Amid Arrests on Other Campuses, Tensions Mount at UVA

by James A. Bacon

As a wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations and encampments rolled across Virginia college campuses yesterday, university presidents held firm in enforcing rules governing the orderly conduct of protests. The day after Virginia Tech shut down an unpermitted “liberation zone” Sunday, arresting 82, Virginia Commonwealth University closed an encampment last night, arresting 13. At the University of Virginia, pro-Palestinian groups were ordered to take down their tents, erected before the main event today called for by protest organizers, but were allowed to continue their vigil.

Media reports indicated, however, that protests spread yesterday to Mary Washington University, where they had died down from a previous eruption, and to Christopher Newport University.

The Virginia protests were overshadowed in national media Tuesday night by resolution of the standoff at Columbia University, where New York police broke up a liberation zone and evicted students who had barricaded themselves inside a building.

If university presidents in the Old Dominion needed any stiffening of resolve, they got it from Governor Glenn Youngkin who, appearing on CNN Sunday, said, “We’re not going to have encampments and tents put up and yes, we will protect the ability to peacefully express yourself, but we’re not going to have the kind of hate speech and intimidation we’re seeing across the country in Virginia.”

After the knock-down of the encampment at VCU Tuesday, the main action in Virginia shifted to UVA.

At VCU the protest had grown to “several hundred” students and dozens of tents, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. University officials warned protesters that they were in violation of VCU’s Reservation and Use of Space policy for holding a large event without advance notice or permission. Students used wood pallets to erect a barricade and some hurled water bottles at police. The 13 protesters who were arrested included six students and seven non-students. Their ages ranged from 19 to 39.

Among the 82 people arrested at Virginia Tech Sunday, 29 were non-students.

Encampment at UVA Tuesday afternoon.

The UVA Dissenters and UVA Apartheid Divest had planned a day-long demonstration to begin today, May Day, but protesters began gathering in the grassy area between the Rotunda and the chapel yesterday. There was minimal activity, as protesters mostly gathered in small groups talking to one another, reported Charlottesville’s Daily Progress. However, a USA TODAY reporter tweeted that she heard chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Free, free Palestine.”

University officials told the protesters to take the tents down. Said University spokesperson Brian Coy:

Earlier this afternoon, University officials became aware of a small group setting up tents near the UVA Chapel. Representatives from UVA Student Affairs and University Police met with the group and informed them that, while they are free to demonstrate in public spaces, tents are prohibited by University policy. The individuals complied with requests to voluntarily take down the tents. There were no arrests and no disruption of University activities.

UVA has seen an increase in peaceful expressive activity on our Grounds this year in response to the ongoing Middle East conflict. As an institution committed to free expression and the open exchange of ideas, we strive to ensure these activities can take place safely, and in a manner that permits all parties to make their voices heard.
The University is prohibited by the Constitution and our own values from restricting speech based on its content, even in cases where the content is hurtful or offensive. We do, however, enforce reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of expressive activities, so as to assure the safety of our community and to avoid disruption to University life or the rights of others. As we become aware of planned expressive activities, University officials engage with organizers to inform them of these policies.”

The video above shows University police taking down a Palestinian flag that had been attached to the pedestal of Thomas Jefferson’s statue.

The main event is scheduled to begin late in the morning today and last until the late afternoon. The Dissenters and Apartheid Divest described their agenda in an Instagram post: They plan to express their solidarity with “the Palestinian people” and call for “an END to the occupation and an end to [U.S.] institutions’ complicity in genocide. … Reaffirm our community’s commitment to Palestinian Liberation. DISCLOSE! DIVEST! WE WILL NOT STOP! WE WILL NOT REST!”

Meanwhile, Jewish students were keeping a low profile.

“Today we joined the growing list of campuses with hate encamped on our doorsteps,” Rabbi Shlomo Mayer posted on the Facebook page of the Chabad House. “While you should be studying for exams and enjoying hot slices of post Pesach pizza, instead you’re dealing with our fellow students and professors attempt at intimidating you off the very space you call home.”

“We … worry that you won’t feel safe, worry that you will be harmed physically, worry you won’t feel you belong,” he said in a separate post. “We can’t promise any of those things won’t happen. We can’t shield you from hate on grounds or on Instagram.”

And in a third: “You will see ugly images of depraved pro-terrorist humans motivated by pure hatred of Jews. But we can promise you one thing. We will be here no matter what. … We are in this together. May we only know a world of peace and light.”

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Fernando Sandoval
Fernando Sandoval
16 days ago

Hamas is a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel and the United States. Hamas supporters should be treated as terrorist supporters. Antisemitism is bad and wrong.
Everyone has the right to peacefully protest and to speak freely, but the first amendment does not protect anyone who calls for violence against people based on their religious beliefs. The first amendment also does not protect people who do not allow students to freely and safely go to class nor does it protect people that violate any school’s rules and regulations, especially when violence is what they call for.
The protests in different schools are becoming very similar to the BLM riots. It is turning into a marxist movement. The communists have identified the Israelis as oppressors and the Pelestinians as the appressed. These communists call for and want confrontation with as many groups as possible.
As a parent of a student at UVA I hope that President Ryan, the administration, the faculty, the alumni, the parents and specially the majority of students do not support this disruption on their education, and that together we all eliminate any escalation of these protests that only promote hate and division.

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
16 days ago

I spoke with a UVA Jewish student today who was part of a group that led a peaceful pro-Israel rally in front of Alderman Library this afternoon. The students came with American and Israeli flags, and thankfully did not experience any overt harassment.

This student also saw the pro-Palestinian protest on the Grounds last night and spotted many faculty (masked in violation of VA law, as were the students and non-student protestors) leading the chants for an “Intifada” and “From the River to the Sea.”

The anti-Israeli sentiment runs deep at UVA, very much encouraged and led by a number of what I deem to be anti-Semitic faculty. Jewish parents with whom I have spoken repeatedly over the past few months verify this. I believe them.