Lehigh anthropology professor Allison Mickel speaks to a crowd gather at the STEPS lawn that gathered in solidarity for Palestine on Nov. 9, 2023. (Liana Secondino/B&W Staff)

Demonstration in support of Palestine draws mixed reactions


Over 200 students and community members gathered on the STEPS lawn Thursday, Nov. 9, to show their solidarity for Palestine as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues. The Student Political Action Committee and Lehigh4Palestine organized the demonstration.

The demonstration started at 1 p.m. and encouraged students to walk out of their classes.

At around 2:30 p.m., the group marched and chanted from the STEPS lawn to the flagpole in front of the University Center. Guest speaker and Palestinian-born writer Raya Abdelaal and others then led another round of chants. The students then returned to the STEPS lawn and dispersed just after 3 p.m.

The demonstration drew mixed reactions due to some statements and signage presented by some demonstrators. 

Jennah Abdelaziz, ‘24, spoke at the demonstration and said condemning a political movement and a governmental body should not be equated to condemning a religious group.  

“We have many Jewish allies among us today and across the globe who do not identify with the state of Israel and Zionism, who are fighting for Palestinian life and liberation alongside us,” Abdelaziz said. 

Ciaran Buitrago, an organizer of the demonstration and a director for the Student Political Action Coalition, wrote in an email to The Brown and White that the demonstration included three Jewish speakers and many Jewish attendees. He also wrote that the group condemned antisemitism and violence from both Hamas and the Israeli military. 

“We took every precaution to ensure the demonstration was peaceful, welcoming, and diverse,” Buitrago wrote. 

Allison Mickel, the chair of the global studies department and an anthropology professor, said when Lehigh students see harm, violence and genocide in the world, they show up. 

She said she is an archaeologist and understands how her field has been used to erase Palestinian presence on the land for hundreds of years. 

“That is what is happening now. That is what has been happening. That is oppression. That is everyday violence in between the bombs,” Mickel said. “I am here as a scholar who studies oppression, and I know it when I see it, and Palestine is suffering.”

Mickel said she has been waking up to bloody photos of her friends and colleague’s family members for weeks, and as a Jewish person she was raised to believe in the value of Tikkun olam, the idea of healing the world. 

Rawan Katz, a Bethlehem resident, recently protested for Palestine in New York City and Washington D.C. She grew up in Jordan and moved to the United States when she was 15 years old. She was born and raised Muslim and now has a Jewish husband and said they practice both faiths. 

“Just be human and love other humans,” Katz said. “If you speak human and love other humans, nobody is better than anybody.”

A.B., ‘26, said the group at the gathering has been in attendance at other social movements, and she believes being pro-Palestinian and pro-peace intertwine. 

“You cannot continue bombing people and continuing occupation under a violent regime and say that’s peace because it’s not,” A.B. said. “I think people need to recognize that this isn’t a religious issue.”

Layan Suleiman, ‘25, said students can take action by calling their representatives. 

She asked Lehigh to divest its relations with Israel and make their voices heard by posting and sharing, and tagging Lehigh and local representatives to put pressure on them. 

Signs reading “Zionism is murder” and a chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” were present at the event and led to mixed reactions over the intentions and potential repercussions of the messages.

In advance of the demonstration, the director of Jewish Student Life and Rabbi Steve Nathan reiterated in an email to the campus community that Lehigh is safe for Jewish students and mentioned students are entitled to their First Amendment rights to hold the demonstration.

Nathan wrote in an email following the demonstration on Friday that Lehigh “feels just a little less safe and a little less welcoming than it did just a little over a day ago.” He wrote that he thought the rally contained antisemitic statements and made some Jewish students uncomfortable. 

He wrote that the message on the signs — “Zionism is murder” — applies to all Zionists, in his opinion, even those who wish for an independent Palestinian state, such as himself and many Jewish students on campus. 

Buitrago wrote that the anti-Zionist sentiments are not antisemitic, and he believes asserting such reduces Jewish identity and is an “attack on freedom of speech.”

“The idea that a state that elevates Judaism over other groups is necessary for the protection and self-determination of Jews is offensive to our Jewish organizers and many Jews globally,” Buitrago wrote.

Nathan also wrote that the sentiment of the chant — “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — can only become true if Israel no longer exists. 

“To state that Jews cannot live as free people in their ancestral homeland is de facto an anti-Semitic statement,” Nathan wrote.

A group of leaders from Chabad at Lehigh wrote an email to University President Joseph Helble, ‘82, on Nov. 10 in response to rising antisemitism on Lehigh’s campus, and they specifically referred to the chant. 

