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Brandeis president says pro-Palestinian demonstration ‘devolved into the invocation of hate speech’

University says three students, four people unaffiliated with the school were among those arrested

Police escort an arrested protestor on the campus of Brandeis University in Waltham on Nov. 10.SMILEY HUYNH

The president of Brandeis University said the school is reviewing “what exactly took place” during and after a pro-Palestinian demonstration Friday on campus in which seven people were arrested, including some who were seen being forcefully detained by police.

In a letter to the Brandeis community Saturday evening, university President Ronald Liebowitz said students gathered “to voice their points of view on the Israel-Hamas war, which they have a right to do on our campus,” but administrators must ensure that “we provide an environment without harassment and intimidation in order to support free expression.”

“This also means that there is a level of responsibility that comes with free speech that was not exercised by many of the protestors yesterday, as the demonstration devolved into the invocation of hate speech,” he wrote.


At times, the crowd was led in chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a phrase that Brandeis administrators have said “intimidates, frightens and silences cohorts of our community” and goes “beyond our principles of free speech and expression.”

Among the seven people arrested, three are Brandeis students and four are unaffiliated with the university, a Brandeis spokesperson said. Brandeis administrators said Friday night that six people were arrested at the protest, and a “seventh individual was arrested for trespassing earlier in the afternoon.”

Waltham police said the charges against the seven include disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly, and assault and battery on a police officer. No further information about the arrests has been released.

The university will hold events for students and faculty this week “to address the social and emotional welfare of our campus community,” Liebowitz said.

“I know how contentious it feels for many on our campus right now, and that people are hurting,” he wrote. “I empathize with all of you who are grappling with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Many of you have lost loved ones during this war, Palestinian and Israeli alike; I am heartbroken for the loss of life, and I offer my sincere condolences.”


He closed by expressing his hope the campus community can come together.

“I hope that we can find common ground during this very difficult time, and move forward in ways that Brandeis is known for, where we are able to accept our differences, and talk about them, in an environment where we can all feel free from harassment,” Liebowitz wrote.

The demonstration Friday in front of the Shapiro Campus Center came after the university last week banned the Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine group, which made a series of online posts that Liebowitz viewed as celebrating or defending Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

One hour after the demonstration’s scheduled start, police used a loudspeaker and ordered the protesters to disperse. Some left, but many remained and turned their focus to the police, shouting at the officers. After police repeated the order, the majority of remaining demonstrators began to march away, some turning back to shout at police, who followed closely behind.

The scene suddenly unraveled as police took down one protester and a couple others nearby and put them in handcuffs. Other protesters shouted for them to be let go as onlookers watched with shocked faces as they recorded video with their phones.

“As part of the university’s standard protocols and procedures, we are reviewing what exactly took place during — and in response to — the protests, so that we can best keep our community members safe,” Liebowitz wrote.


Nick Stoico can be reached at Follow him @NickStoico.