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The war in Gaza triggers a week to remember on the USF campus in Tampa

Written by on Saturday, May 4, 2024

Meanwhile, the New College president attacks the protests.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: May 3, 2024

Host: On Monday this week, USF students in Tampa joined the Palestine protests that erupted on campuses elsewhere in Florida last week, and on Wednesday organizers promised they would be back today, after a break for graduation ceremonies. Our news team has an update.

Johannes Werner: On Wednesday, Richard Corcoran had an article published in The Federalist, a conservative online publication that spread fake news about massive fraud during the 2020 election. In it, the president of New College painted a scary picture of Palestine campus protests as “horrific”, with violent “antisemitic mobs preaching genocide”, rendering “campuses unsafe for Jews” and “faculty members cheering them on”, while protesters “advocate full-on pogroms”. The point of the article: Gloating about how he managed to keep a lid on protests on his campus. “In a year marked by campus riots across the country, New College has been a model of calm, civility, and collegiality.”

Indeed, except for repeated pro-Palestine protests in downtown Sarasota, so far this area has been exempt from the wave of protests. But that has not been the case on other, much bigger campuses in Florida. The week before Corcoran’s article appeared – despite draconian threats – protests flared up at public universities in Tallahassee, Gainesville and Orlando. Then, a couple days before Corcoran’s victory article, the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida erupted in protest. The day before the article, the so far peaceful rally ended in campus police shooting rubber bullets and teargassing a crowd trying to set up a camp, arresting at least seven protesters, for a total of 10, and the administration imposing campus bans on some. The day the article appeared, an even bigger crowd marched to campus, this time without a violent response, and the number of arrests rose to 13. All have posted bail and been released.

One of them is USF student Victoria Hinkley. The university administration suspended her just before graduation, because of her actions protesting Israel’s military attacks on Gaza. Partner station WMNF asked her what happened.

Victoria Hinkley: I’m a senior at USF. I was supposed to graduate this Saturday. And after Tuesday, Tuesday night, they sent an email to me, with multiple Student Code of Conduct charges placed against me by USF for organizing the solidarity encampment for Gaza and saying that I was suspended from USF and trespassed from campus.

WMNF Host: What are they alleging that you actually did that’s so dangerous to strip you of this, you know, so you spent four years, you spent all this money, you’re a dedicated student, and now all of a sudden, what’s their excuse?  

VH: They’re alleging that students were being violent, that I was advocating for violence. They’re alleging that I had weapons, that I was promoting the use of weapons. They’re alleging that I was breaking rules by protesting on campus, and they’re trying to say that I was going against conduct by standing up to this genocide and demanding that USF divest. 

JW: The graduation ceremony on the USF campus yesterday went off without any surprises — minus a graduating student carrying a Palestinian flag on stage — but Hinkley was not among the crowd to celebrate. After the Wednesday protests, one of the organizers – Lama Albasan with Dream Defenders – said that “we will be coming back here on Friday”.

We talked to Ali Abdel-Qader. He is an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation and close to the events unfolding in Tampa. Ali also co-hosts the Ruthless Truth, a public affairs show on WSLR. Early this afternoon, he said organizers were planning to hold a “Know your rights” seminar on campus later today, as well as a Friday prayer. He said he expected big turnout by the Muslim community for the latter.

Yesterday was graduation day at USF. With Spring Term classes ending this week – will this be the end of protests, too?

Ali Abdel-Qader: Well, I think that the students are going to have to strategize about how they want to continue the movement as these classes come to an end. I’m not sure exactly how they’re going to do it. However, I have faith in their creativity and I’m ready and PSL and the community is ready to support them in any way that we can. We are going to continue our movement outside of the universities for a free Palestine just as we have been doing for the past seven months. 

JW: What’s his response to Corcoran’s characterization of protesters as antisemitic mobs preaching genocide and calling for pogroms?

AAQ: No, not a word that has been said. Not a word that has been said about any sort of attack that a protester has carried out against anyone. At all of these protests, including the ones at USF, there has been no violence, none, until the police attack. That’s what we saw on Tuesday. What was this protest that got out of hand? It was students refusing to leave a square, refusing to leave.

Look at all of the Jewish people, Jewish anti-zionists who have joined the movement for Palestine. You know, they are disproportionately represented at Columbia University, which has been disparaged as … the protests there have been disparaged as anti-semitic since the beginning. However, no one can actually point to a concrete case of this anti-semitism manifesting, because, quite frankly, there is none. We have Jewish students who are hosting seders at the encampments. We have many organizations such as Jewish Voices for Peace, and we have Jewish organizers here in the Tampa Bay as well. Actually, one Jewish protester was assaulted at the last Tuesday protest at USF, he was assaulted and he had to go to the hospital. Who was he assaulted by? He was assaulted by the police. 

JW; The Jewish protester he referred to is Jake Geffon whose address is listed as Treasure Island. According to news reports, he was arrested Tuesday for resisting an officer with violence. As to New College and Richard Corcoran, Abdel-Qader had this to say:

AAQ: I think they’re very, very afraid of a student movement triggering at New College. I think that the sentiment is there at New College. What is missing is the organization. And I would not be surprised if the student movement continues … for an organic student movement to appear at New College, just as it’s appeared at USF, just as it has appeared at UCF, just as it’s appeared as UF, just as it appeared at UNF, at FIU, at many, many colleges and universities all across Florida and all across the United States. And I think that the administration there is actually very afraid, very, very afraid of a protest movement starting there.

JW: Reporting for WSLR News, this has been Johannes Werner.


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