Brandeis students stand with those impacted by war in Gaza
The University’s vast community expressed a spectrum of stances regarding the conflict, with some feeling alienated from the majority.
The morning of Oct. 7 saw an attack on Israel by Hamas, targeting civilians after breaking through the Gaza-Israel border. The impacts of such an attack were instantaneous, with the immense loss of life and destruction going as far to impact countless members within the Brandeis community halfway across the world.
University President Ron Liebowitz issued a statement addressing the attacks later the same day. “We condemn in the strongest way terrorism such as we have seen today perpetuated against innocent civilians; it has always been our belief at Brandeis that engaging and wrestling with divisive issues from a place of compassion is how we begin to heal our broken world,” he wrote, suggesting that those who feel they are uninformed should pursue learning from faculty and staff who are experts in the region and the conflict. Furthermore, President Liebowitz clarified that the University is in contact with two students who are currently studying in Israel for the semester and will continue to support them.
The Brandeis community’s response to the intensifying war has been polarized as the global response has, with community members lauding Liebowitz’s statement, condemning the language he used, to some claiming total neutrality.
“Some university leaders seemed to be trying to thread the needle, acknowledging the devastation in both Israel and Gaza without taking a side,” the Boston Globe reported, comparing Brandeis’ response to the Hamas attacks with other universities — such as Harvard University, Tufts University, and Dartmouth College. These institutions were more reluctant to label the Hamas attacks as “terrorist” and only did so after previous statements or in initial statements preceded by days of silence.
In fact, President Liebowitz told the Boston Globe that he received “angry” emails from alumni about this statement. “They felt it was a weak message. They thought I should have been much more condemning.” Liebowitz recalled.
At the same time, parts of the Brandeis community feel that his statement was entirely incorrect altogether.
“The [University’s] failure to acknowledge Palestinian life is deeply indicative of our school’s transactional relationship to its minority students, especially those of Muslim and Arab positionality,” Yasamine Brown ’26 said in an Oct. 15 statement to the Justice. “Although I am not surprised by the staggering polarization, the neglect to make space for truth and [ensure] safety of all its students is quite hypocritical coming from an institution founded on the notion of equity and inclusion,” Brown expressed.
The University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine similarly found fault with President Liebowitz’s statement.
In an Oct. 10 Instagram post, the organization wrote: “We reject the characteristics of Palestinian resistance as ‘terrorism’ as indicated in President Ron’s email to the student body. Such a label ignores the ongoing occupation of Palestine, the expansion of illegal settlements, and the denial of basic human rights. We must understand that the Palestinian resistance, in all of its manifestations, is a response to a history of dispossession and oppression.”
The organization also postponed its Israelism Screening Event to Nov. 13 “in light of current events in Palestine.”
Out of concern for their members’ safety, the SJP denied the Justice’s request for comment on Oct. 15.
In an Oct. 15 statement to the Justice, Hillel Student President Eitan Marks ’24 expressed his appreciation for Liebowitz’s statement: “I am grateful for the swift and decisive condemnation of the horrific Hamas terror attacks, and expression of support for the Jewish community.” Marks mentioned his regrets for those who are unable to express the same support.
Hillel, the University’s center for Jewish life on campus, organized a community gathering in the Berlin Chapel on Oct. 9, welcoming families, students, faculty, and other community members to support one another. There were too many attendees for the chapel to seat, causing the Hillel staff to leave the doors open for a small crowd to watch the gathering from behind those seated.
The gathering featured remarks from Hillel President Marks, various students, rabbis, and President Liebowitz. These speakers also led the group in prayer, including the Prayer for Captured Soldiers and Civilians; Prayer for the state of Israel; Prayer for Peace; and mourners’ Kaddish. The gathering also featured Debbie Friedman’s Misheberach and Hatikvah, which is the Israeli national anthem. After the gathering formally concluded, Zachary Gondelman ’26 and Noah Simon ’25 stayed to play the guitar and sing for those with music requests. Many attendees continued to converse outside of the chapel.
Marks described his hopes for the war: “I hope that my friends and family in Israel remain safe. I hope that Hamas is swiftly defeated, for the sake of Israel and the Palestinian civilians,” he wrote, “I hope the hostages are returned safely and quickly to their families. I hope that the rampant increase of anti-Jewish violence we’ve seen across the globe this week is stopped.”
