-Hamas war response

President Kaler’s statements prompt student demonstration

Hundreds of Case Western Reserve University community members walked out of their classes on Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. to protest President Eric Kaler’s response to the Israel-Hamas war. Carrying flags, posters and wearing keffiyehs (a symbol of resistance, perseverance and unity), the group gathered outside of Adelbert Hall to hear speeches and recite chants, continuing the call for the CWRU administration to acknowledge Israel’s role in the war and showing Palestinian solidarity.

The walkout was facilitated by CWRU’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and backed by the Asian American Alliance, the Black Student Union (BSU), Ohio Student Association and Partners in Health Engage. They were further supported by non-CWRU affiliated groups and organizations: Cleveland Democratic Socialists of America, the Palestinian Youth Movement, the Northeast Ohio branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Safer Heights. Originally, the LGBT Center, a department of the Division of Student Affairs, had its logo on the walkout flyers.

Speaker Jad, a fourth-year student, said his African American and Palestinian identity motivated him to speak and lead a chant at the protest.

“Unfortunately, through the past year, President Kaler and his administration has done a very poor job at representing our voices on campus and, overall, just not being receptive to our [Undergraduate Student Government] and just being very, very inflammatory in times of controversy, and there’s just a lot of emotions and he’s not being very sensitive,” he said.

On Nov. 3, SJP invited the CWRU community to express “no confidence” in Kaler via a Google Form. SJP outlined an “unsafe campus environment,” “ignoring or threatening student organizations” and not “recognizing valid diverse viewpoints” as the primary reasons for this vote. SJP requested that the university “create a task force to address the hostile campus environment,” “retract remarks made against Resolution 31-15 and accusations of anti-Semitism,” “implement Resolution 31-15,” “engage with student organizations … to address grievances and foster understanding” and “recognize the issues surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict and support open discussion without prejudice.”

That evening, the LGBT Center’s logo disappeared from the walkout flyers, with SJP releasing a statement on their Instagram account that evening claiming that the CWRU administration forced the LGBT Center to withdraw their public support. SJP did not respond to The Observer when asked about the strength of this allegation.

In response to the allegation, the university said they support the LGBT Center’s efforts for fostering community and education.

“The appearance of the LGBT Center’s logo on social media posts announcing the walkout resulted from an inadvertent miscommunication. Like every other student affairs organization, the LGBT Center exists to serve all students,” the university wrote in an email to The Observer. “As part of that responsibility, the center does not endorse campus political activities. The university supports the LGBT Center in its efforts to be a safe space for community and education.”

Choosing to remain anonymous, Person A, who identifies as a Muslim student, expressed their disappointment in the alleged actions the university took regarding the LGBT Center.

“The fact is that … our administration is using intimidation [and] threat techniques … to silence an [organization], a group on campus,” they said. “It’s just [this] whole thing is about power and money and control, because they’re funding [the] LGBT Center that already is a marginalized group. It’s heartbreaking that again and again our administration is attacking all sorts of minorities.”

The walkout and the call to vote “no confidence” in Kaler succeeds an open letter SJP addressed to Kaler on Oct. 17 regarding his Oct. 13 email to the CWRU community. The open letter was co-signed by 95 organizations, including CWRU student clubs, nationwide university clubs, businesses, faculty members and nationwide SJP chapters.

“We feel betrayed by you and the CWRU administration and find your recent email to the CWRU community as insensitive, complicit and regressive,” SJP wrote, addressing Kaler. “We demand an immediate condemnation of the numerous war crimes Israel has committed … Emails such as the one you sent out on October 13, 2023 are damaging not only to Palestinians but also to the CWRU community and the surrounding Cleveland area. There is injustice in propagating misinformation. We demand, President Kaler, that you escape this destructive narrative.”

Undergraduate Student Government (USG) President and walkout attendee Basil Yaseen, who identifies as Palestinian, said Kaler’s Nov. 9, 2022 statement about not tolerating hate was adequate, but his Oct. 13 email lacked an acknowledgment of human suffering.

“He didn’t really account for the people suffering in Gaza and all, and so that’s part of the reason a lot of people on campus feel like they’re being discredited or just not being accounted for overall,” Yaseen said regarding Kaler’s Oct. 13 statement.

Person B, who identifies as a Muslim student, came to the protest because they believe Kaler’s emails generalized the Palestinian and Muslim communities.

“I don’t like the generalization of terrorism and Muslims being in the same category, and I’ve just seen a lot of hate-like speech going on around the internet and absolute callousness when people address this issue,” Person B said. “Kaler’s emails, the two that he sent—last year and this year—[make it] seem like he doesn’t care about the Muslim community or the Palestinian community especially … He represents our school and, in a way, he’s also representing the student body, but he’s not representing us with those statements.”

