Demonstrators arrested at rally protesting the derecognition of SJP
The Nov. 10 protest was broken up by officers from both Brandeis Police and Waltham Police Department.
On Friday afternoon, students gathered in the November cold on the Great Lawn to protest the University’s continued support of Israel and the derecognition of the Brandeis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. Dressed in green, red, black, and white, the colors of the Palestinian flag, many left in shock and disbelief — and others left in handcuffs.
The rally was initially announced at the gathering that followed SJP’s derecognition on Monday, Nov. 6. The Revolutionary Student Organization posted more information on their Instagram on Wednesday, Nov. 8, confirming that the protest would take place outside the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center at 3:30 p.m on Friday.
The University derecognized its chapter of SJP on Nov. 6 because the group "openly supports Hamas” and because the national organization called on chapters to “engage in conduct that supports Hamas in its call for the violent elimination of Israel and the Jewish people.” This claim was refuted by the American Civil Liberties Union; the Anti-Defamation League provided evidence that certain chapters of SJP had endorsed anti-Israeli violence, but there was no evidence that the national organization had done so. As a result of the derecognition, SJP will no longer receive funding and is not allowed to organize activities on campus. It also cannot associate itself with the University.
A social justice institution
In an Instagram post, RSO called on community members to attend “in support of Palestinian people and their struggle for peace, justice, and liberation.” The caption stated that 10,000 Palestinians — 3,000 of which were children — have been killed since Oct. 7. As of press time, this number has reached over 11,100. “It is absurd for Brandeis to frame itself as an institution for social justice while openly supporting an ongoing genocide, and attempting to censor students for speaking out or even holding a vigil,” they wrote.
The organization also listed three demands in the Instagram post. They called on the University to end its support of “the genocide of Palestinian people at the hands of the zionist occupation” by ceasing its “engagement with the occupation's economy and institutions.” RSO also demanded that Brandeis stop its “harmful rhetoric and defense of bigoted students,” which they said perpetuates and spreads Islamophobia and racism on campus. The third demand asked Brandeis to reinstate SJP and no longer suppress the voices of their pro-Palestinian community members.
The caption asked rally attendees to wear a mask; bring keffiyehs, a traditional Palestinian headdress; and bring Palestinian flags.
University President Ron Liebowitz responded to the backlash against SJP’s derecognition via email the morning of Nov. 8. Liebowitz defended the decision, stating that it was made “because SJP openly supports Hamas, which the United States has designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and its call for the violent elimination of Israel and the Jewish people.”
The president said that the decision was not made lightly. He cited Brandeis’ Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression, stating that the University is committed to protecting free speech, but that it is permitted to “restrict expression […] that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment.” While students, faculty, and staff are welcome and encouraged to “participate in the free exchange of ideas,” Liebowitz said, “we must not and do not condone hate, the incitement of violence, or threats against or harassment of anyone, be they Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Israeli, Palestinian, or any other religion or ethnicity.”
Liebowitz expressed his distress at the civilian deaths in both Israel and Gaza, and welcomed all community members to gather in support of “the rights of Palestinians, or to acknowledge Palestinian deaths during the current Israel-Hamas war,” whether as individuals or a group. Student organizations may form so long as they do so “through established procedures that comply with Brandeis’ policies.” He stressed the importance of engaging in “constructive dialogue” and coexisting on campus “in an environment that is free of intimidation and harassment.”
“A commitment to openness is one of Brandeis’ founding values, but that openness is challenged when speech is used to intimidate and silence others,” he wrote.
Andrea Dine, the vice president of Student Affairs, and Matthew Rushton, the chief officer of Public Safety, reached out to students regarding “protest safety” the morning of Nov. 10 via email. Dine and Rushton urged the community to follow Brandeis’ history of uniting against “prejudice, including Islamophobia, antisemitism, and racism.”
“In recent days and weeks community dialogue has been filled with painful narratives, painting complex and diverse communities with a single brushstroke,” they wrote. “Hamas doesn’t equal Palestinian, nor does Palestinian equal Muslim, any more than all Jews share one opinion about Israel or the ongoing war.”
