Nov 7, 2023 - News

How a college statement intensified tension over the Israel-Hamas war

Illustration of Israeli and Palestinian flags stylized as college pennants on a wall.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A statement from the ethnic studies department at the University of Colorado Boulder is the latest flashpoint for how the Israel-Hamas war is playing out locally.

State of play: The initial message issued Oct. 22 supporting Palestinians referenced the early October Hamas terrorist attack. The Daily Camera reported it was replaced with a new statement on Oct. 30.

  • The new statement from the department says faculty, staff, and students were "under attack" for the previous message, and added they are "removing the statement because we do not wish anyone in our community to feel unsafe."
  • CU Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano noted the department's statement does not represent the university's official position on the conflict.

The other side: Two Jewish state lawmakers, Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Yaron Weinberg, last Thursday criticized the message, calling it "antisemitic" in a joint statement.

Plus: A protest in Denver on Sunday co-organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation's local chapter drew hundreds downtown for Palestinian support.

  • Demonstrators called for a ceasefire and for the U.S. to stop providing aid for Israel.
  • Meanwhile, students on Colorado College's campus last month held a "teach-in" to show solidarity with Palestinians.

Why it matters: The blowback against the ethnic studies department's statement along with the hundreds marching in Denver show local tension is only intensifying.

The big picture: The CU Boulder department's revised statement shows how American academic institutions are grappling with how to respond to the conflict while trying to avoid angering students, faculty, donors and alumni, writes Axios' Emma Hurt and Eleanor Hawkins.

Zoom out: The state lawmaker's statement noted antisemitic behavior has been recently reported at the University of Denver and at Colorado College.

  • Colorado Christian University Chancellor Donald W. Sweeting wrote in an opinion piece published by Fox News that the war "is revealing the depth of antisemitism in American higher education," before listing incidents on campuses he characterized as "anti-Jew."

Threat level: Antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents are rising in Colorado, affecting both Jewish and Palestinian communities across the state, Anti-Defamation League's Mountain Region director Scott Levin told Newsline recently.

  • The organization says it's noted a 400% increase in contacts to its office when compared to the same time last year.

Context: More than 9,400 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, and at least 1,400 Israelis were killed during the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7, writes Axios' Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath.

Go deeper: Hamas-Israel war sends ripples of pain and fear across Colorado

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