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WWU Arab students issue statement in support of terror group Hamas, others on campus outraged

People search for bodies in the rubble at the Sousi mosque after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza on Monday.  ( New York Times)
By Robert Mittendorf Bellingham Herald

An Arab student group at Western Washington University issued a statement Tuesday on social media in support of the Hamas terrorists who slaughtered more than 1,000 Israeli civilians last weekend, including more than 250 young people at a music festival.

The Arab Student Association’s message on Instagram denies Israel’s right to exist by falsely claiming that the Jewish state has enforced a “75-year occupation” despite its creation by a United Nations vote in 1947.

“Israel has officially declared war, but the real war began 75 years ago with the commencement of Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians,” the Instagram post said, twisting historical fact.

In its post, commonly called a “story” on the Instagram platform, the Arab Student Association referred to the Hamas gunmen who murdered men, women and children as “resistance fighters” and said the wholesale slaughter of civilians was justified because of the Netanyahu government’s harsh treatment of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

More than 200 Instagram accounts, including those for several WWU student groups and two campus departments, “liked” or shared the student post. Someone in the College of Business and Economics liked the post and the Ethnic Student Center shared it to its home page.

Some of those likes or shares were removed on Wednesday, and the Ethnic Student Center later issued a statement of regret.

“This sharing occurred without proper consideration of the likely impacts of resharing. When staff became aware of this resharing, the post was removed from the ESC Instagram. We are deeply sorry for harms caused by the ESC’s resharing of this post,” the Ethnic Student Center said online Wednesday.

In its statement, the Ethnic Student Center didn’t describe the Arab Student Association’s post or challenge its support for terror.

“The ESC is a program of Western (Washington University). As a public institution, we must ensure that our social media postings are aligned with our educational mission and goals, including a commitment to equity and justice, respect for the rights and dignity of others, and integrity, responsibility, and accountability in all our work,” the statement read.

Western Washington University’s administration didn’t respond to The Bellingham Herald’s request for a statement on the postings.

In an Instagram direct message exchange with The Herald, the Arab Student Association declined interviews, deferring to the Ethnic Student Center for comment.

Reaction at WWUThe social media posts angered and shocked many in the university community, said Rabbi Avremi Yarmush of the Chabad synagogue located across Highland Drive from the WWU campus.

“That was not an apology,” Yarmush told The Bellingham Herald in an interview. “Just imagine that was a massacre and it was in Africa or Asia or pick your place in the world. They would never get away with such a non-apology. They didn’t even say what they were apologizing for,” he said.

“I don’t care if student groups (criticize Israel or support terror). They have that right. It’s the university that shouldn’t be allowed to do it,” Yarmush said.

Yarmush said that the Ethnic Student Center sent him a private message that was more heartfelt.

“The personal apology was very nice. But the public one, that wasn’t an apology,” he said.

Antisemitsm on campusWWU senior Ariela Ikezawa told The Herald that she was disappointed at the university administration’s silence and she wondered whether that meant approval for the Arab Student Association’s message.

“There’s been no condemnation of violence, no condemnation of terrorism, no condemnation of antisemitism or anything. I know I’m frustrated,” Ikezawa said.

Maddie Pelkie, another WWU senior, told The Herald that she fears the climate of antisemitism on campus, which has seen several incidents of hatred against Jews in recent years, including vandalism of Jewish texts at Wilson Library.

“Until this is addressed, how is any Jewish student, currently or in the future, going to know that they are welcome here?” Pelkie said.

“I have a lot of criticism of the Israeli government, but both of us have a right to life. If this were any other country, everyone would condemn it. Nowhere else in the world would you see people dismissing and trying to justify the slaughter of civilians. It sickens me that people argue that it’s heroic,” she said.

Several WWU students have told The Herald that antisemitic slights are frequent on campus and that their professors ignore antisemitic comments in class.

A recent survey by the American Jewish Committee found that 84% of American Jews believe that denying Israel’s right to exist is antisemitic.

Meetings set ThursdayIn a post on its public Instagram page, the Arab Student Association said that it will be meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday in the Viking Union multi-use room to “talk about what’s happening in Gaza. …”

Meanwhile, the Jewish Student Union of WWU is hosting a Community Care Space from 4-6 p.m. Thursday in Viking Union 565.

“In response to the devastating losses of life and the ongoing war in Israel and Palestine, we are partnering with the Counseling and Wellness Center to create a space of comfort, support and grief for those affected,” the Jewish Student Union said on its public Instagram page.