October 12, 2023 / Modified oct 13, 2023 10:31 a.m.

Pro-Palestine protest canceled following UA President statement

The protest organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine was one of many that were supposed to take place today.

University of Arizona Old Main The west facade of Old Main on the campus of the University of Arizona. From August, 2019.
AC Swedbergh/AZPM

This story has been updated to better reflect the comments of University of Arizona President Robert Robbins.

A pro-Palestinian student organization, the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), canceled a planned protest on the University of Arizona campus Thursday after UA president Robert Robbins issued a statement.

The group said they “no longer feel safe holding the rally on campus” after the President’s comments.

The UA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine planned to join other universities across the country, including Arizona State University, in solidarity for Palestinian liberation. Their now-canceled demonstrations come on the heels of attacks that were made against Israel by Palestine’s governing political party and militant group Hamas.

In his statement, Robbins called the Hamas attacks on Israel, "antisemitic hatred, murder, and a complete atrocity. The resulting war inevitably will result in many more deaths of innocent Israelis and Palestinians."

The national organization for Students for Justice in Palestine called the attacks on Israel a “historic win for the Palestinian resistance.”

“This is what it means to Free Palestine: not just slogans and rallies, but armed confrontation with the oppressors,” the national organization said in an Instagram post.

Robbins pointed to those statements made by the national SJP organization calling them "antithetical to our university’s values." He said the student organization, “is not speaking on behalf of the university but they have the constitutional right to hold their views and to express them in a safe environment.”

The faculty advisor for the UA student chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine told the Arizona Daily Star that, “the statements from the nationwide group ‘do not represent the collective views’ of the chapter.”

Robbins wrote, “As a public university, we have both the obligation and the opportunity to support and defend free speech and open dialogue,” Robbins said. “Because the University of Arizona has one of the largest populations of Jewish students in our country, this tragedy hits our community especially hard.

“We recognize that the First Amendment protects speech and demonstrations, even for ideas and opinions that most find objectionable or hateful,” he said in the statement.

He encouraged members of the campus community to express their opinions and exercise their First Amendment rights but to do so "peacefully, safely, and civilly."

Students rally for Israel VIEW LARGER A group of students rallied together at the University of Arizona Mall on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023 to show support for Israel following attacks against it over the weekend by Hamas.
Paola Rodriguez/AZPM News

About a dozen Israeli students took to the UA mall to show support for their friends and family back home in Israel. UA Student Tamar Ozer said the national organization’s support for Hamas is inhumane.

“Supporting the Palestinian cause is not the same as supporting Hamas, because Hamas does not protect, liberate, or defend anyone,” Ozer said. “It's not resistance, it's terror.”

For Ozer, this is more than just a demonstration. This is her life.

“People that I grew up with are now dead,” Ozer said. “My grandparents are in danger. My cousins are in the army. Everyone that I know and love and care about is in danger, not to talk about the loss that we've already taken. So of course this hits close to home but it doesn't have to hit close to home to make you care.”

While the Students for Justice in Palestine protest did not happen here, it did take place across the country at other universities, including Arizona State University. ASU president Michael Crow has not yet issued a statement regarding today’s demonstration.

The SJP said they plan to reschedule the University of Arizona demonstration for another time.

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