SJP also released a statement of solidarity on Oct. 11, where they expressed their support for Palestinians. In this statement, SJP called for CWRU to recognize Resolution 31-15, which asks the university to divest its investments toward Israeli apartheid, the international military-industrial complex and the international prison-industrial complex. This bill was authored by SJP and was passed by USG’s General Assembly on Nov. 8, 2022. Since the bill has been passed, the university has taken no action.

“While Israel continues extensive bombing campaigns affecting civilian infrastructure and committing war crimes by employing internationally-prohibited white phosphorus, we urge our administration to recognize the war crimes that have been committed recently,” SJP wrote in their statement of solidarity.

Speaker Heather Hall, a 2013 CWRU alum, hopes the university will implement Resolution 31-15.

“After several years, I’ve kind of woken up to seeing the genocide that’s happening against Palestinians, and I want for them to be free,” Hall said. “I think it’s interesting that the student government actually passed a resolution to divest the university from Israel and they’re just kind of ignoring the student body on that; I don’t like that very much. I think that President Kaler should listen to the student body and implement the divestment.”

Person C, a member of the BSU, believes SJP’s statement strove to educate the CWRU community about what’s happening in Palestine.

“I think it really represents us as a student body because we’re so involved in things that are happening on our campus and community but also the world overall,” they said. “I think it was very educated; it wasn’t biased. I don’t think it was antisemitic; that wasn’t their intention.”

Person C said they have been involved in this issue since SJP tried to pass Resolution 31-15 and wanted to show continued support at the walkout.

“I’ve been hearing a lot about what’s going on in Palestine. I just wanted to educate myself a little bit more and support the student movements that have been going on,” Person C said. “I’m also a part of the BSU so we’re all showing up for that.”

Across the nation, universities are seeing students vocalizing their dismay with Israel’s actions in the war. Similar to CWRU, Columbia University students walked out of their classes against their university’s ties to Israel on Oct. 25.

Interim Vice President of Student Affairs Peter Whiting attended the walkout to ensure student safety.

“There’s an event that was called, and we keep our campus safe, and one of the ways we do that is when there’s a vigil or protest is to make sure that the event is in an appropriate place and appropriate time and being conducted in an appropriate manner,” Whiting said, regarding CWRU’s walkout.

Hoping this walkout sends a message to the CWRU administration about minimization of minority voice, Jad said students should be able to have fact-based discussion about controversial and global issues.

“My hope is that we can show the administration that minimization of voice, the censorship of our voice, of minority students, is not welcome and it’s uncalled for,” Jad said. “Students here have their First Amendment rights, and at a prestigious university, such as Case Western Reserve, we should be able to freely deliberate and have fact-based discussion about Israel/Palestine, about Russia/Ukraine, about a lot of controversial topics.”

Third-year student and attendee Danielle Sun, who identifies as Asian American, said her identity shapes her outlook on Kaler’s email and the war overall.

“This administration has repeatedly tried to silence us, and that is not okay,” she said. “We have a right to speak our voice, especially on an issue that is literally genocide, and it is so important to fight against this,” she said.

Emphasizing democracy and co-existence, Person D, a CWRU student, attended the walkout because they want the CWRU community’s experiences and fears to be acknowledged by the university.

“It’s not hard to see all this horrible news coming from that region of the world right now, and a lot of innocent people are dying, and I believe in coexistence and I believe in equality and democracy, and I just don’t see that in the West Bank, in Gaza,” Person D said, regarding their outlook on the war. “I’m not sure if President Kaler is really taking into account some of the fears that people have on campus. All of the fears of the entire campus community have to be acknowledged. Campus has felt a lot more unsafe for a lot of different people. I just don’t see that President Kaler’s response is sufficient to address all those needs.”

Yaseen echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the importance of neutrality.

“In a president, I mainly want neutrality,” he said. “Not seeing that neutrality overall is kind of disheartening, so, therefore, I want to voice my opinion.”

Mentioning the multiple identities and groups at the walkout, Person A highlighted the solidarity students showed and their gratitude that this turnout was possible.

“I am just glad that there was a place for Palestinian students, Muslim students, Arab students or anyone who supports what’s going on to have a safe space, to have a community where they do feel supported, since obviously, our administration will not acknowledge that or provide that for us,” Person A said. “So regardless of what our president or administration says, we have each other [and] we are supporting each other.”

Additional reporting contributed by Copy Editor Darcy Chew and Director of Digital Media Joce Ortiz.

Note: On Nov. 10, President Eric Kaler released an official statement acknowledging Palestinian suffering and loss of both Israeli and Palestinian lives. The above article was written prior to Nov. 10 and as such does not include these new developments.

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About the Contributor
Téa Tamburo, News Editor
Téa Tamburo is a member of the Class of 2027, and she is studying finance and economics. Prior to joining The Observer, Téa served as an editor-in-chief of her high school’s nationally ranked paper, The U-High Midway, where she was named to the 2022 Illinois All-State Journalism Team. In her spare time, she enjoys fashion styling and drinking boba and coffee.

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