Texas campus protests anything but peaceful
Photo: Micah Bernstein
The anti-Israel protest held on the University of Texas at Austin Wednesday, April 24, 2024, lasted for hours and resulted in dozens of arrests. All the charges were dismissed by Thursday.

Texas Hillel staying vigilant across central Texas campuses

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Rabbi Stephanie Max, the University of Texas at Austin Hillel’s executive director, has been laser focused on supporting Jewish students on the campuses it supports. In addition to UT, Max is responsible for UT San Antonio, Texas State University, St. Edward’s University, Southwestern University, Austin Community College and other smaller schools that fall within the Austin-to-San-Antonio catchment area.

Since Oct. 7, Max has been monitoring anti-Israel activity on each of these campuses. Most concerning have been activities at UT San Antonio and UT Austin. At the latter, Wednesday’s pro-Palestinian protest made national news, with numerous arrests being made. Friday, Max said, things had quieted down on the 40 Acres, and the respite was welcome.

However, she is unsure how long the relative calm will last.

“I’ve spoken at length with our partners in the university administrations in Austin and San Antonio in preparation for next week,” Max told the TJP on Friday. “We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen next and trying to prepare for all possibilities,” she said of the potential for continuing anti-Israel activity.

One point that Max emphasized was that Wednesday’s protests weren’t peaceful, contrary to most media reports..

“Saying that the protest was a peaceful one is like calling what we saw in Charlottesville peaceful,” Max said. “There were people chanting ‘From the river to the sea;’ some in English, some Arabic. There were banners that said, ‘Long live the Intifada.’”

She added that some  students had shared with her that protesters yelled, “F— the Jews and F— Israel” and other expletives. One student was told to go back to Germany and another was told to go back to Poland. 

“It was a mix of the usual nastiness as well as very personal attacks,” Max said. “People were taking photos of students and threatening to dox (release personal information that threatens personal safety) them. I would like to believe that there were people there who were not doing that, but I struggle to call that a peaceful protest.

Students still engaged

Despite the turmoil of recent months, Max said that Hillel students remain engaged in programming. There were first and second night Seders that were heavily attended. A  Seder at the ZBT fraternity house had more than 100 participants. 

Hillel’s annual Israel Block Party on April 2 was also well attended. 

“The Israel Block Party was just enormous and smooth, and calm and incident free. It was really fun and educational, exciting and poignant,” Max said.

Events like the Seders and the Block Party give hope to Jewish students on campus that things aren’t hopeless despite upsetting incidents like the massive protest.

“I see these students encountering antisemitism — whether that’s amongst their peers or in a classroom — and saying, ‘We’re not willing to stand for it.’  They are reporting it and are finding that when they do, the school follows through.”

As the semester comes to a close, Max and her team are monitoring anti-Jewish activity on all campuses and are ready to support Jewish students on all of them.

Leave a Reply