In an Emory University-wide email this evening, University President Gregory Fenves denounced “antisemitic phrases and slogans” used by Emory community members at an on-campus rally earlier today. Attendees were protesting the University’s financial ties to the controversial Atlanta Public Safety Training Center facility and demanding the university condemn the loss of Palestinian lives in the Israel-Hamas War.

During the protest, the crowd chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

This chant, which has become a rallying cry for pro-Palestinian activists and has been called “antisemitic” by the American Jewish Committee, advocates for Palestinian control over all of Israel’s land. The slogan has also been adopted by the Palestinian militant group, Hamas, which the United States and other countries have designated as a terrorist organization.

Protestors chant demands before handing a written copy of their 12 demands to Director of Presidential Initiatives and Special Projects Anjulet Tucker. (Jack Rutherford/Staff Photographer)

“Throughout the event, antisemitic phrases and slogans were repeatedly used by speakers and chanted by the crowd,” Fenves wrote. “I cannot be more clear — this kind of rhetoric has no place at Emory. I am appalled by this behavior. It violates our core values, particularly our commitment to creating an inclusive environment for all who learn, work, and live on our campuses.”

The president condemned Hamas’ attacks in the “strongest possible terms” in a statement earlier this month. In his Wednesday email, Fenves wrote that the violent acts of war in Israel and Gaza “have horrified us all” and that “the continued loss of innocent life is deeply painful.” He referenced the two vigils led by Jewish students and the Emory chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine to honor the lives lost in the war. 

“So many at Emory have risen to meet this challenging moment — fostering dialogue, hosting vigils, relying on our religious leaders across faiths, and leaning into the expertise of our scholars,” the president wrote. “But antisemitic slogans degrade that important work and the mutual respect that underpins the Emory community.”

Emory Stop Cop City (ESCC), the campus chapter of the larger “Stop Cop City” movement opposing the training center, organized the protest. Last spring, members of the Emory Police Department (EPD) asked students participating in the walk-out to vacate the Quadrangle after the University said protesters violated Emory’s Open Expression Policy for setting up tents on the Quad overnight. The students complied. Atlanta Police Department was present in case EPD needed support.

At Wednesday’s walk-out, protesters added new demands related to the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. Speakers referenced the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program, a collaboration between Georgia State University and local, state, federal and international public safety and law enforcement agencies.

The program also involves international law enforcement and public safety officials coming to Georgia to learn about how the United States manages homeland security, policing, violent crimes and other issues. Program participants had previously worked with Israeli police. 

Jacob Rose-Seiden (26C) said he was passing by the Cop City protest when he heard chants of “Free Palestine,” which caught him by surprise. 

“I was just recording to show my parents,” Rose-Seiden said. “I’m personally Jewish, pro-Israel … but I’m anti-terrorism. I’m just surprised to hear that.”

Oren Panovka (26C), who is a member of ESCC, pushed back against the claims that some of the protest’s rhetoric was antisemitic. 

“As a Jewish student I reject the notion that Emory stop cop city or any of those of us there protesting today were antisemitic,” Panovka wrote. “This is an obvious ploy by the university to divert attention away from us demanding an end to the systemic violence this institution regularly practices.”

The protesters marched from Asbury Circle through the Quad to Convocation Hall, where students involved with ESCC addressed the crowd on the building’s steps. The speakers led chants like “Free, free Palestine” and “Cop City will never be built,” in addition to “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

At 2:55 p.m., about 40 attendees entered the building and attempted to scan in to gain access to Fenves’ office. When protesters were unable to do so, they occupied the foyer and staircase inside Convocation Hall. About a half hour later, Director of Presidential Initiatives and Special Projects Anjulet Tucker entered the building to accept a list of demands from the protesters. Tucker remained silent while she received the demands and the protesters left the building to return to the Quad shortly after.

The list of 12 demands included calls for the removal of Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Physics Ilya Nemenman from his chair position on the University’s Committee for Open Expression, divestment and dissociation from the “Prison and Military Industrial Complex, including Cop City and the GILEE program” and the resignation of Fenves from the board of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, which endorsed the construction of the Atlanta Public Training Center in 2021.

Edgar Randolph (96T) was among several alumni members present at the event. While students marched up the stairs in Convocation Hall, Randolph stood outside on the Quad with about 20 other attendees.

“As a Candler alum, I try to keep in contact with what’s happening on campus and this really is in the spirit of my education at Candler, to be positive and constructive and engaged in social action and social justice,” Randolph said.

Randolph stressed the importance of the University addressing its ties to the planned training center. Several of Emory’s top donors, including the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, have previously contributed large donations to the Atlanta Police Foundation, which has led the construction effort for the project.

“It’s one thing to just say, ‘I’m against injustice,’” Randolph said. “It’s another thing when you’re invested in it through companies that benefit from injustice.”

Fenves concluded his email by explaining that there are other beliefs to consider when discussing an issue, adding that members of the Emory community should seek out the opposing perspective and “understanding over division and hateful attacks.”

“Your words are powerful,” Fenves wrote. “I urge you to use them respectfully and in a manner that values every person at Emory. That isn’t too much to ask. It’s simply the right thing to do.”

Holden Vance (26C) contributed to reporting.

Correction (10/26/23 at 1:10 p.m.): A previous version of the article stated that EPD and the Atlanta Police Department broke up a walk-out last spring. In fact, EPD asked students participating in the walk-out to vacate the Quad, and the students complied. Atlanta Police Department was present in case EPD needed support.

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Editor-in-Chief | Matthew Chupack (he/him, 24C) is from Northbrook, Illinois, majoring in sociology & religion and minoring in community building & social change on a pre-law track. Outside of the Wheel, Chupack serves on the Emory College Honor Council, is vice president of Behind the Glass: Immigration Reflections, Treasurer of Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honor society and an RA in Dobbs Hall. In his free time, he enjoys trying new restaurants around Atlanta, catching up on pop culture news and listening to country music.

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Jack Rutherford (27C) is a News Editor at the Emory Wheel. He is from Louisville, Kentucky, majoring in Economics on a pre-law track. When not writing for the Wheel, he can normally be found with the Emory Rowing team or at a Schwartz Center performance. In his free time, Rutherford enjoys listening to classical music or opera, or is out walking in Lullwater.

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Sarah Davis (22Ox, 24C) is a co-Editor-in-Chief of the Wheel. Previously, she interned with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Covington News and Austin Monthly Magazine. In her free time, you can find her exploring new running trails and coffee shops around the city.