The rally was promoted on Instagram by a group called “Revolutionary Student Organization – Brandeis.” In a message, the group said it demanded that Brandeis “stop supporting the genocide of the Palestinian people through its engagement in the economy and institutions of occupation.” The group also called on the university to “end the repression of pro-Palestinian voices on campus.”
A woman stood, holding an Israeli flag, about 20 feet from the edge of the crowd. Some passers-by stopped to stand beside him, and as rally participants chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” they chanted at the same time that “the hostages will be free.”
More than 200 people were taken hostage by Hamas during its October 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 minors, have been killed since the start of the war, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. which does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths.
The scene began to deteriorate after police, who were surrounding the gathering, used a loudspeaker and asked the demonstrators to leave. In an email to the Brandeis community Friday evening, university leaders said an administrator had “warned speakers that if they continued to use” language that the university has “explicitly described as speech of hatred”, the demonstration would then be dispersed.
Some protesters began clearing the area as tension increased, but many stayed and continued chanting, with some shouting at police and saying they were suppressing protesters’ right to free speech. Police, again using the loudspeaker, said the gathering was an unlawful assembly and anyone who refused to disperse could be arrested.
The majority of the remaining protesters then began walking away from the student center while continuing to chant, with some turning to shout at the police, who were following them. Chaos then erupted when a person was seen being taken to the ground by several police officers who struggled to handcuff him as he screamed. Two other people nearby were also tackled to the ground by several officers and handcuffed.
A Waltham police van stopped on the walking path 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 battery on a police officer, unlawful assembly, disorderly conduct and trespassing. The spokesperson said police decided to move away the crowd, “which was chanting threats and harassing remarks.”
As the scene unfolded, many Brandeis students, some of whom had not participated in the protest, stood nearby and took videos with their phones, many with shocked looks on their faces as police charged the people in 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 members of the upperclassmen said they had never experienced this level of division within 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 one group,” said a Brandeis senior who did not attend the rally but watched it unfold.
Earlier Friday, Brandeis students received an email from administrators stating that the university’s principles for free speech and expression “exclude speech that constitutes a threat or harassment.”
“The use of language invoking 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 by mocking that the villages of Gaza are being burned. on the ground – intimidates, frightens, and silences cohorts in our community, and therefore goes beyond our principles of free speech and expression,” the email said.
In the email sent to administrators Friday evening, they said they “support an open dialogue on the difficult issues involved in the war between Israel and Hamas.”
“But today’s protest did not encourage thoughtful dialogue; rather, it created an atmosphere of intimidation, contrary to a learning environment. In the days ahead, 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, Senior and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke and Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Dine.
Andrea Burns, a Boston woman who came to support the students at the rally, said she was horrified by the force used by police.
“These are grown men, and they threw young people to the ground who were doing nothing,” she said. “Shame on Brandeis, shame on the police for their cruel and barbaric tactics. (Students) have every right to express themselves.
Materials from the Associated Press were used in this report.