“…we strongly object to the idea that any criticism, any speaking up for a free Palestine, in support of the Palestinian people, is automatically assumed to be antisemitic.“
When I arrived at the Fogarty Life Sciences building on the Rhode Island College (RIC) campus, college security in full uniform were informing the 17 or so students and faculty gathered in the lobby outside the auditorium that they were not allowed to protest inside the building. They were told that there was a designated area for protest outside the building and around the corner. It was about twenty degrees outside, and windy.
“No, we are going to protest in here, ” said RIC faculty member Sadhana Bery. “Because if it’s free speech for a speaker to come to campus, then we all, as students and faculty, have the right to free speech…”
“You do,” said the campus security officer, interrupting.
“We are not going to disrupt the event,” said Bery.
“You have a designated area, it’s already been set aside…” continued the security officer.
“No,” said Bery. “That is fascism. What good is protesting over there, when we are protesting an event here? This makes no sense.”
“Also, it’s cold outside!” said a student.
“I know,” replied the security officer.
The security officer said that the designated free speech zone outside the building was an order from the Vice President of Administration at RIC.
“Then have the vice president come down here and tell us themself,” said a student.
Security backed off, and the protest continued.
At issue was an event coordinated by the RIC Chapter of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a group of right wing Christian Zionists who believe that Israel is where the apocalypse will be taking place, as predicted in Revelations. The group partnered with the Rhode Island Coalition for Israel (RICI), a local group of right wing Zionist Christians and Jews, to bring former Rhode Island State Police Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Philbin to the campus to deliver a talk about his experiences during his visit to Israel for an anti-terrorsim training program, where he got to tour Israel’s Police, defense, and security forces.
The Anti-Defamation League program that paid for Philbin’s visit to Israel has come under fire from pro-Palestinian groups such as Jewish Voices for Peace, who link the program to violence against minorities here in the United States and elsewhere.
Philbin retired in late October “in good standing” after an internal affairs investigation involving a State Trooper allegedly struck a 17-year old and video of the incident mysteriously vanished, according to the Providence Journal. The extent of Philbin’s involvement is unknown, but State Police Superintendent James Manni said, “I am not permitted under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights … to make any public statement in connection to the status of any Internal Affairs investigation.”
Protesters stood in the lobby holding signs and chanting “Free Palestine!” as people filtered into the auditorium. Many attending the event were members of the faculty. Some attendees were members of RICI and/or came from off campus, including David Talan, the head of the Republican Party in Providence. Only a few RIC students seemed to be in attendance.
“We first heard of this event when flyers went up on campus,” said Bery. “The students did some research, looking into the group and what they stand for and we came to the realization that they are anti-Palestinian. They support the occupation, they support the genocide of the Palestinian people. This group doesn’t believe Palestinians have a right to their own homeland.
“We also learned that Philbin had been under investigation for police brutality.
“But as you can see, this protest is largely in support of the Palestinian people,” said Bery.
“Many of the people attending this event are top heads at RIC, said Charina, a senior student, “which shows us where they stand.”
“Another reason we are hereis that our student activity fees are paying for this and we don’t support that and we don’t want our money going to something like this,” said Carly, a senior student.
“Also, we strongly object to the idea that any criticism, any speaking up for a free Palestine, in support of the Palestinian people, is automatically assumed to be antisemitic,” concluded Bery.
The protesters then silently entered the auditorium where they held signs, but listened to Philbin’s presentation without disrupting it.
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