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By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Granberg condemns ‘celebration of terrorism’ on campus

Granberg stressed the importance of free speech but condemned terrorism and the celebration of violence.
File Photo by Taytum Wymer | Photographer
University President Ellen Granberg, pictured in October.

Updated: Oct. 12, 2023, at 7:31 p.m.

University President Ellen Granberg condemned the “celebration of terrorism” in a statement Wednesday after a student group held a Tuesday vigil for Palestinians killed in recent violence between Israel and Hamas.

Granberg said free speech, assembly and debate are foundational to the University and the country — acknowledging students’ right to express themselves under the law and University policy — but condemned terrorism and celebrations or glorifications of violence. She said she spoke Tuesday night with students, faculty and staff directly impacted by the conflict, the same night that GW Students for Justice in Palestine held a vigil and attendees said Hamas’ attack was a response to 75 years of Israeli oppression of Gaza.

Demonstrators at the vigil said the gathering was intended to honor Palestinian martyrs who made the “ultimate sacrifice” for liberation from Israeli governance and the country’s oppression. The vigil attracted more than 120 people, including two conservative provocateurs and a large police presence, and some speakers hailed the attacks as a form of resistance to Israeli colonialism.

Granberg’s statement served as a veiled condemnation of SJP’s Tuesday vigil, though the group wasn’t specifically named. SJP responded to Granberg’s statement about five hours later, rebuffing the University president and arguing the group’s mourning does not constitute a celebration of terrorism. SJP’s response said the group is the victim of a double standard, that University officials haven’t properly supported Palestinian students during Israel’s “colonial terrorism” over the past 75 years.

“However, we are also a shared community, and I not only condemn terrorism, but I also abhor the celebration of terrorism and attempts to perpetuate rhetoric or imagery that glorifies acts of violence,” Granberg’s statement reads. “Such messages do not speak on behalf of me, our administrators, or GW.”

Israel on Sunday declared war on Hamas — a Palestinian militant group which the United States and the European Union have long designated a terrorist organization — after militants launched a surprise attack in Israel the day prior. The attack, which included rockets and mass kidnappings, fell the day after the close of Sukkot, a weeklong celebration commemorating the fall harvest.

Israel responded with airstrikes and a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off travel between Israel and Gaza, which has been under a longstanding blockade from Israel. As of Wednesday, more than 1,200 Israelis and 1,100 Palestinians have died, with thousands more injured.

Students gathered in two rallies Sunday and vigils Monday and Tuesday to support Israel and Palestine, voice their feelings on the violence in the region and mourn people who have been killed.

Wednesday’s statement was the second message she released to the community in response to the attacks. In the first, she said she was “deeply shocked and saddened” by the attacks on Israel and continued violence in the region. Her first statement did not call the acts terrorism and she encouraged students to engage in respectful discourse.

At Tuesday’s vigil, attendees chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which many Palestinians view as a call for independence but that some Israeli and Jewish people view as a call for the elimination of the Israeli state.

In her second statement, she said she is “horrified and grief-stricken” over the extent of the violence and loss of life stemming from the Hamas attacks that has continued to come to light and condemned in the acts. She again encouraged community and civil discourse and advocated for peace on campus and overseas.

“These messages of compassion and understanding remain the foremost priority for this university,” she said in the statement.

Granberg said she will continue to meet with community members and encouraged community members to show support for one another, again promoting resources within the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement; Counseling and Psychological Services; Division for Student Affairs; Human Resources Management & Development; and the Office for Faculty Affairs.

“Our community members’ connections to this event are deep, painful, and not always obvious,” Granberg’s statement reads.

GW for Israel posted screenshots of Granberg’s statement on their Instagram story Wednesday night, including a caption thanking Granberg for her message and an applause emoji. GW Hillel also posted a screenshot of her message on their Instagram story, thanking her for the statement.

SJP released a 10-slide statement via Instagram roughly five hours after Granberg’s message, rebuking her characterization that their vigil Tuesday night was a “celebration of terrorism.” The post states that their vigil was an expression of mourning over the more than 260 children and 1,000 Palestinians who had been killed in Gaza.

“Shame on you, Ellen Granberg,” the post reads. “You will NOT slander our martyrs.”

At least seven Metropolitan Police Department cars lingered near SJP’s Tuesday night vigil, and people affiliated with conservative news site the Daily Signal and the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation approached vigil attendees, asking for interviews while making provocative remarks about the demonstration.

“Only our vigil was disrupted by protestors, hostile media, and an extreme police presence,” their statement reads. “Only our speakers were heckled and yelled at.”

The statement criticizes what the group calls Granberg’s weaponization of “racist and Islamophobic language” at a time when Palestinian students and other affected communities are vulnerable to violence. The group alleges members and leaders of the GW community verbally and physically assaulted Palestinian students but doesn’t name specific instances.

“Your statement is a direct attack on our communities, our safety, and our right to grieve,” the statement reads.

This post was updated to reflect the following:
The Hatchet updated this post to clarify the characterization of Granberg’s lack of the term “terrorism” in her first statement to GW community members. The Hatchet also updated this story to include reactions from GW Hillel and GW for Israel on Granberg’s statement and context about a controversial chant made at Tuesday’s vigil.

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About the Contributor
Erika Filter, News Editor
Erika Filter is a senior majoring in international affairs from Carson City, Nevada. She leads the Metro beat as one of The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editors and previously served as the assistant news editor for the Student Government beat.
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