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Students for Justice in Palestine criticizes university during “die-in” on Lawn – The Cavalier Daily

As the final event of his Palestinian Liberation WeekStudents for Justice in Palestine organized a die-in – a form of protest where you lie on the ground as if you were dead – on the Lawn on Friday afternoon. The protest featured a speech by Josh Rosenberg, SJP president and third-year student, followed by the reading of the names of 65 slain Palestinians, all members of a single family. A moment of silence followed before everyone present read together a poem titled “If I Must Die” by Refaat Alareer, a Palestinian writer and poet who was killed by an Israeli airstrike in December.

A die-in is a form of protest in which participants all lie down in a public setting and imitate dead bodies. At the national level, activists have organized die-ins in the past protest responses to the AIDS epidemic, and more recently after the 2020 epidemic murder of George Floyd.

Although die-ins are a form of protest, Rosenberg said the event was also planned as a way for students to reflect on and mourn the Palestinians killed by Israel amid the ongoing war. More than 30,000 Palestinians are in Gaza, according to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization. killed during the war, with more than 70,000 injured.

The die-in capped Palestine Liberation Week, which included educational and cultural events such as panels on healthcare in Gaza and a “Protest Poetry for Palestine” event, organized in collaboration with the Asian Student Union, Flux Poetry and Spoken Word.

In his speech, Rosenberg spoke more broadly about the history of university students protesting human rights issues abroad, specifically citing the anti-apartheid activism in South Africa that led the university push off from the country.

“UVa. has a long tradition of anti-apartheid activism,” said Rosenberg. “In 1990, after ten years of pressure from the Students Against Apartheid Coalition, U.Va. repelled from South African apartheid. At a university that has largely been on the wrong side of history, that is one of the few things we can be proud of.”

The U.Va Apartheid Referendum will take place during this spring’s student elections called calls on the university to subject itself to an external audit of its investment portfolio and to divest from companies that profit from ‘human rights violations’. While only 30.43 percent of students at the university voted in favor of the referendum, it did passed with 67.87 percent of the votes in favor.

At the March 1 Board of Visitors meeting, President Jim Ryan responded to the referendum’s passage: proverb that if he had been a student he would have voted against the referendum. Ryan also said he does not believe the university should take a political position regarding its investment strategy. Although the referendum itself does not commit the university to any action, Rosenberg said he was not satisfied with this response from Ryan.

“We think that not investing our money in killing people is a pretty reasonable demand,” Rosenberg said. “We want to see tangible action from the government, other than Jim Ryan releasing a statement saying ‘I would have voted no on this referendum’.”

Rosenberg also criticized some statements made by the Jewish Leadership Advisory Board, an elected group of Jewish student leaders affiliated with the Brody Jewish Center, in a letter sent to the board of visitors on April 3 regarding anti-Semitism on grounds. The letter supported Ryan and the administration’s response to anti-Semitism on Grounds, condemning people outside the university community for using Jewish students as “political pawns.”

The letter also confirmed the JLAB’s opposition to the referendum, which they called “divisive and insulting.” Rosenberg said that despite JLAB’s condemnation from the Board of Visitors, JLAB continues to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, which he said makes engaging in productive dialogue around the ongoing conflict more difficult.

“This is a movement led by Palestinian students and also by Jewish students,” Rosenberg said. “It’s not something that’s anti-Semitic. It is a call for human rights, and the continued mixing of anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism (the JLAB) makes everyone less safe and makes it that much harder to engage in good faith discourse that they claim to support.”

In addition to the die-in, Rosenberg said he was pleased with the growing attendance at SJP events in general, adding that recent events have not only seen large numbers of attendees, but also many new faces. Najwa Labban, president of Medical Students for Palestine and a medical student, said she has seen a similar increase in attendance at School of Medicine events related to the ongoing conflict in Palestine.

“It has been incredibly meaningful to me to be able to organize events within the medical school and have them attended by sometimes hundreds of medical students,” said Labban. “Because it means offering those students a space when they need it most and being denied it by the leaders who are supposed to (provide it).”

Labban said the School of Medicine has been hostile to student organizing and advocacy, creating a “hostile environment” that disproportionately affects minority students. She said she herself has faced disciplinary action that she believes was intended to intimidate or silence her.

While SJP has not announced any future events, Rosenberg said he hopes to participate in more visible forms of protest, including participating in administrative processes or even occupying space on Grounds for extended periods of time.