Several dozen students gathered at Cal State Long Beach for a rally in support of Palestine Tuesday afternoon, drawing fierce reactions from high-profile observers and their own university, which condemned the rally.
After gathering on the campus quad, the demonstrators marched through campus to chants of “free Palestine,” “Zionism has got to go” and “occupation is a crime.”
Multiple student clubs at CSULB, including the La F.U.E.R.Z.A Student Association and Anakbayan Long Beach, began organizing and promoting the protest following Hamas’ attacks on Israel over the weekend, which killed more than 1,000 people, including 14 Americans.
Retaliatory airstrikes from Israel have killed more than 900 Palestinians and displaced more than 100,000 people in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, according to live updates from CNN.
“We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people who are rightfully fighting back against the fascist Zionist state,” said one speaker who wore a face covering and identified themself only as Amber. “When oppressed people struggle for self-determination, liberation and return against fascist occupation, why are we called terrorists?”
Amber said Hamas are “freedom fighters” who strive to return Palestinians to their ancestral land.
Attendees declined to speak with the media after organizers received backlash for a flyer featuring what appeared to be a silhouette of a paraglider, which is how Hamas forces entered the Supernova Music Festival early Saturday where at least 260 people were killed.
The image on the flyer, “is directly advocating violence against Jews,” state Sen. Scott Wiener wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
An unidentified speaker at the rally rejected this idea, saying the protest was “not advocating any sort of terrorism or any hostility toward a certain population. We condemn all forms of anti-semitism and Jew hatred. It pains me that we have to emphasize the fact that we are not anti-Semitic, we are not Jew-hating.”
Long Beach Assemblyman Josh Lowenthal, who is Jewish, was in a crowd of onlookers who stood apart from the demonstration and watched it play out. Lowenthal, stoic while students spoke, declined to comment. Earlier in the day, he’d put out a statement urging everyone to be “extremely careful and mindful of the tinderbox we are operating in.”
The university administration, for its part, condemned the rally but acknowledged the students’ right to gather.
“We reject any glorification of war or celebration of death, and we acknowledge the pain caused by speech that does,” Chief Communications Officer Jeffery Cook said in a statement, adding that the event is “deeply offensive in light of the loss of life and unspeakable violence during this conflict.”
“While we work to foster an environment of mutual respect and civility, we have a constitutional and educational responsibility to uphold freedom of expression — even for ideas and opinions that many find objectionable or abhorrent,” Cook continued.
In an email sent to the campus yesterday, Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley acknowledged that the history of the region and the modern-day dynamics are complex. She went on, however, to urge peace.
“In the face of all this complexity one thing is clear, human life is sacred, and indeed of immeasurable value,” Conoley wrote. “An aspiration we can share is, perhaps, that we all wish not only for the absence of conflict but for a lasting and just peace — as elusive as that may seem.”
Government agencies in Long Beach, across the nation and around the world, meanwhile, have taken a firm stance on the side of Israel. On Monday, monuments around the world—including the White House, the Eiffel Tower and even the Long Beach sign coming into Downtown—were lit up in blue and white, some with a projected Star of David.
“We unequivocally denounce and condemn these acts of terrorism and violence,” Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson said in a post on X Monday about Hamas’ attack. “We stand together with the people of Israel.”
The Alpert Jewish Community Center of Long Beach on Saturday posted a call for emergency assistance on Facebook, noting the organization normally does not use social media on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest. The organization is holding a vigil Tuesday evening in the wake of the “unprecedented” attacks.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a statement from Assemblyman Josh Lowenthal.