To the editor,

The administrators at the University of Rochester refuse to treat innocent civilians in Israel and those in Palestine (both in the West Bank, and Gaza) symmetrically. Throughout their messaging to the community, they have referred to the killing of Palestinians who live under Israeli apartheid by Israeli bombing and military campaigns as a “humanitarian crisis.” In contrast, they have consistently referred to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel as a “terrorist attack” where 1,200 people — Israelis and otherwise — were “killed and kidnapped.”

It requires no complex action to reiterate facts presented by mainstream media that everyone — including the Israeli government — agree on, which is why the University’s inability to acknowledge that over 12,000 Palestinians living under Israeli apartheid have been killed by Israel’s indiscriminate military attack on Gaza reflects a glaring double standard rooted in ethno-national and racial prejudice. 

This is a prejudice that continues to harm the UR community and that perpetuates anti-Palestinian and Arab hate and Islamophobia — all of which are contributing to the erasure of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians through intentional obfuscation and misrepresentation of facts. This prejudice enables their refusal to acknowledge the findings of globally-trusted human rights organizations such as Amnesty International — which published a comprehensive report highlighting that Israel is committing the international crime of apartheid against Palestinians, calling it “a cruel system of domination and crime against humanity.” This prejudice has fueled their incessant vilification of Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students on campus, a vilification that manifested itself, for example, in the deployment of Public Safety Officers in civilian clothing who have audio-visually recorded at least one Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)-sponsored event. 

Now, it could not be that each of the decision makers and varying signatories across recent administrative communications — including President Sarah Mangelsdorf, Provost David Figlio, Dean of the College Jeffrey Runner, CEO of the Medical Center Mark Taubman, Dean of Students Anne-Marie Algier and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Adrienne Morgan — or that the leaders of the Board of Trustees — such as Jeffries CEO Richard Handler — are all racially prejudiced against Palestinians, right? 

Although it is hard to speak to each of their hearts, at the very least, their latest actions and articulations must be viewed as an act of racial discrimination against Palestinian students. If you buy that racism is a sustained set of actions and systems imposed by individuals and institutions to discriminate against people from a particular race or ethnic group, it is perhaps not that hard to see that this institution is indeed racist. Additionally, it is not hard to see that this University is complicit in the dissemination of misinformation intended to harm Palestinian and pro-Palestinian students, and that it propagates lies and propaganda about Palestinians, pro-Palestinian advocates, and Muslims that are currently being used by the Israeli military to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

As an institution can only be as moral as those who run it, we must subsequently consider how members of the University’s senior leadership team, like Jeffrey Runner, have weaponized threats of antisemitism and anti-Black hate in order to intimidate pro-Palestinian voices. At a student-admin meeting some weeks ago, Runner compared the use of the term “genocide” in front of Jewish students (in reference to what is happening to Palestinians) with the waving of a Confederate flag in front of a Black person. 

Runner initially denied this statement, but he later issued a rushed pseudo-apology buried underneath a series of unrelated University notices — one in which he didn’t even acknowledge the students and communities he directly harmed. All of this occurred only after an Equal Opportunity Investigation was initiated against him. A white man speaking on behalf of Black people when he has, in fact, not lived a single day as a Black person. Truly a classic. 

Runner’s words might just seem to reflect a subconscious bias; however, it would be naive to believe so. Such subtle mechanisms to silence people have long been employed by powerful people to gaslight individuals below them in a hierarchy with the hope of achieving a situation where the internal conflict of being identified as a “racist,” or the perceived fear of being labeled one, serves to censor voices that do not suit the interests of those in power. I have no doubt that Runner is employing the same tactics here.

But this administrative discrimination does not stop here. 

Mangelsdorf and Figlio have struggled to find time to meet with Palestinian students even after a month of relentless bombings in Gaza, but they have both met continuously with Israeli and Jewish students since Oct. 7 and attended UR Hillel Events. 

Figlio even partook in a photo-op with some Jewish students — who were meeting with him to discuss their fears and concerns around pro-Palestinian rallies on campus — for a Spectrum News report that actively misrepresented the peaceful and calm rally on Nov. 9 as one driven by antisemitism. This portrayal came despite the rally organizers and participants repeatedly reiterating their explicit stance against antisemitism and all forms of oppression. Figlio had time to walk all the way from his office to welcome these students at the front doors of Wallis Hall for the photo-op, but he did not have time to set up a meeting with Palestinian students for weeks.

From Figlio’s latest gestures to the University’s continued investments in — and refusal to divest from — Israel’s apartheid state, the actions of this institution’s leaders reflect its beliefs about the murder of innocent civilians. It is condemnable terrorism if the civilians killed are mostly Israelis who share a skin color with the 11 out of 12 white members of the University’s senior leadership team. However, it is a “humanitarian crisis” if the civilians are Palestinian and do not share their skin tone. This is regardless of Israel’s use of white phosphorous across Gaza, Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of schools, residential buildings, hospitals, refugee camps, water sources, generators, and bakeries, and Israel’s blocking of water, food, electricity, and basic healthcare necessities from entering Gaza have directly killed over 6,000 Palestinian children. 

Quod erat demonstrandum, UR Racist and Complicit.

Kazmi graduated with the Class of 2023. This Letter to the Editor was published as part of the Campus Times’ Nov. 21, 2023 Special Edition on Israel-Palestine

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