In order to foster an open, community dialogue, and “wrestle with a complex present and painful history,” Rushton and Dine wrote that any language invoking “violence, death or annihilation” is not considered free speech, as it “intimidates, frightens and silences cohorts of our community.” They provided examples of language they considered inflammatory, including “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”; “Intifada, intifada”; or calling for “Gazan villages to be burned to the ground.”
Physical safety was another concern. “Public Safety has significantly stepped up security presence on campus and will further increase these measures during public protests and large gatherings. Our heightened security measures are not meant to impede expression and debate; they are designed to protect our campus community, including event participants,” they said. Dine and Rushton also clarified that the University would not allow “outside, third-party groups or individuals to congregate on campus” in order to make sure “that our students, faculty, and staff can assemble together safely.”
All protests have to adhere to the University’s protest policy, which they linked in the email.
RSO responded to what they deemed an attack on SJP and pro-Palestinian students in an Instagram post on Nov. 9. The title of the post was “It is Good to be Attacked by the Enemy,” inspired by a quote from Mao Zedong — a Chinese revolutionary, founder of the People’s Republic of China, and chairman of the Chinese Communist Party — which they also included in the post. They stated that the University encourages racist and Islamophobic rhetoric by protecting “bigoted students” and consistently suppressing the voices of students who support Palestine. “This is merely another instance of Brandeis demonstrating that its commitment to supporting free expression is a fallacy,” they wrote in their post.
The post also said that the Brandeis Police confronted several students hanging flyers for the Nov. 10 rally, stating that the police “falsely claimed that putting up flyers which are supportive of Palestine is illegal and forced students to remove flyers under implicit threat of arrest.” They also said that the police recorded the students’ names and followed them home, while other officers “proceeded to then scour campus for any other students flyering.” In doing so, the University proved that it “stands solidly against social justice and the struggles of oppressed people.”
Julie Jette, the interim senior vice president of Communications, confirmed this confrontation in a Nov. 10 email correspondence with the Justice. Jette wrote that around 1 a.m. on Nov. 9, Public Safety received a report that two masked individuals, who were identified as students, were leaving posters around campus. Public safety “is obligated to respond to reports,” and the officers on-scene “informed the students that the posters violated our posting policy because they had not been approved by the departments overseeing the spaces where they were being posted, and were posted directly on buildings and doors in some cases, which is also a violation of campus posting policies.” She linked the policies from section 6.2 of the Student’s Rights and Responsibility Agreement in her email for further information. She also referred to the email sent by Dine and Rushton, which stated there would be an increased security presence at protests.
This repression signified another reason to stand against the University’s support for the genocide in Palestine, RSO stated, adding, “When we come together and dare to struggle, we dare to win.” They included the date, time, and location of the protest and urged community members to participate.
“The whole world is watching”
The demonstration itself began a little after 3:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon. Police officers, both from Brandeis Police and the Waltham Police Department, were stationed both in vehicles and on foot in the area surrounding the Shapiro Campus Center, including in front of Bernstein-Marcus, its corresponding parking lot, and near the Great Lawn. As of press time, the Justice was unable to clarify why students were unable to gather in front of Bernstein-Marcus, the original location for the protest, and instead had to stand on the Great Lawn.
Some protestors stood in front of the Shapiro Campus Center holding flags and banners, including two Palestinian flags. Other flags read, “DOWN WITH COLONIALISM,” “DEATH TO IMPERIALISM,” and the top line of a Jewish Voice for Peace banner read “END ISRAELI APARTHEID” with the bottom line reading “Free Palestine.”
Other demonstrators brought signs of their own: “INDIGENOUS IS A GLOBAL TERM & PALESTINIANS ARE INDIGENOUS! ZIONISM = GENOCIDE,” “Another Jewish mother against the slaughter of Palestinian children,” “JEWS FOR A FREE PALESTINE,” “JEWS DEMAND CEASEFIRE NOW,” and “WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED!!” Another large banner just had one word written in capital letters: “CEASEFIRE.”
