At UNM Board of Regents meeting, protesters and Jewish students square off

At UNM Board of Regents meeting, protesters and Jewish students square off
The final public UNM Board of Regents meeting of the academic year took place on May 16, 2024 with Board of Regents President Kim Sanchez Rael presiding (top photo, third from left), and UNM President Garnett Stokes seated next to her. Protesters holding flags and banners noisily cheered their speakers, and then jeered and repeatedly interrupted the Jewish students when they spoke. photos©

by Diane Joy Schmidt
photos by NM Jewish Journal staff

Following the attack by Hamas terrorists on Israel on October 7th, week after week protests have grown across college campuses against Israel's response. Protesters' activities escalated nationally and at both the University of New Mexico and at New Mexico State University. While individual dialogues may have taken place with others who disagreed, those involved in public protests were unwilling to consider any viewpoint diverging from their own. Efforts to provide information by the sole Middle Eastern history professor and Israeli national on campus at UNM, Dr. Amit Sadan, were rebuffed by students and academics on a number of occasions.

On April 22nd, which coincided with the first night of Passover, the regular pro-Palestine/anti-Israel protests escalated in the form of an encampment at the UNM Duck Pond, which the university reluctantly tolerated for weeks. When a group of protesters occupied and refused to leave the Student Union building on April 30th, finally UNM police backed by state police forcibly cleared the building. Eleven of the 16 occupying protesters who were arrested turned out not to be students at all. Two weeks later, the student encampment at the Duck Pond was broken up, on May 15th.

Over the entire academic year, Jewish students on campus endured regular antisemitic slurs, and hostility from students and professors alike in classrooms.

Views of the audience at the UNM Board of Regents Meeting May 16, 2024. In photo on right, NM Rep. Eleanor Chavez (D-26), seated, in burgundy coat, introduced a divestment resolution. photos©

The final UNM Board of Regents meeting of the semester, which followed commencement on May 11th, took place on May 16, 2024 with Board of Regents President Kim Sanchez Rael presiding (top photo, third from left), and UNM President Garnett Stokes seated next to her.

During the public comment period, the "UNM Divestment Coalition" called for divestment of UNM investments tied to Israel.

At the beginning of the public comment period, the regents determined that each "side" would have 15 minutes to present their views. The divestment resolution was read by NM Rep. Eleanor Chavez (D-26), (seen in audience photo, lower right, seated, in burgundy coat). A dramatic crowd of protesters holding flags and banners lined the back wall, noisily cheered their speakers, and then jeered and interrupted the Jewish students when they spoke.

Two hours into the meeting, the small contingent of Jewish students presented their case. Shoshanah Jaffe, a member of the UNM staff, spoke first, requesting that the resolution be rejected. Sophomore Leonardo Arreola spoke next, followed by Hillel Director Sara Koplik, then student Savannah Gallegos and student Fran Narain. Also, Alex Fischer spoke at the beginning of the meeting.

These speakers can be viewed beginning at about 2 hours, 7 minutes on the Board of Regents video recording of the meeting here.

Screenshots made from University of New Mexico Board of Regents public access video, of Shoshanah, Leonardo, Savannah, Sara and Fran addressing the Board of Regents. photos © www.NMJewishJournal.

Below is a portion of the remarks given by Hillel student Savannah Gallegos as she addressed those assembled.

Following the meeting the small group of Jewish students and staff headed out to walk across campus. photo ©
Behind them marched the protesters, shouting repeated slogans. photo ©

Remarks by Hillel student Savannah Gallegos
"Hello, my name is Savannah Gallegos. I am a proud Nuevomexicano and Jewish student here at UNM. Something you will often hear in response to criticisms of current protests is that students are always on the right side of history.

Last Saturday, I was given the opportunity to be able to visit the Museum of Jewish heritage in New York. While there, I learned more about the events that led up to the Shoah, how before Nazi Germany implemented legal measures to isolate Jews, it was was the populace that enacted the bulk of its hate. One damning example of this was in colleges, where students took it upon themselves to physically prevent Jews from attending. When I learned of this, I immediately thought of Columbia University, where the trend of solidarity encampments began. 

Colombia, where student protesters intimidated, harassed and barred Jewish students and teachers from attending classes, so much so that a university rabbi had to warn them to stay home for their own safety. While the encampment here at UNM may have changed its goals since its inception, it initially began in solidarity with Colombia.  Its origins feel more notable now than ever, when you look into who has been co sponsoring it.

Samidoun ABQ is one of the organizations that has been involved in the hosting and development of the encampment. Notably, it has been banned from Germany for antisemitism and supporting terrorism. Last month, their international coordinator Charlotte Kates was arrested in Canada for the following statement:  "We demand a free Palestine from the river to the sea. And we stand with the Palestinian resistance and their heroic and brave actions on October 7, [...] Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hizbullah - these are not names to be ashamed of. These are the names of those who fight and sacrifice for all of us and for a better world [...]  Everything that we can do is just to live up to the example that the resistance fighters set every day. Yes - with their guns, with their missiles, and with their rockets." 

Samidoun ABQ have asserted that they stand by this stance.

Leaders of the encampment have since stated that they have 'shut down antisemitism' when it occurs and invited Jewish students to participate. But I must ask; How can Jewish students here feel safe or comfortable when statements like that one are echoed and affirmed by many of their members?  

I feel it is also vital to note that every single Israeli student at this university has since left, that they would rather face the ongoing threat of being bombed in Israel then continue to endure the isolation and harassment existing on our campus.

I leave you with this:  I fully support the First Amendment right of my fellow students to protest as they see fit, safely and securely, regardless of whether we agree. Universities are intended to be a crossroads for different ideas and beliefs. And disagreement is a necessary part of developing critical thinking.

I am not here to ask you to adopt my position or to support Israel. Instead, I am asking you to commit to a de-escalation of the current atmosphere that is intimidating Jewish students and faculty, to adopt antisemitism sensitivity as a part of mandatory staff training, and to be firm but neutral in delivering the consequences of violating student school policies.

Thank you for your time."

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