For instance, London has seen rising rates of antisemitic incidents compared to now and this time last year, resulting in the closure of two Jewish faith schools in London due to security concerns. According to the Guardian, the London Metropolitan police stated that there were 75 antisemitic incidents from Sept. 30 to Oct. 13, compared to 12 during the same time period last year.
In the wake of this war’s escalating violence, there has also been increased violence against Palestinian individuals.
The Associated Press reports that a six-year-old boy was fatally stabbed 26 times in his home in Chicago — the assailant left the boy’s mother in critical condition from over a dozen stab wounds. A family member and the Council on American-Islamic Relations identified the boy as Wadea Al-Fayoume. On Oct.14, Will County’s Sheriff’s office announced that detectives surmised that the suspect, the victims’ landlord, targeted the pair “due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis.”
In a further effort to build a sense of community solidarity, Israeli culture club Mishelanu also organized a candlelight vigil for Israeli victims on Oct. 11 in Chapels Field. The club’s website specifies that they “hope to be unique as an Israel club that is nonpolitical and solely cultural” with a commitment to bringing Israeli, Israeli-American, and Jewish communities together at Brandeis.
Vigil attendees formed a large circle in the field, standing next to each other. Mishelanu’s table displayed candles and QR codes to connect attendees to charity organizations such as ZAKA Search and Rescue as well as the Hadassah Foundation that will use donations to provide medical and humanitarian aid to Israeli civilians.
The event featured several student speakers leading in prayer, song, and providing their personal experiences with the war. The vigil started with opening remarks from a Mishelanu co-president who stated that they hope the vigil brings attendees “some sense of community as well as support” during these “dark” times.
An Oct. 13 email from Dean of Students Monique Pillow Gnanaratnam and Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Dine confirmed that there have been “several recent incidents of graffiti on campus.” The email encouraged students to review the University’s Rights and Responsibilities policies, specifically Section 7, which states that students have freedom of debate and protection from censorship, but the University may limit the time, place, and manner of demonstrations, especially if they are disruptive in nature. Gnanaratnam and Dine clarified that “vandalism is not an acceptable form of protest, nor is it a protected speech — it is property damage, and can be criminally prosecuted … We also condemn the use of graffiti to attempt to intimidate any community members.”
Brown echoed feeling unsafe as well, telling the Justice that she does not think any Palestinian or Muslim feels safe “especially when there have been such vast attempts to make [the war] a religious conflict.” In her address, Brown referred to any attempt to make the conflict a construction of anti-semitism “vile” and clarified that it is not a conflict between Jewish people and Muslims from her perspective.
“This is not a Palestinian vs. Jews issue,” Brown said. “This is Palestine vs. genocide.”
Reuters outlined that as of Oct. 16, there have been at least 2,750 Palestinian casualties with 9,700 wounded from Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7. According to the Washington Post, Israel’s military ordered the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from Gaza, but the main roads leading south were blocked with traffic. The source reports that many Palestinians are also refusing to evacuate, fearful that fleeing civilians will die in airstrikes.
“Moving more than one million people across a densely populated warzone to a place with no food, water, or accommodation, when the entire territory is under siege, is extremely dangerous — and in some cases, simply not possible,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres wrote in an Oct. 13 announcement.
“The war that began Oct. 7 has become the deadliest of five Gaza wars for both sides with more than 4,000 dead,” AP stated.
“More Jews were murdered four days ago than any other single day outside of the Holocaust,” Steven Berchin ’25 said during his speech at the candlelight vigil. The Times of Israel explores this claim, finding that it “appears to be accurate” given that the other high-casualty days in Israel and for global Jewish communities since 1945, but none of them have had death tolls that have climbed this high until now. The closest is Israel’s War of Independence, which resulted in over 6,000 deaths, a number that is mostly composed of soldiers who were fighting in the war rather than civilians.
“I hope that students on this campus who are unfamiliar with the ongoing conflict or its history reach out to knowledgeable professors to learn more — Instagram is not a reliable source,” Marks wrote, echoing Liebowitz’s sentiment to look to the University’s experts on the issue for the facts necessary to create an informed opinion. Marks also specified that Hillel staff is available for individual conversations and support with plans to have visiting therapy dogs in the upcoming weeks.
Furthermore, the Brandeis community is also offering other resources for those who are looking for support. In his statement, Liewbowitz directed students to the Brandeis Counseling Center's full time support, as well as the Center for Spiritual Life’s staff of campus clergy.
— Editor's note: A source has been removed since publication. A clarification was also added that the vigil was for the Israeli victims.