Early on, there was a small group in the far back of the crowd with an Israeli flag, but the group did not engage with the protestors. Some individuals walked up to the protest and took videos of the attendees.
The protest began with a call and response of what sounded like “Free, Free Palestine,” followed by another call and response of “Long live Palestine.”
The first speaker, a student organizer, acknowledged the sizable turnout. “We have a lot more people than they do: the administration, the pigs,” they said, gesturing towards the officers, “and the Zionists.”
The student notified attendees of the safety marshalls in red bandanas distributed throughout the crowd whose job was to lend aid if demonstrators were harassed.
Demonstrators repeated the calls and responses before the next speaker, the former leader of SJP, stood in front of the crowd. Crying as they spoke, the Palestinian student told attendees that they had lost every person they had ever known. “I don’t feel alive anymore,” they said. “How could I?”
The blame, the student said, was on Israel, the United States, Brandeis, and specifically President Ron Liebowitz — “Ron, who is calling me a terrorist,” the student said. In response, protestors called out, “Shame!” and “Fuck Ron Liebowitz!”
By attending Brandeis, the student said they felt as though they were funding the killing of their own people. “I feel like their blood is on my hands,” they said.
In between speakers, the crowd resumed their chants, adding a few more. “Shame on Ron!” was one. Another: “Palestine will be free within our lifetime!” Then, “Long live the resistance” and “Long live the intifada.”
The next speaker, whose identity the Justice was unable to confirm as of press time, was a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. She told the story of her family — how her family fled Nazi Germany, where they lost everything. “The only thing they didn’t lose was their lives,” she said. “They survived a genocide.” But here she was, some 80 years later at a Jewish institution — an institution that her family helped found — that is silencing those speaking out about another genocide. “How can any Jew watch what is happening to Palestinians and not condemn it?” she asked.
She called for an immediate ceasefire and condemned Brandeis’ “McCarthy-ite” silencing of students who speak against injustice in a reference to McCarthyism, or the second Red Scare. “You are dishonoring the memory of my parents,” she said, addressing Brandeis. “You are dishonoring the valiant Jews that fight against oppression.”
Following her speech, the crowd began to chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” President Liebowitz criticized this phrase in a recent Boston Globe op-ed, writing that it “calls for the erasure of the Jewish state.” A student organizer disagreed with Liebowitz and said that in calling for a free state “From the river to the sea,” they are calling for freedom for everyone within Palestine and an end to the apartheid system. They understand that freedom can come about in many ways, but resistance is necessary for it to do so. Another chant began: “Resistance is justified when people are occupied!”
A Brandeis alumna spoke next. The Justice could not confirm her identity as of press time, but she told the crowd she was a Jewish student who was a “casual Zionist” until she joined SJP during her time as an undergraduate. She shared the history of SJP: In 2008, two students — a Palestinian student and an Israeli student — went to the Student Union to form the chapter. The meeting lasted late into the night with other students calling the co-founders “terrorist sympathizers.” They succeeded in chartering SJP, but as a result, they were “ostracized.” The speaker expressed her pride in seeing that Brandeis students’ activism has grown “bolder and stronger” since then and said she stands in solidarity with the dissenting students.
The speaker criticized Hillel and deemed it a “racist organization that upholds a racist state.” She then read excerpts from a letter from alumni calling for a ceasefire and criticizing Brandeis’ support of Israel. Brandeis, she read, stunts its students’ maturation by encouraging support of Zionism rather than defining it as colonialism.
Next, an Israeli man unaffiliated with Brandeis offered his perspective. It was his first time speaking in public about Israel. He said that while Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel frightened Israelis, there is something that his fellow Israelis do not recognize: that they are a part of an occupying country brutally oppressing the Palestinian people. He said that there is nothing innate about Palestinians that makes them violent or hateful: “You, my dear Israelis, earned it.” The man emphasized that Palestinians have every right to resist and begged the state of Israel to “stop the genocide now.”
An unidentified woman from Brandeis administration tried to speak to him during his speech, but he ignored her. She ultimately left and stood by Bernstein-Marcus for the remainder of the protest.