The Chabad leaders wrote that they think this is a rallying cry for terrorist groups and their sympathizers, but they wrote it is also often used by pro-Palestinian activists as a call to arms. They wrote that it calls for the erasure of the Israeli state and its people. 

“Since the founding of Chabad at Lehigh, Dit (Greenberg) and I have never witnessed organized, proud displays of blatant antisemitism on campus,” the email reads. “This by far is the greatest public display of antisemitism and Anti-Israel sentiment that Lehigh has seen in decades.”

Buitrago wrote that this chant is used at pro-Palestine protests globally and believes it’s not a call for the destruction of Israel or Jewish people, but rather a wish for an end to the inhumane practices and apartheid system imposed by the Israeli government on the Palestinian people.

Though the statements may not have been intended to be antisemitic, Nathan wrote that he is “unsure” if it is and called on the university to condemn antisemitism on campus, just as it would condemn bias or prejudice expressed toward other groups.

The email from Chabad included claims that the chant violates the university’s Policy on Harassment and Non-Discrimination and the Student Code of Conduct. 

In an email to the campus community sent Sunday, Nov. 12, Helble wrote that though the demonstration was peaceful, some behaviors and signage at the demonstration contained antisemitic statements and language and violated Lehigh’s Principles of Our Equitable Community.

“For these conversations to be effective, we must consider how words, slogans, chants and actions will be understood by others whose views or whose histories differ from ours,” Helble wrote.

Buitrago wrote that he questions why the university does not outwardly condemn the Israeli military in addition to Hamas and is worried the purpose of the demonstration is being misconstrued. 

“We are concerned that our beautiful demonstration for peace…is being labeled by some as a hateful demonstration due to the misinterpretation of a single chant,” Buitrago wrote.

Abdelaal said she hoped Lehigh students in attendance would question what they see on their social media feeds and evaluate if the information they see is true or not.

She said there is lots of propaganda circulating about this conflict in Israel and Gaza. 

“You’re going to hear a lot of lies,” Abdelaal said. “Fact check what you are hearing and make sure the sources that you’re getting it from are factual.”

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  1. A peaceful protest. Lehigh will never make news doing that. Thank goodness.

    “Mickel said it takes a lot of bravery for students to participate in this gathering.” If the reporting here on this is accurate I don’t see bravery involved.

    “For what is happening in Gaza, she said anything besides a cease-fire is unacceptable.” One might ask Israel what would be conditions for having a cease fire seeing that Hamas continues rocket attacks and hostage taking.

    Thomas Friedman recently wrote in an opinion column : “Why Israel Is Acting This Way. If you think Israel is now crazy, it is because Hamas punched it in the face. So now Israel believes it must restore …”. His opinion is that Israel feels it should “out crazy” its enemies when pushed. This should not be news to anyone.

  2. Melissa Eydenberg on

    It’s not “brave” to support terrorism. If you are demanding a cease-fire you are demanding Israel allow terrorists to continue to rule Gaza. You are supporting the regime that rapes, murders beheads in an attempt to destroy Israel under a charter to kill all jews. A regime that kills its own citizens in order to garner support from ignorant groups like this. Demand return of the hostages. Demand the surrender of Hamas terrorists. Demand they stop hiding under children.

    • Theresa LaFavor on

      Actually no one is supporting any terrorism or destruction. Have you seen what is going on Gaza? Have you seen the video of an Israeli soilder dressed as a dinosaur and then firing from a tank? Have you seen the videos of countless children crying who are now parentless? Have you seen the starvation and cries for hunger?

      Demanding a ceasefire is demanding that Israeli forces stop bombing and hurting everyone in Gaza.

  3. Concerned Alum on

    Thank you to the B&W Staff for the reporting – I thought Lehigh had escaped the oversimplification of the Israel-Palestine conflict that had floated the news for so many other colleges

    Let’s look at the slogans, helpful for understanding some thought processes here:
    “Not another nickel, not another dime No more money for Israel’s crimes”
    – Israel had a US arms embargo in place during both the 1948 and 1967 conflicts, both of which were decisive Israeli victories against much stronger forces. If anyone thinks Israel isn’t acting more restrained than they otherwise would be with the US cutting off the check book, they haven’t been paying attention

    “From Palestine to Phillipines. End the US war machine”
    – The Philippines, as in the Philippines who has voluntarily sought closer military relations across multiple US and Filipino administrations due to PRC aggression in the South China Sea (literally look up the Second Thomas Shoal now)? Ignoring the decisions made by the officials of a democratically elected developing nation is certainly an odd comparison here and seems to be at best knee-jerk “US bad-ism”

    “Out of Afghanistan, out of Iraq, out of Palestine”
    – Last time I checked, the US is out of Afghanistan, and the Taliban has decided girls aren’t going to school anymore. Congrats on the “win”
    – If the US were out of Iraq ISIS would still be in the northern half of the country, but hey guess that’s not as good a slogan

    “Hey hey, ho ho. The occupation has got to go”
    – For all the criticisms of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza had not been occupied in any capacity since 2005 after Israel unilaterally withdrew. Gaza has de facto been a separate state from the West Bank since after Hamas took power in the civil war.

