Credit: Uyiosa Elegon

Students Disrupt “Israel at 75” Conference at Rice University

A coalition of youth-led organizations led a protest against the “Israel at 75” conference on Rice University’s campus. Members of the coalition demonstrated in opposition to Israel’s military efforts in occupied Palestine and the university’s institutional support.

The coalition is composed of members from the Rice and Houston chapters of Students for Justice in Palestin (SJP), the Palestinian Youth Movement – Houston (PYM), and the Jewish Voices for Peace.

The conference was hosted by the Baker Institute for Public Policy on Thursday, April 27, 2023. Panel discussions highlighted present and future relations between Israel and the United States. The event also featured pre-recorded remarks from the President of Israel, Isaac Herzor.

During the conference, students disrupted a formal address by Former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak, who was in attendance. Individual students stood and loudly condemned Barak’s involvement in the Gaza bombings, his complicity in the mass imprisonment of youth and the Israel state-sanction murder of Palestinians.

“You can’t hide! You signed off on genocide!,” students collectively chanted.

Rice University police officers forcibly removed the students who soon joined a crowd of protesters outside of the Baker Institute.

The crowd of university students, toddlers, alumni, and community members were heard across the campus chanting for hours in the afternoon, only stopping to share stories about the state of Israel’s recorded human rights violations. Other than observing the protest from the steps of the Baker Institute, conference attendees did not engage with the youth.

“In that room, people are celebrating the most notorious war criminal in the history of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation,” Fuad Kirreh shouted through a megaphone. 

Last year, Kirreh and other University of Houston students successfully passed a student body resolution urging the school to stop investing in companies that produce weaponry and military technology for Israel and other governments. “[Ehuk Barak] is complicit in the destruction of our homes and the colonization of our people, of our just and resilient people,” yelled Kirreh.

In a petition released ahead of the conference, students demanded that Rice cancel the conference and release a statement in conjunction with the Baker Institute “reaffirming the university’s commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion by supporting Palestinian academic and organizing initiatives on campus and in Houston more broadly.” The petition garnered 800 signatures.

The Baker Institute did not respond to the petition.

The petition also challenged Rice University’s support of the state of Israel:

While Rice University claims to engage in “contribution to the betterment of our world,” its actions prove otherwise… We reject the institutional expenditure of social, economic, and political capital on programming that undermines the agency and freedom struggle of the Palestinian people. We refuse to allow Rice University to engage in normalization of Israeli aggression…”

Coalition members work closely with other organizations to amplify their cause. 

“Step by step, brick by brick, we will dismantle the systems that exploit, oppress, and even murder our people,” a representative of Anakbayan Rice, a Filipino national democratic organization, expressed in-solidarity at the protest. “Anakbyan will continue to be on the side of the Palestinian people until liberation.”

Section: Schooling
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