Updated: Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 11:16 p.m.
Protesters demonstrated against a speaker who had previously worked for the Israeli Defense Forces at the GW Hillel building Tuesday night, reigniting campus controversy over the Israel-Palestine conflict.
GW for Israel and GW Mishelanu – an organization focused on Israeli American heritage – hosted former IDF intelligence officer Doron Tenne for an event at GW Hillel, a Jewish student educational and social organization with a building on 23rd Street. A video posted online shows a group of about 15 protesters gathered outside of the Hillel building during Tenne’s event, where they held up posters that said “GW Hillel, you have blood on your hands,” and said chants like “occupation no more.”
Two student organizations that helped organize the protest, GW Students for Justice in Palestine and GW Jewish Voice for Peace, released statements Wednesday night criticizing GW for Israel and GW Mishelanu for hosting a “war criminal” and defending their decision to protest. Jewish Voice for Peace said GW Hillel and GW for Israel mischaracterized the protest when they claimed the protests were targeted at GW’s Jewish population instead of just Tenne.
Palestinian rights organizations have long criticized the IDF, in which Tenne was a leading intelligence official, for its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. The IDF faced significant criticism this summer when it said one of its soldiers likely killed Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while she covered military operations in May.
GW Hillel and GW for Israel both released statements stating that Jewish students felt targeted by the protest, and GW for Israel called the protest a display of “antisemitism.” Interim University President Mark Wrighton released a statement that said officials heard that Jewish community members felt the protest was directed toward them.
Jewish Voice for Peace defended its decision to protest Tenne, stating that protests against an “agent of militarism” are not antisemitic.
“GW Hillel and GW for Israel’s claim that protesting a war criminal at an explicitly political institution was an attack on Jewish students further perpetuates the conflation of anti-Zionism and antisemitism,” Jewish Voice for Peace said in the statement. “The same conflation was echoed in President Wrighton’s letter to the GW community sent out tonight.”
The statements from GW Hillel and Wrighton did not include context about the speaking event featuring the former IDF official, which organizers said was the sole reasoning behind the protest.
GW Students for Justice in Palestine condemned the speaker event held at Hillel in their Instagram statement Wednesday, defending their protest. They said Tenne contributed to the “hyper-militarization” of Palestine and “commanded the mass slaughter” of Palestinian people and that the organizations that held the event support a “war criminal.”
“We proudly stand by our direct action on October 11 and every word that was said during it,” they said in the post. “For inviting a war criminal, for platforming a man who has administered ethnic cleansing, for continuing to support a genocidal ideology, we say again, you have blood on your hands.”
GW Hillel said in a statement posted on Instagram Wednesday afternoon that while they celebrate free speech, “a line has been crossed” when demonstrations interrupt the ability of students to learn because of “aggressive” behavior. They said they were also “deeply troubled” by a series of posters condemning Zionism pasted around the building, particularly one with the phrase “Zionists f*** off.”
“We work diligently to cultivate spaces where students can safely explore how they relate to Israel, a relationship that takes vastly different forms in each of our students,” GW Hillel said in the statement.
In an email to the GW community Wednesday night, Wrighton said officials had heard some Jewish members of the University community felt the two incidents were “directed toward them based on their faith.”
“The George Washington University strongly condemns antisemitism and hatred, discrimination and bias in all forms,” he said. “Our expectation is that all community members will show respect for one another even when they disagree.”
GW For Israel posted a statement on Instagram asking University leadership to condemn the protest and refer to it as an act of antisemitism. They alleged the protesters targeted students for their religious affiliations and self-identification as Zionists.
“We were dismayed that protestors attempted to disrupt this event by intentionally positioning themselves outside of Hillel, the home for Jewish students on campus, targeting students for their affiliation with Israel and identification as Zionists,” they said.
GW For Israel said they noticed that the protest occurred during the Jewish holiday Sukkot.
“The fact that the protestors chose to do this in the midst of a Jewish holiday, Sukkot, is not lost on us,” they said.
This post has been updated to include the following:
This post has been updated to include further context about the IDF’s alleged mistreatment of Palestinians, as well as further context about Hillel’s statement regarding posters placed around campus.