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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 29, 2024

Protesters disrupt Israel-Palestine discussion event, Monaco condemns protest

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Sarah Mandel, an Israeli citizen, and Khalil Sayegh, a Palestinian, speak at Tisch Library on Feb. 21.

Protestors disrupted an Israel-Palestine discussion event in Tisch Library on Tuesday evening.

In a statement to the Daily, President Tony Monaco condemned the protest.

“The disruption of the event and the offensive language directed toward the Jewish and Palestinian guest speakers are absolutely unacceptable and a violation of our community standards,” Monaco wrote. “Tufts University police and other relevant offices at the university are investigating and we will hold accountable any members of our community who are found to be responsible.”

The event, organized by Tufts Friends of Israel and Tufts J-Street U, was a dialogue between Roots representatives Sarah Mandel, an Israeli citizen, and Khalil Sayegh, a Palestinian. Members of both student groups were in attendance.

Just before the talk started at 7:30 p.m., protestors entered the room dressed in masks and makeshift face coverings and congregated in the back. 

About 15 minutes into the presentation, loud music interrupted the discussion as the protestors began to shout phrases such as, “Roots, Roots, you can’t hide, you’re protecting genocide.”

Roots, a Palestinian-Israeli initiative, describes their aim as “to transform enemies into partners through direct human contact, deep listening and recognition of the other’s history and experience.” The group is entirely based in the West Bank, but Mandel and Sayegh were visiting Tufts as part of a speaking tour to U.S. colleges and universities. 

After a few minutes of chanting, one protester began to directly address Sayegh. Remarks included various profanity and insults in both English and Arabic. One of the protestors called Sayegh a “slut” in Arabic. 

Language used by the protestors resembled previous activism by Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine, but no group has taken credit for organizing the demonstration. In an Instagram post, SJP wrote they were “not responsible” for the protest, but were “proud that individuals chose to protest.” SJP did not respond to the Daily’s request for comment.

As they continued chanting, Tufts J-Street U and Tufts Friends of Israel leaders informed demonstrators that TUPD officers were en route. It is unclear who called TUPD to the event. The protestors remained shouting in the back row for several minutes before suddenly fleeing the scene. 

After protesters had evacuated, the event continued on as planned. 

Mandel discussed her reaction to the protestors following the conclusion of the event. 

“I would have really loved if they would have stayed and listened,” Mandel said. “I would encourage all the students on campus to really open their minds to people that are different to them, even if it feels incredibly challenging to listen to the differences.”

Sayegh said he wished the protesters would have been more respectful but understood their frustration.

“I sympathize with [the] people’s opinions … as a Palestinian myself,” Sayegh said.

Ian Kaplan, vice president of Tufts Friends of Israel, responded to the protest.

“I’m disappointed and saddened that the very idea of dialogue on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has become controversial,” Kaplan, a sophomore, wrote in an email to the Daily. “These conversations need to be had, but when students take it upon themselves to disrupt these conversations … they not only harm those trying to do the right thing, but they undermine the fundamental mission of the university. … I don’t think Jewish students should be intimidated by this, but rather empowered to stand up for themselves and what they believe in.”

Tufts J-Street U also commented on the protest.

“J Street U Tufts was excited to have a dialogue event with Roots to hear from an Israeli and a Palestinian who have the shared experience of living in the occupied West Bank,” the organization wrote in a message to the Daily. “An integral part of dialogue is listening to those with differing opinions, therefore we fully support all student groups’ right to protest and express their opinions.”

Monaco contextualized the protest within the national trend of increasing antisemitism and reiterated the university’s commitment to fighting antisemitism on campus.

The incident is especially disappointing given the many steps that the university and its community members have taken to address antisemitism on campus, part of an alarming trend of increasing antisemitism nationally, Monaco wrote. Incidents like last night’s will not deter us from our work to improve the quality of Jewish life at Tufts and combat campus antisemitism in its various forms.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that protestors remained in Tisch 304 until TUPD arrived. Protestors departed the scene before TUPD entered the room.