A woman who identified herself as a Muslim community member came forward as the next speaker. She expressed her support for Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students who feel isolated and attacked on campus, and said she dealt with similar treatment when she was in college. But they will be okay and survive it, she said, offering herself as proof. She criticized the notion that it is antisemitic to be Palestinian or Muslim. She also decreed the claim that calling for Palestine’s liberation is the same as calling for genocide “nonsense.”
There were several other speakers, including a Jewish student calling for an end to genocide, and a speaker who discussed how Zionists “love to see [LGBTQ+ people] as props” when they justify Palestinian deaths by assuming all Palestinians are homophobic, feeling that Palestinian deaths are defensible because they do not accept the LGBTQ+ community. They also mentioned that while same sex marriage is legal in Israel, sodomy is still illegal. The law, however, has not been enforced since 1963.
Protestors chanted “Intifada, intifada” between the speakers.
A few minutes before 4:30 p.m., an unmarked black vehicle driven by a Waltham police officer used a loudspeaker to ask the “unlawful assembly” to “immediately and peacefully disperse,” or “reasonable and necessary force will be used.” The officer cited Chapter 261, Section 1 of Massachusetts General Law, which states that “state police and the sheriff of the county and his deputies” have the right to “command all persons so assembled immediately and peaceably to disperse.” If they do not, officers then have the right to “command the assistance of all persons there present in suppressing such riot or unlawful assembly and arresting such persons.” In response, protestors yelled back, “Shame!”
The officer in the vehicle attempted to drown out protesters’ chants by honking the vehicle’s horn. The officer then drove the vehicle onto the Great Lawn and repeated the order to disperse. The demonstrators moved up the steps closer to the SCC, facing the officers. They continued to yell, and a new chant started up: “The whole world is watching,” a reference to protests against the Vietnam War in 1968.
The stand-off continued, with demonstrators calling various phrases. Someone said, “You cannot silence our voices,” and others chanted, “Shame on you.” A Palestinian student cried that the blood of their family was on the hands of the officers. One protester yelled, “How will you look at your children when you stand for genocide?”
A student organizer asked attendees if they wanted to leave or stay, and a large number said they would stay. The remaining protestors huddled together as seven to nine police officers formed a line between the protestors and the SCC. The officers began to walk the group downhill in the direction of the Theater Lot.
At 4:38 p.m., cellphone footage from a window in the SCC shows a student walking in the opposite direction of the crowd and towards the officers. Three police officers broke from their formation and approached the student; after an officer grabbed the student’s arm, the student appeared to pull away. The two other officers assisted the first in forcibly bringing the student to the ground to arrest them.
Other protesters began screaming and running away. A second student threw a cup of liquid that appeared to be water at the arresting officers. Another officer grabbed that student and with the assistance of a second officer, threw the student to the ground. A third student was subsequently tackled in the process and arrested as well.
As the altercation occurred, while on the ground one of the students cried out, “I’m not doing anything.”
A Palestinian student was among the arrested. Their headscarf fell off during the arrest and was thrown aside by officers. A recording of officers walking the student off in handcuffs was posted by @ifnotnowboston on Instagram with the student’s face blocked out. “This is what they’re doing to me as a Palestinian student at Brandeis University,” the student says in the video. “I’m peacefully protesting and they’re fucking arresting me, like fucking always. Racism all the fucking time. It never fucking stops.”
Other videos were circulated on Instagram, including one posted by the account @muslimjusticeleague. In the recording, a private security officer in a neon yellow jacket rips a banner out of protesters’ hands, while three officers hold a student face-first on the ground. The officer with the banner yells at attendees to “back up” as he approaches them, while screaming and yelling continue in the background. A voice yells, “Shame!” and “Shame on you!” at the officers repeatedly.
As the remaining attendees were walked by officers towards the Theater lot, demonstrators continued to yell. Someone said, “I can see every one of you getting fired after this," while other students called the officers “fucking Nazis” and “fascists,” and another asked, “How do you sleep at night?” The “Free, free Palestine chant” was continued by protestors.
