On April 19, an Israeli military officer, Col. Bentzi Gruber, came to Florida Atlantic University to give a presentation called "Ethics in the Field," explaining how the Israeli Defense Forces thwart attacks and defending the Israeli military against accusations of human rights violations.
Five students, members of the FAU chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, disrupted his speech by standing up after it began, making a few comments about war crimes committed against Palestinians, and then walking out. They then protested outside briefly.
For this, students say, they have been sanctioned by school administrators.
In a letter to the editor published yesterday on the website of the FAU student newspaper, University Press, three of the students, Nadine Aly, Noor Fawzy, and Renata Glebocki (the other two students chose to remain unnamed), wrote:
[Gruber's] speech was propaganda, touting the ethics of the Israeli military. He offered a defense of his own actions in Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli military operation that resulted in the killing of over 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, and at least 300 minors. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented evidence that Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 2008-2009 attacks.
As FAU students and Palestinian human rights activists, we could not stand idly by as this member of a foreign military that is guilty of committing serious war crimes used student tuition-paid public space to spread falsehoods about what happened in Gaza. Two days before the event, we addressed two university officials. We expressed our concerns and disapproval of an event of this nature. We reminded the officials that some students on campus had family members killed by the Israeli military during Operation Cast Lead. We received no response, and it became clear to us that the university administration was apathetic to human rights when it comes to those of Palestinians.
According to a police report on the protest, the students' actions were brief and nonviolent, and Gruber's presentation continued without further incident.
Still, the school launched an investigation of the students for a possible violation the school's student code of conduct.
The students' letter continued:
After a four-month university effort to discipline us, all five of us--two of whom wish to remain anonymous out of fear of further retaliation--decided to sign agreements that keep the incident off of our records and confirm that we have not been found responsible for the charges brought against us. But the agreements place harsh conditions on those of us who remain at FAU this year.
Two of the five students have already graduated, but the others, they say, had to accept punishment to keep the incident off of their school records: Two of the three remain on indefinite probation until they graduate, two are banned from leadership positions in student groups, and all three have to go through a "University Campus of Difference" training program. One is also required to complete 25 hours of community service.
The students go on to describe the training program as "officially sanctioned re-education" and the agreements as a "miscarriage of justice" and "clear violation of our First Amendment rights." They say the university "intends to silence our activism and stifle our right to free speech."
This continues a tumultuous year for FAU. President Mary Jane Saunders resigned after protests over the school's move to name a stadium after private prison operator GEO Group. Students who protested that initiative likewise had problems with administrators over their rights to protest. Professor Deandre Poole faced controversy over the "step on Jesus" free-speech exercise in his class. FAU's "free speech zones" have been mocked, and the Daily Caller last week called the school "the worst place in America to attend college" because of its "speech code."
New Times has sought comment on the SJP students' claims from FAU administration and from the group Owls for Israel, which sponsored Col. Gruber's appearance. We will update if and when they reply.
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