Dueling Israel/Palestine protests on UW campus remain peaceful

Around 500 counterprotesters, led by Pursuit NW, gathered at the Seattle university this weekend, verbally clashing with the student encampment.

protesters from both sides meet at the barricades on the UW campus

A “United for Israel” march on Sunday, May 12, at the University of Washington. The event, organized by Pursuit NW Church, involved some verbal confrontations between the pro-Israeli group and demonstrators at the pro-Palestine encampment at the UW Quad, but remained peaceful. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Around 500 people gathered in Red Square on the University of Washington campus Sunday afternoon for a “United for Israel” march, the largest counter demonstration at UW since students established their “Popular University for Gaza” in early May.

While the student encampment is demanding the UW cut ties with Israel and Boeing, speakers at the pro-Israel march and rally called for University President Ana Mari Cauce to resign and condemned administration for allowing the encampment to remain on campus.

Several hundred people showed up at UW for a “United for Israel” march on Sunday. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

The event was led by Pursuit NW, a nondenominational Christian church with locations in Snohomish, Kirkland and on Greek row in the U District. The church’s head pastor, Russell Johnson, has voiced staunch support for Israel in the past few months and has been involved in multiple pro-Israel demonstrations on campuses including the University of Southern California and Columbia University, where multiple instances of harassment were reported. Johnson is based in the Seattle area.

“The political cowardice of this administration is on full display. Either do your job or resign in disgrace, this encampment must end,” Johnson said Sunday afternoon to a cheering crowd of demonstrators. “Isn’t it time that we say enough is enough?”

Soon after 4:30 p.m. a sea of Israeli and American flags waved through Red Square as speakers condemned the University administration and called for the return of Israeli hostages from Gaza. Although other campuses like UCLA have seen violence during counter protests, the afternoon remained peaceful with only verbal disagreements.

At a barricaded south entrance to the Quad where hundreds of community members, pro-Palestinian demonstrators and University police were stationed, chants of “Bring them home, bring them home,” and “Free free Palestine” echoed during the 15-minute encounter.

Although the group had planned to march directly through the encampment, sparking significant safety concerns, Johnson informed the crowd shortly before the march began that police had asked them to go around the Quad.

A few verbal confrontations ensued as some pro-Israel demonstrators approached the barricade. As the group marched toward Greek row on Memorial Way toward the Pursuit church, protesters chanted “Take off your mask, take off your mask” at pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

A man from the “United for Israel” march walks back and forth in front of the pro-Palestinian encampment barricade on Sunday. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

Nearly two weeks after the “Liberated zone” was established, University administration has faced mounting pressure to respond as opposing groups grow increasingly vocal in calling on UW to take action. While groups like Pursuit say the encampment should be shut down,  demonstrators continue to demand that the University divest and cut ties with Israel and companies like Boeing amid the Israel-Hamas war, which according to local health authorities has killed over 34,000 Palestinians.

“The University of Washington is demonstrating that they are willing to protect investments in genocide above all else,” United Front member and UW graduate student Cera Hassinan said. “We want our University to care about changing the world, not contributing to killing people in Palestine.”

Throughout the afternoon, Johnson called out “vitriolic antisemitism” on the University campus, emphasizing concern about the safety of Jewish students.

United Front members say they support their Jewish community members, and Jewish students in the encampment say they have felt safe, supported and welcomed. The encampment has remained peaceful since its establishment.

“It’s very disappointing to hear the conflation of anti-semitism and anti-Zionism; they are not the same thing, they are completely separate,” United Front member Juliette Magid said. “We stand in solidarity with so many of our Jewish community members who are present here at the Liberated zone and across the nation who are taking stands against Zionism.”

Although the UW encampment has not been filled with the overt antisemitic signs or chants present on some campuses, how one defines Zionism – as a core Jewish belief or a modern and oppressive movement – has influenced individual understanding of what constitutes antisemitism.

Both university administrators and pro-Palestinian demonstrators raised serious security concerns before the “United for Israel” event, as they did before right-wing activist Charlie Kirk’s recent visit to campus,

A UW campus map sign covered in spray paint and stickers. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

The United Front called for community members to come to the encampment Sunday afternoon to show support, reaffirming their conviction of “We keep us safe.” University administration responded by setting up barricades at entrances to the Quad and stationing University Police, Seattle Police and State Patrol troopers throughout campus.

On Friday evening, the University released its first substantial public statement since the “Popular University for Gaza” was established, calling on demonstrators to voluntarily disassemble the encampment.

“Every day the encampment remains, the security concerns escalate and become more serious – for our UW community and for the people in the encampment itself,” the statement posted on the University website said. “The University’s response to students’ call for change will not be based on an encampment. It will be through constructive engagement on issues that are important or meaningful to our students and broader campus community.”

Students protesting the Israel-Hamas war have continually reaffirmed their commitment to remain on the Quad until their demands are met, and say they have no plans to disassemble the encampment.

University police guarded a blockade at Sunday’s “United for Israel” march. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS) 

In the past few weeks, the Liberated zone has seen growing student and faculty support. By Thursday, both the Board of Directors and the Senate of the Associated Students of the University of Washington passed resolutions asking the University to meet the zone’s demands. Also on Thursday, members from the Liberated zone rallied outside the Board of Regents meeting and spoke to the regents during a public comment period.

The University’s Board of Regents is responsible for managing the University’s investment portfolio, and oversees an Advisory Committee on Socially Reponsible Investing which evaluates proposals for divestment from companies whose actions are deemed “morally reprehensible.”

The board weighs support from University students, staff, faculty and ASUW resolutions in considering divestment proposals, United Front members noted.

“When you see a family being killed in Gaza, when you see the windows of an apartment building being blown out, that bomb was most likely tied in some way to Boeing or the plane that dropped it was manufactured by Boeing, and that’s what we’re targeting here,” UW Progressive Student Union member Mathieu Chabaud said at the encampment earlier.

As the evening came to a close, hundreds of pro-Israel demonstrators gathered at Pursuit for an evening service. Back on the mostly quiet University campus, chants of “The people united will never be defeated” rang out through the Quad.

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About the Authors & Contributors


Scarlet Hansen

Scarlet Hansen is a student journalist at the University of Washington and Crosscut's 2024 legislative intern.