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UWM SDS demands chancellor cut ties with Israel in hard-won meeting with administration

By staff

Students chant and carry signs that read slogans like "Palestine will live forever."

Milwaukee, WI – On February 26, five members from the UW-Milwaukee chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) met with UWM administration to demand they cut ties with Israel.

Kayla Patterson, Samia Saeed, Sania Syed, Audari Tamayo, and Robby Knapp represented SDS as they raised the campaign demands. The campaign to divest from weapon manufacturers, end study abroad trips to ‘Israel’, and rename the Golda Meir library has the endorsement of the 63-organization Wisconsin Coalition for Justice in Palestine (WCJP).

The meeting came as a result of the sit-in on February 9 where students occupied the UWM administrative building, Chapman Hall, for six hours, and five students were violently removed and issued citations with bogus charges. The office of UWM chancellor Mark Mone released a statement denouncing the sit-in as ‘unlawful’. Still, the chancellor was forced to concede to meet with the students in two weeks.

At 9:45 a.m., nearly 40 student and community activists gathered outside the Golda Meir library in preparation for the 10:30 meeting. Police presence began early with cops entering the library before the start of the event. Police were also sent to Chapman Hall, just in case.

Unfazed, the activists rallied and marched through campus into the Student Union, making their way to the meeting room. The UWM administration security detail was visibly shaken by the turnout. They had bizarrely closed off the neighboring MLK Lounge (which the students later found out to be the Chancellor's escape route), had police guarding nearby doors, and required identification of the five students who were meeting with the UWM administration. A blackout curtain had been set up in front of the glass doors where the meeting was held, stifling transparency. A UWM police officer was present, showcasing the measures UWM administration is willing to take to suppress dissent. The students entered the meeting room as “Free free Palestine!” chants from 40 student and community activists reminded the administration that a curtain would not stop them from holding the university accountable.

“The meeting was only scheduled for 30 minutes, a spit in the face of the Palestinian people, students, and all who support a free Palestine,” said Audari Tamayo, one of the students who participated in the meeting. “After 140 days since the Israel Occupation Forces escalated the genocide upon the Palestinian people, UWM administration thinks discussing the university’s blood-stained relations with the settler colony is worth less than their lunch break.”

UWM administration had no intention to listen, much less fulfill the popular demands brought forth by the students. Hypocritically claiming to care for students and student voices, they made no mention of the fact that they sicced the police on the students. No mention that five students were violently restrained, even with three of the five arrested being present at the meeting. UWM must be held accountable for its ties with genocide and for repressing pro-Palestinian student protesters.

When confronted with the ever present racist reality of the shamefully named Golda Meir library, Chancellor Mone claimed he had only “recently heard that she said some things that were that way.” Mone later said that no students had ever brought forth concerns about the naming of the library after the Zionist, Golda Meir. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UWM initiated the calls to rename the library years ago. Recently at a university sponsored Israel-Palestine discussion this fall attended by Mone, the call for the library to be renamed was raised again to unanimous cheers.

“It is clear the so-called leaders of the school lack connection to the student body they claim to represent. Unlike SDS and the 63-plus organizations backing the campaign, Mone does not speak for anyone but those with ties to the settler-colonial Zionist state,” Tamayo said.

When confronted with the egregious research relationships between UWM and universities in Israel, the UWM administrators doubled down, claiming “faculty have the autonomy” to conduct research with who they want. The autonomy of unethical professors who have no remorse conducting research on stolen land while Israel simultaneously destroys the educational institutions of Palestinians is not more important than the self-determination of the Palestinian people. SDS pointed out the research in question deals with water technology. Israel has weaponized water technologies against Palestinians for decades, restricting water access and contaminating water.

Undisturbed by the facts presented, Mone and crew did not commit to cutting ties with weapons manufacturers, ending study abroad trips, or renaming the library. Mone ended the meeting by telling students he would be out of town the next few days and would be unable to issue a formal response by the end of the week. He was escorted out by the UWM cop on duty.

Before Mone retreated, the five SDS representatives assured him direct action would be taken to ensure demands are met in their entirety. As SDS and those waiting outside marched and chanted through the Student Union, Robby Knapp of SDS proclaimed, “The student movement will not stop until UWM ends all ties with Israel. Dare to struggle, dare to win!”

#MilwaukeeWI #SDS #FreePalestine #UWM #SJP