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Student groups address Israel-Hamas war at USG meeting

KentWired illustration by Cari Stonis

Members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Hillel addressed the Undergraduate Student Government at its meeting Wednesday night, commenting on USG’s lack of statement on the Israel-Hamas war.

In April 2022, USG issued a statement condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“Why is it that we uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty?” said Yaseen Shaikh, president of SJP and senior computer science major. “Are these not the same values, the same humanity, and the same international law that should now be on us to condemn the state of Israel?” 

Shaikh read a statement, co-signed by his organization, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Muslim Student Association, Arab Student Association and KSU Ignite, which said the situation between Israel and Palestine is similar to the Russia-Ukraine war. 

He said USG should therefore issue a statement condemning the Israeli government, who declared war on Hamas and announced a “complete siege” of Gaza following the Oct. 7 attack, cutting off water and electricity in the majority-Palestinian region.

Senior anthropology major Rose Martyn, president of Hillel, senior psychology major Emma Guritza and freshman peace and conflict studies major Hannah Sietz represented their Jewish student life organization. 

They urged USG to consider the implications of making a statement on the conflict. If USG were to make a statement, they said the organization should condemn Hamas, which killed over a thousand Israeli people living along the Gaza border in an attack Oct. 7. 

“I am here today to ask you all to look at the division at this school and determine if releasing a statement that will inevitably cause more division is the right choice,” Martyn said. “If you do decide that making a statement is the right thing to do, then I urge you to make one condemning Hamas.”

“I think it’s important that they understand that there are innocent people who died on both sides, and those both deserve to be recognized, but this is not a war against the Palestinians, it’s a war against Hamas, which is a terrorist organization,” she said. 

Guritza, a Hillel member, said USG should condemn Hamas – not Palestine.

“This conflict is not a call for ‘Free Palestine,’” Guritza said. “It is a call to free the world from Hamas. Your support is needed now, and you cannot stay silent.”

Since USG represents the student body, Shaikh said it is important for the organization to use its voice to speak out about the conflict.

“When some injustice occurs, we must fight it,” he said. “We must speak out against it, and we must hate it in our hearts. As representatives of the student body, we call on you to reflect our highest ideals, even when inconvenient.”

SDS president and junior peace and conflict studies major Christian Heller attended the meeting in support of Palestine.

“Just as Russia has been consistently taking land away from Ukraine, and Ukraine has a right to exist and sovereignty to retain the land, Palestine also has the right to retain its land, which has been consistently taken by Israel,” he said. 

Martyn said it is important for members of USG to offer support to the Jewish community.

“I think that some people have been really public with their opinions and we have been trying to be a supportive space for the Jewish students, but we’re not sure how far that message has reached,” Martyn said. “We figured that by coming here and talking directly to USG, who represents the student body, we can help spread the word.”

At the end of the meeting, USG President and senior marketing major Juliana Buonaiuto thanked those who spoke for their contributions and offered open office hours for those who wanted to discuss the topic with her more in depth.

“It takes a lot of courage to stand up there and speak from your mind, from your heart,” she said. “And I deeply appreciate you all for doing so.”

As of Thursday night, USG has not released a statement regarding the war.

Addison Foreman is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Addison Foreman, General Assignment Editor
Addison is a junior journalism major minoring in creative writing and political science. She enjoys writing about politics, government and current events. She also loves reading and hanging out with her cat. Contact her at [email protected]  
Cadie Pierce, Photographer
Cadie Pierce (she/they) is a Senior Integrative Studies major and Photojournalism minor and staff photographer for KentWired/Kent Stater. Cadie can be reached at [email protected].

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