An officer told students, “Folks, go home or you may be arrested for trespassing.” Officers also demanded students show their IDs, while some campus officers recognized some as students and notified the Waltham officers.
Seven people were arrested in total and driven from campus in a van belonging to the police. Two of those detained were arrested between the initial 4:38 p.m. arrests and when the van left. One man was arrested at 4:25 p.m., but it is unclear if he was the first.
Three students were arrested in the seven total arrests made. The officers involved included Brandeis Police, Waltham PD, and private security officers. Following the altercation, the Justice attempted to clarify with police what the demonstrators were being arrested for but was prevented after an officer gave a final warning to leave the area.
An “open dialogue”
Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Uretsky, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke, and Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Dine sent an email to the Brandeis community in the evening of Nov. 10 addressing the protest. They wrote that the demonstration was not interrupted until protesters began chanting “From the river to the sea” and “Intifada, intifada,” — “threatening language that has been explicitly described as hate speech.” An administrator told protestors that they would be dispersed if they continued to use such language, they said.
According to the email, when protesters continued the chants, University police ordered demonstrators to leave four times, and that a “speaker urged them to remain.” Six individuals were arrested as a result. “Criminal charges include assault and battery on a police officer, disorderly conduct, and trespassing. A seventh individual was arrested for trespassing earlier in the afternoon,” Fierke, Uretsky, and Dine wrote.
The email cited the University’s rights in Brandeis’ Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression; they state that Brandeis “may restrict expression […] that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment.” Students are welcome to this free exchange, but the University must not and does not condone “the incitement of violence, threats or harassment.”
They stressed that they know how difficult and tense things have been both at Brandeis and other colleges, assuring the community that they support an “open dialogue” about the difficulties of the war. However, the protest was not an open dialogue. “Instead it created an atmosphere of intimidation, which is antithetical to a learning environment,” the email stated.
The University will also “be sharing opportunities for our community members to reflect and engage respectfully with one another” in the near future.
President Liebowitz released his own statement via email on Saturday, Nov. 11 on "creating an open dialogue and our collective responsibility.” He also emphasized the University’s commitment to fostering an “open dialogue,” but said that the administration’s first priority is ensuring the community’s safety and well-being by providing “an environment without harassment and intimidation.” The University’s Principles of Free Speech and Free Expression, which he linked, apply to all students regardless of background, but “attacks against any background or belief system are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.” The protestors invoked hate speech and did not exercise the responsibilities that come with free speech, Liebowitz said. Seven people were arrested, the “majority of whom were unaffiliated with Brandeis.” He also said that the University is following policies and procedures by “reviewing what exactly took place during — and in response to — the protests” to ensure the community’s safety.
“I know how contentious it feels for many on our campus right now, and that people are hurting,” Liebowitz wrote. “I empathize with all of you who are grappling with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Many of you have lost loved ones during this war, Palestinian and Israeli alike; I am heartbroken for the loss of life, and I offer my sincere condolences.”
He announced that the University plans to host a number of events designed to address the “social welfare” of the Brandeis community. Students, faculty, and staff alike are encouraged to participate in a “mutually respectful conversation” as a first step towards healing.
“I believe Brandeis is unique in how our community members care for one another. I have seen it time and time again on our campus,” he wrote. “I hope that we can find common ground during this very difficult time, and move forward in ways that Brandeis is known for, where we are able to accept our differences, and talk about them, in an environment where we can all feel free from harassment.”
Liebowitz included a list of resources at the end of his email to support both students and staff, including the Brandeis Counseling Center, the Center of Spiritual Life, the Dean of Students Office, the International Students and Scholars Office, the Ombuds Office, and the Employee Assistance Program.
As of press time, the protesters have pleaded not guilty to charges including “disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly and assault and battery on a police officer,” according to CBS News. The same article reported that Waltham Police said the seven arrested ignored orders to disperse after the protest “became unruly.”
This is a developing story.
— Justice reporter River Simard ’26 contributed to the reporting for this article.