Students at Brown University, a private institution in Providence Rhode Island, held a sit-in to persuade the University President to support divestment from firms profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. Rather than accede to their request, the President had them arrested. The original report, copied below, can be found here.

Brown student activists, seeking divestment, arrested at sit-in. What we know

MARK REYNOLDS   Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE – A wave of arrests Wednesday night at Brown University ended a sit-in event staged by activists who hoped to weaken the financial underpinning of Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

In statements that they disseminated via email, the students said they wanted Brown’s president, Christina Paxson, to support their proposal for ensuring that Brown endowment money is not invested in certain companies.

Paxson’s cooperation would be a way for Brown to do “its part to promote an immediate cease-fire and a lasting peace,” according to the group behind the sit-in, BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now.

Members of the group had moved into University Hall on Wednesday afternoon, saying they would not leave until Paxson had made a show of public support for divestment.

In a news release, Brown said students who remained in the building were repeatedly warned that they would face arrest for trespass after the close of business.

“To protect the security of all community members and facilities, students cannot remain in non-residential campus buildings past the point of normal operating hours,” Brown’s statement said.

“The safety of our students is always our top priority,” the statement said. Brown issued multiple trespass warnings before arresting about 20 students, the statement said.

Brown’s Department of Public Safety processed the students. Then they were taken to the Providence Police Department.

Why the students were protesting

The student group issued its own statement along the way.

It quoted several members of the group, including Lily Gardner.

“As Jewish students mourning friends and loved ones, both Israeli and Palestinian, we’ve had enough of our university using us as a justification to maintain financial support of an apartheid state,” Gardner said.

“We’re sick of pretending that our academic and personal lives should go on as normal,” she adds.

Anila Marks said in the statement: ““We are Jewish students. So many of us have lost ancestors to anti-Jewish violence: we recognize more than anyone the threat of antisemitism, but we do not feel threatened by Palestine advocacy on College Hill.”

The call for Brown’s divestment from companies “that facilitate” Israel’s “occupation of Palestinian territory” isn’t new.

In 2019, for example, undergraduate students voted for such divestment in a referendum that drew coverage by The Jerusalem Post, published in Israel.

The nonbinding vote did not sway Paxson, who said the university would not use its investments to make political statements.

“The referendum was supported by 69% of the student voters – some 42% of Brown’s undergraduates voted,” said the article in The Jerusalem Post. “The question was included on a ballot for the Undergraduate Council of Students’ annual election of officers.”

This Tuesday, in a letter published in the Brown Daily Herald, more than 160 of the university’s faculty members urged their employer to “join international calls for an immediate cease-fire.”

Demands based on 2020 Brown advisory report on investments

The group’s demands Wednesday night were based on a report compiled in 2020 by an entity that provides advice on investment practices.

The report suggested criteria for selecting corporations to target. For example, one of the suggestions was that a company should not receive investment support if it provides “products or services” that contribute to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

The report identified companies such as Boeing and General Dynamics for divestment.

“It is clear that the Israeli occupation inflicts human-rights violations on the Palestinian people, with the help of corporations providing technological support” says the report, which accuses “any company that profits from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” as complicit in human-rights abuses.

On Wednesday the activists cited the 2020 report and announced they would not leave the hall until Paxson “publicly commits to … support a divestment resolution in the next meeting of the Brown Corporation.”

“Recent events in Israel and Gaza are bringing to the forefront deeply held and often conflicting views,” the university’s statement said, adding that “Brown leaders” had met with many student groups in recent weeks to “listen to” and address concerns.

“We know that many community members are feeling the effects of these events in deep and personal ways,” the statement said. “Our focus remains on providing care and empathy, and supporting the safety of our students, faculty and staff who are Israeli, Palestinian, Muslim, Jewish, have ties to the region and are feeling impacted by current events.”