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'Stand against genocide:' Pro-Palestinian protests continue on Florida campuses

Palm Beach County resident Jules Gerstein is Jewish and a student at North Florida University where she supported the demonstration
Posted at 12:10 AM, May 01, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Pro-Palestinian rallies are continuing nationwide on college campuses, including Florida universities.
 
Protests took place at Florida State University in Tallahassee where five people, including students, have been arrested this week. Ten people were arrested during protests at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Monday and Tuesday, where police used what appears to be tear gas to break up crowds.

And nine people were arrested at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where the school warned on Monday: "The University of Florida is not a day care, and we do not treat protesters like children. They knew the rules, they broke the rules and they'll face the consequences.

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On Tuesday, University of North Florida pro-Palestinian students and activists got together on the Jacksonville campus, with shirts and banners, at one point setting up an encampment, like it's been seen at other national protests.

"It's a message of like we're not going, like this isn't a one-time protest,” Palm Beach County resident Jules Gerstein, who is a senior at the UNF, said. "I think the demand here, the protest here is like let us see your books, like let us see that you’re not supporting Israel and let's demand that you stand against genocide."

South Florida resident Jules Gerstein, who is a senior at the UNF and Jewish, says "the protest here is like let us see your books like let us see that you’re not supporting Israel and let's demand that you stand against genocide." April 30, 2024
South Florida resident Jules Gerstein, who is a senior at the UNF and Jewish, says "the protest here is like let us see your books like let us see that you’re not supporting Israel and let's demand that you stand against genocide."

Protests are in response to Israel's offensive in Gaza after Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages. Israel has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the Hamas health ministry.

Gerstein is Jewish and said she has been the president of the student union. She has spoken out about and protested against antisemitism and was a member of the Jacksonville Students for Democratic Society that protested for Palestinians at UNF.
 
"For you as a Jewish student was it difficult to support the pro-Palestinian protest?" WPTV reporter Joel Lopez asked.
 
"No, I see myself as someone who yes is Jewish, has been raised in South Florida with a very large Jewish population," Gerstein said. "I can hold space for that and for my identity and hold a space for people losing their lives and under an occupation. I don't think that they're mutually exclusive and I have a lot of Jewish friends that agree with that."

University of North Florida released a statement:

"The students were given 30 minutes to take tents down, per campus rules. The students removed the tents and continued their protest.

Student are allowed to protest, demonstrate, assemble or otherwise express their viewpoints on campus as long as they abide by applicable laws and university policies and regulations."

This comes as the Jewish community celebrated their final night of Passover.

"How are students feeling seeing this on their campus?" Lopez asked.

 "Students are feeling disturbed," Rabbi Shmuli Novack with the Chabad at UNF said.

Rabbi Shmuli Novack with the Chabad at the University of North Florida has been encouraging Jewish students to avoid the protests on campus. April 30, 2024
Rabbi Shmuli Novack with the Chabad at the University of North Florida has been encouraging Jewish students to avoid the protests on campus.

 Shmuli said the Chabad had its most attended Passover service in its 25-year history.
 
"This isn't new to us, unfortunately," Novack said. "We've seen this a time or two before so we're just proud of our students that despite the adversity they're sticking to their faith."
 
He said he has been encouraging Jewish students to avoid the protests on campus.

"We're grateful to the University, to the state of Florida, we're grateful for the chief of police and the UPD for handling this situation and at the same time protecting the rights of individuals to express themselves freely and not to violate the rights of students that they don't have to be oppressed and assaulted," the rabbi said.
 
UNF officials said they did not make any arrests on Tuesday.

But now that the school semester is coming to an end, the focus will be on graduations and if we’ll see activists at those events.

On Tuesday, Chancellor Ray Rodrigues sent a memo to the 12 presidents of the State University System of Florida advising institutions to ensure commencements aren't canceled or disrupted by activists and said in a statement:

"Thanks to the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature, our universities have the statutory tools necessary to prevent the spread of antisemitism currently invading higher education across our country. Commencement ceremonies are a time to recognize our graduates for the honors they have earned; they are not a platform for disruptive political activism of any stripe, especially activism for genocidal terrorists."