The demonstration was promoted on Instagram by a group called “Revolutionary Student Organization – Brandeis.” In a post, the group said it was demanding Brandeis “stop supporting the genocide of the Palestinian people through its commitment to the economy and institutions of the occupation.” The group also called on the university to “end the repression of pro-Palestinian voices on campus.”
One woman held an Israeli flag about 20 feet from the edge of the crowd. Some people passing by stopped to support her, and as protesters chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” they chanted but said “the hostages will be free.”
More than 200 people were taken hostage by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, and more than 1,400 people were killed, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials. In Gaza, more than 11,070 people, two-thirds of them women and children, have died since the war began, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. that does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths.
The scene began to unravel after police, who surrounded the demonstration, used a loudspeaker and demanded that protesters leave. In an email sent to the Brandeis community Friday night, university leaders said an administrator had “warned speakers that if they continued to use” language that the university has “explicitly described as hate speech,” then the demonstration would disperse.
Some protesters began clearing the area as tension rose, but many stayed and continued chanting, and some shouted at police and said they were suppressing protesters’ right to free speech. Police, again using loudspeaker, said the gathering was illegal and anyone who refused to disperse could face arrest.
Most of the remaining protesters began to walk away from the student center as they continued chanting, and some turned to shout at the police, who followed them. Chaos then erupted as several officers took a person to the ground and worked to handcuff her as she screamed. Two other agents who were very close were also forced to the ground and handcuffed.
A Waltham police van stopped on the footpath and at least half a dozen people were placed in the back.
A Brandeis spokesperson said a total of seven people were arrested on charges including assault and battery on a police officer, unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. The spokesman said police moved to clear away the crowd, “who were shouting threats and harassing language.”
As the scene unfolded, numerous Brandeis students, including some who did not participate in the demonstration, stood nearby and took videos with their phones, many of them with shocked expressions on their faces as police loaded people into the van. .
Several students who spoke to the Globe declined to share their names, saying they feared retaliation from the university and others for speaking out. Several seniors said they had never experienced such a level of division in the community until the war between Israel and Hamas broke out in October.
“It’s hard to have a voice right now if you’re not part of a group,” said a Brandeis senior who did not participate in the demonstration but watched it unfold.
Earlier on Friday, Brandeis students received an email from administrators saying the university’s principles around free speech and free expression “exclude speech that constitutes threats or harassment.”
“The use of language that invokes violence, death or annihilation, including calling for the bombing of Gaza, chanting ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ or ‘intifada, intifada’, or mocking the burning of Gaza villages to the ground: intimidates, frightens and silences cohorts in our community and therefore goes beyond our free speech principles,” the email said.
In the email the administrators sent Friday night, they said they “support open dialogue on the difficult issues involved in the war between Israel and Hamas.”
“But today’s demonstration did not encourage thoughtful dialogue; On the contrary, it created an atmosphere of intimidation, which is the antithesis of a learning environment. In the coming days, we will share opportunities for members of our community to reflect and respectfully engage with one another.”
The letter was signed by Vice President for Finance and Administration Stew Uretsky, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke, and Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Dine.
Andrea Burns, a Boston woman who came out to support students at the demonstration, said she was horrified by the force used by police.
“These are grown men and they threw young men to the ground who weren’t doing anything,” he said. “Shame on Brandeis, shame on the police for his cruel and barbaric tactics. [The students] “I have every right to speak.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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