    “Stop Zionism, Stop the Steal” and “Zionism is murder,”
    – Zionism is the belief that a Jewish state should exist. It does not mean pro-Netanyahu nor anti-Palestine. Self explanatory

    And of course, I ask all the protestors who were chanting “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” to seriously examine that slogan. Are some of you using it as a call for a single, multi-ethnic democratic state? I’m sure some of you are. But there are plenty around the world who are not, and have made that their go-to slogan

    For the people who’ve been shouting for years about how “impact not intent” matters for words – would you be comfortable taking the interpretation of someone who flies the Confederate Flag and says it means “Heritage not Hate”?

  4. Concerned Student on

    Please put in quotes, or at least state as a claim, the statement that “some chants alluded to anti-semitic sentiments”. This is Nathan’s opinion, not fact. Analysis of each listed chant actually shows this is falsifiable.

  5. I see you already removed a quote from anthropology professor Allison Mickel. Lehigh should hold staff accountable for false statements and using the term “genocide” is exactly that, a completely false term. In addition, as an archaeologist, her statement of erasing presence is misleading. If archaeologists find something that predates Palestinian presence, that doesn’t erase presence, it only shows there are layers to archaeology and different people lived on the land at different times.

  6. Every employer should refuse to hire any of these students.

    Their support for this pro Hamas Palestinian government and it’s stated Charter to destroy Israel and Jews via acts of Terrorism is disgusting. Shame on everyone of them, their families and Lehigh University.

    • Concerned Student on

      Scott, did you even read the article?

      From the article:
      “He also wrote that the group condemned antisemitism and violence from both Hamas and the Israeli military.”

      Hamas was condemned at the rally. Generalizing all Palestinian supporters as terrorist supporters when Hamas was clearly condemned is dangerous rhetoric and borderline hate speech. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you just missed this part of the article.

      I hope a day comes where hate doesn’t blind you from seeing the truth.

      Do better.

      • Scott Martin on

        Signs reading “Zionism is murder” and a chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” were present at the event…

        These are not the words of a Peaceful Religion.

  7. Concerned Jewish Lehigh Parent on

    Amazing that she speaks about “palestinian” presence for hundreds of years, and disregards the Israeli Jewish presence for thousands of years.

    Further she mentions that she knows oppression, yet doesn’t define what that means, where the “palestinians” are “oppressed” and by whom.

    Bottom line is, she’s a typical millennial liberal, who sees the world through the false lense of oppressors & oppressed, but fails to acknowledge the actual history.

    Shameful that she’s even employed at such a fine institution.

  8. Current Student on

    It warms my heart to see so much solidarity for Palestinian liberation at Lehigh. People are waking up to the apartheid and brutal occupation Palestinians have been subject to for over 75 years at the hands of the Israeli government — emphasis on government. We grew up in an era where technology began to blossom. We are equipped with the knowledge and the resources to be able to debunk propaganda and see the truth, and the truth is apparent to us. The Nakba displaced thousands of Palestinians, but those stories still remain and have been passed down to the children of our generation. We will not be silenced until Palestinians are free and able to experience peace.

    End the ethnic cleansing. End the occupation and apartheid. Stop the genocide. We demand a permanent ceasefire and Palestinian liberation. It should not be controversial to want a ceasefire. We should not have to beg to stop the killing of thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children. If a ceasefire makes you outraged, I suggest you reevaluate your moral conscience. There is no excuse for the indiscriminate bombing in Gaza. There is no excuse for the cutting off of food, fuel, and electricity. There is no excuse for the use of white phosphorus. There is no excuse for the destruction and detainment seen in the West Bank, where Hamas does not exist. These are war crimes. Open your eyes to the truth.

  9. Finance Professional on

    Through land seizure, restrictions on food, water, energy, and commerce – the Palestinian people have been oppressed and brutalized for decades.

    Unfortunately, as the comments here show, addressing the plight of the Palestinians is immediately cast as anti-semitic by those who presume all Arabs to be, by nature, anti-Jew. This is demonstrative of a long-standing, racist trope that popular media promotes and which is happily consumed by those with hatred in their hearts.

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