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Case Western Reserve University students walk out over school president's stance on Israel-Hamas war

The protest occurred outside Adelbert Hall at Case Western Reserve University, where President Eric Kaler's offices are.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
The protest occurred outside Adelbert Hall at Case Western Reserve University, where President Eric Kaler's offices are.

About a half-dozen Case Western Reserve University student groups Monday held a walk-out in protest of university President Eric Kaler, arguing he has divided the campus by failing to acknowledge Palestinian lives lost and Israeli "war crimes" during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The protest, organized by groups including Students for Justice in Palestine and the Black Student Union, also called attention to the impact of the Israel-Hamas war on campus and an alleged lack of support for Palestinian students from the campus administration.

Sabrina Wicker, a third-year student who attended the protest outside Adelbert Hall, where Kaler's office is located, said Palestinian and Muslim students more broadly have felt unsafe on campus. She noted a dialogue event hosted by the Students for Justice in Palestine was cancelled after they received an unspecified threat.

"So when we say that there's rising hostility on this campus that very actively threatens the safety of students, we have seen that unfold on this campus," she said.

Ideastream Public Media was barred from entering the campus to report on the protest; Case Western Reserve University spokesperson Bill Lubinger said media outlets were restricted to public sidewalks surrounding the university and were not allowed onto the campus quad where the protest occurred. CWRU is a private university.

Kaler sent an email to the campus community on Oct. 13, five days after Hamas attacked communities in Israel, killing 1,400 people and kidnapping around 240 people. In the email he condemned the attacks and "the level of terrorist violence by Hamas against Israel." In the time since, Israel has retaliated against Hamas in Gaza that has left 10,000 people dead as of Monday, many of them women and children, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza.

CWRU’s Students for Justice in Palestine group said in an Oct. 27 op-ed in the student newspaper that Kaler has, since his initial email on the Israel-Hamas war, failed to explicitly acknowledge “Israel’s war crimes against Palestinian civilians.”

“It is disappointing that you write about 'terrorism' without mentioning the recent overwhelming violence the Israeli government has subjected Gazan civilians to. The unlawful and anti-humanitarian restriction of essential resources such as water, gas, food and electricity of Palestinians is in violation of the Geneva Convention, which explicitly identifies collective punishment against a group of people as a war crime.”

In his initial Oct. 13 email, Kaler said many on the campus are affected by the war and are facing "grief, pain and suffering."

"We are here to support you," he wrote, adding counseling services are available. "We all support the right to free speech and expression, but there is no room for hate or intolerance within our campus community."

In an Instagram post detailing the cancellation of Students for Justice in Palestine's dialogue event, that student group noted they had met with Kaler wherein he allegedly “dismissed the idea of releasing a statement condemning the heinous war crimes and ethnic cleansing committed by the Israeli government on the Palestinians.”

Case Western Reserve University didn't immediately respond to a request for comment sent Monday afternoon.

Ayesha Bell Hardaway, a professor of law and director of the Social Justice Law Center, stopped by the protest. When asked about Kaler's email, she said some centers and departments on campus have issued their own statements, departments which have done the work to make sure students feel "safe and heard."

"And I wish that we could see more of that," she said.

She added that some of her students are on both sides of the conflict, and some still have family there. She said it's been a difficult time for those students.

"The amount of stress and emotional turmoil that they bring in and try to do their work in spite of it all, is really palpable," she said.

President Kaler was criticized last year by some students and the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ national organization and its Cleveland chapter, after he condemned a resolution by the undergraduate student government calling for a divestment from companies that support Israel's military, industry and prisons.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.