Speech by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley disrupted by pro-Palestine students
Houston, TX – On May 22, 50 students disrupted and walked out of a Q and A session with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley hosted by the University of Houston. The protest began minutes after the president of the University of Houston, Renu Khator, extolled Haley’s popularity in a glowing introduction.
As Haley began to remark on her “very busy few weeks in American foreign policy,” Mohamad Fattouh, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UH, stood up and called out Haley’s complicity in the murder of Palestinian protesters: “Nikki Haley, the blood is on your hands! You continue to sign off on the genocide of a native people!” Visibly shaken, Haley stammered and muttered “geez!” under her breath as Fattouh continued: “You are an accomplice to terrorists and colonizers!”
Moments after Fattouh’s statement, students began chanting pro-Palestinian slogans. “Haley, Haley, you can’t hide, you sign off on genocide!” “Nikki, Nikki, can’t you see, you are on a killing spree!” went another, proclaimed by students holding up Palestinian flags.
After the protesters brought the event to a halt for over two minutes, security personnel escorted them out of the building. The students had taken up the bulk of the center aisles in the spacious auditorium, their absence thus leaving a huge empty space in the auditorium seating area for the remainder of Haley’s talk. The students then continued their protest in front of the building in which Haley was speaking.
“As a Palestinian living in the belly of the beast, the action was an outlet to directly confront someone so complicit in the ongoing genocide of my own people and find a bridge between the disconnect that exists when organizing within the U.S.,” said SJP UH member Sarah Abdulmooti, one of the organizers of the disruption. “In that moment, every name and picture of those killed in Gaza over the past months crossed my mind.”
The blood on Nikki Haley’s hands
The immediate impetus for the disruption was Haley’s recent remarks before the UN Security Council that Israel, which is financially and military backed by the U.S., showed “restraint” after snipers from the Israeli Defense Force massacred more than 100 Palestinian protesters and wounded thousands of others in the Gaza Strip between late March and mid-May.
The Palestinian protests from the besieged Gaza Strip occurred between March 30 and May 15, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, Arabic for “the catastrophe,” when armed Zionist militias carried out ethnic cleansing campaigns against Palestinians to establish the state of Israel in historic Palestine in 1948. Named the “Great March of Return,” the protests marked a major effort by Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return by foot to their homeland.
After her May 15 remarks at the UN praising Israel’s aggression, Haley walked out of the room once the Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, began to speak. Haley’s contemptuous gesture denied the Palestinian people even the pretense of having their voices heard. On May 22, students at the University of Houston, many of whom were Palestinian, got to walk out on Haley.
“For every ‘Free free, free Palestine’ we chanted, there’s real people behind it suffering under the oppression and occupation Israel imposes,” Sarah Abdulmooti remarked. “For every ‘Nikki Haley you will see, Palestine will be free’ there was assurance for everyone listening that we will never let our martyrs die in vain and a liberated Palestine will undoubtedly happen in our lifetime.”
No war propagandists on campus
The day before the disruption, on May 21, SJP at UH released a statement condemning the university’s decision to host Haley. “Nikki Haley embodies the racism inherent in the U.S.’s anti-Palestinian position,” the statement read. “In inviting Nikki Haley to its campus, the University of Houston demonstrates how little it cares about the safety and concerns of its students, including the large community of Palestinians that attend and contribute to UH’s diversity.”
A total of 12 other student organizations signed onto the statement, including Students for a Democratic Society at UH, members of which also participated in the disruption.
On the day of the disruption, SDS at UH likewise released a statement condemning Haley’s presence on campus for her warmongering against Syria, Venezuela and North Korea, in addition to Palestine. “We see our future and our stability conjoined to the cause of peace – not the endless military expansion that Haley clearly represents,” the SDS statement made clear. The statement also said that war propagandists “are not welcome at our university.”
Video footage and photographs of the disruption of Haley has since gone viral across a number of media outlets across the globe, including a number of Arabic-language media based in the Arab world such as Al Hadaf and Al Mayadeen. The popularity of the video across Palestinian media demonstrates the importance of confronting the powerful for their crimes in whatever ways possible.
A Palestinian community member in Houston known as Dr. Rezak emphasized that the youth-organized protest was very moving to witness for older generations of Palestinians. Dr. Rezak said the protest “showed that our new generation of Palestinians, even when they are living far away, are not going to give up their rights to Palestine, to Jerusalem, and the Right of Return.” Rezak added, “For me, it shows that we’ve been successful in passing the torch. My daughter was protesting Nikki Haley right at the front, and I was very proud, for although she was born in Houston, she understands.”