Faculty-backed Gaza camp at Western Washington University under investigation for hate crime

The school is currently investigating a possible hate crime after a Jewish student was allegedly spat on while walking past the encampment wearing a Star of David.

Ari Hoffman Seattle WA
Vandalism and an assault at Western Washington University (WWU) are reportedly being investigated, even as outside agitators are planning on making the trip from Seattle to Bellingham to join the new Gaza camp on campus. Since anti-Israel activists erected the encampment on the Old Main Lawn on May 14, the Gaza camp has continued to grow, as reported antisemitic incidents and vandalism have increased.

The school is currently investigating a possible hate crime after a Jewish student was allegedly spat on while walking past the encampment wearing a Star of David on May 17, days after the encampment formed.

The victim told the Bellingham Herald, "(Protesters) were chanting in Arabic that the entire land is exclusively Arab land. They were chanting to kick out ‘Zionists’ from (WWU) and specifically the Ethnic Student Center."

"I was also yelled at by multiple individuals who repeatedly screamed ‘shame.’ Keep in mind I didn’t speak a word to them the whole time. I didn’t realize the antisemitism was so prevalent until yesterday."

Jonathan Higgins, university spokesman, said that a "thorough university investigation is under way, receiving our full care and attention."

"While we do not have confirmation that this antisemitic act was committed by any of our encampment protesters, our student services team, which includes staff focused on de-escalation, addressed expectations with demonstrators on Friday immediately after the incident. The team continues to clearly communicate that this behavior was and is unacceptable, and we will continue engaging with the encampment to reinforce expectations," he added.

Leaders of the encampment, which now includes representatives from a union group, have declared that they will not leave until the school complies with their anti-Israel and antisemitic demands. The students demand that the school "acknowledge harm and correct wrongs," meaning to "Publicly acknowledge the harm that the University has inflicted upon Arab and Arab-American students on campus through lack of support, silence during the genocide of Palestinian people, and demonization of the Arab and Arab-American students." This after the Palestinian terror group Hamas attacked Israel.

They further demand "full financial disclosure," "complete divestment from Israel," that the school "invest in community," meaning classes on "decolonial studies, global liberation struggles, postcolonial studies, post-imperial studies, and transnational feminisms," and to "schedule an emergency board of trustees meeting." This latter one would be to discuss the previously iterated demands.

 Over 150 faculty members have signed a letter demanding that the administration acquiesce to the occupiers' demands. 

"Students on college campuses across the country are demanding that their institutions live up to the values they claim to uphold. On May 3, 2024, a diverse coalition of Western Washington University (WWU) student organizations, led by WWU’s Jewish Voice for Peace and Arab Student Association, presented you with a list of demands. Students are calling on WWU to financially divest from genocide, invest in decolonial education, and actively address the harm that the university has inflicted upon Arab and Arab American students on campus. As faculty, we write in support of our students and urge you to meet their demands," the letter stated.

"Divestment is not a new phenomenon," it reads. "In response to student-led movements in the 1980s, universities across the country cut ties with companies that supported South Africa’s apartheid regime." The faculty noted that schools such as Harvard, Michigan, and the University of California system, "have also committed to divesting their endowment from the fossil fuel industry," and "Washington’s Evergreen State College became the first US university to commit to divesting from 'companies that profit from gross human rights violations and/or the occupation of Palestinian territories.'" 

The faculty members said that students at WWU "have a long history of effecting change,"  with student activism leading to the creation of the Multicultural Center, the Ethnic Student Center, the WWU House of Healing, and the Department of Ethnic Studies, among other things. "Now, students are demanding 'an education that does not fund genocide, apartheid, or war.'"

"We stand with them in unwavering solidarity as they join a nationwide movement on college campuses and a global movement for Palestinian liberation. We therefore ask you to set into motion a speedy process to meet student demands, while upholding academic freedom and free speech on campus, and protecting all students from violence or retaliation."

"As WWU faculty, we have the great privilege of working with students on a daily basis. We have witnessed their commitment to education and community, their ethic of care, and their steadfast dedication to ending the Israeli genocide on Palestinians. As an institution, WWU encourages students to 'make waves' and prides itself on fostering a 'commitment to equity and justice, and respect for the rights and dignity of others.' Indeed, WWU’s Strategic Plan, approved by the Board of Trustees, envisions WWU as an institution that will 'support and strengthen curricula and other programming that engage issues of access, equity, power, and privilege.' We call on WWU administrators to honor these values by meeting students’ demands," the letter concluded.

While university administrators continue to hold regular meetings with the occupiers, harassment and antisemitism continue to be detailed on the WWU police blotter. Activists have also vandalized buildings with antisemitic and anti-Israel graffiti and a fountain was damaged. 

Rabbi Avremi Yarmush, director of the Rohr Center for Jewish Life, told KOMO News that WWU is failing to protect its students. “It's an allowance for students to say, 'Hatred of Jews is not so bad. If it was a bad thing the school would do something.'" He added, “I haven’t seen any real action that is being taken to promote safety for Jewish students, for non-Jewish students, for anybody."

Social media posts from area activists and anti-Israel accounts are now encouraging outside agitators, some of whom participated in the Gaza camp at the University of Washington, to join them at WWU.
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