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Youngkin says no encampments on Virginia campuses; supports ‘peaceful’ protests

An image from Virginia Tech during a protest over the Gaza War. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Del. Sam Rasoul)
An image from Virginia Tech during a protest over the Gaza War. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Del. Sam Rasoul)

Amid the unrest over actions in the Gaza War, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said Sunday that the commonwealth will permit “peaceful” protests, but will not tolerate intimidation and encampments on college campuses.

This story was reported and written by our media partner The Virginia Mercury

Since Saturday, protestors have been arrested at the  University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg and in Blacksburg at  Virginia Tech.

During CNN’s “State of the Union” television show on Sunday, Youngkin  said that the First Amendment encompasses freedom of expression and peaceful demonstration. Still, he added it does not allow for intimidating Jewish students, preventing them from attending class and using annihilation speech to express deeply antisemitic views.

The war between Palestine and Israel has lasted for over six months following the assault by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel near the Gaza Strip.

According to  media reports, about 1,200 people died and more than 250 were taken as hostages to Gaza. In response, more than 33,000 Palestinians died from strikes by the Israeli military.

“I have been working with our Attorney General Jason Miyares, our university presidents, [and] law enforcement at the state, local, and campus level to make sure that if there are protests, they are peaceful,” said Youngkin. 

He added “We will protect the ability to peacefully express yourself, but we’re not going to have the kinds of hate speech and intimidation that we’re seeing across the country in Virginia.”

In addition to asking for a cease-fire and rejecting forms of hate, students across the country including those from Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, the University of Mary Washington, Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia have joined efforts demanding schools to divest from companies with ties to Israel, which they see makes them complicit in the war. 

Public interest in the movement grew after arrests in other states as students and others were being arrested during protests at Columbia University in New York. 

Students began gathering last week in Massachusetts, California and around the nation’s capitol in Washington D.C. The protests derive from the decades-old campaign against Israel’s policies toward Palestinians: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

A coalition of student groups at the University of Virginia successfully passed a  referendum in March calling for the UVA to provide enhanced support to Palestinian students and divest any and all monies in its $13.6 billion endowment to any companies engaged in or profiting from Israel’s “apartheid regime and acute violence against Palestinians.”

The student groups that sponsored the referenda included the Asian Students Union, Dissenters at UVA, DivestUVA, Minority Rights Coalition, Muslim Students Association, Muslims United and Students for Justice in Palestine. 

Morgan Meyer, a global studies major at UVA,  wrote on Feb. 27 that “the student group is advocating for UVA to stop any role we may have in this massacre. They should be heard in our University’s tradition of civil discourse and debate, not maligned for daring to bring this initiative to the ballot.” 

However, Miyares wrote to the UVA Board of Visitors condemning the referendum and urging the board to reject it.

Miyares wrote that it was “stunning” that while Hamas continues to hold hostages, the students at the University of Virginia decided to hold a referendum “directly attacking the nation of Israel.” 

“With rampant anti-Jewish bigotry being displayed on college campuses throughout our nation, it is disappointing to see UVA students put forth and then push a referendum that attacks the world’s only Jewish state,” Miyares wrote.

The  Daily Progress reported that the referendum is nonbinding and has no power over the board or the UVA Investment Management Company, which is responsible for the endowment fund.

Last month, Youngkin signed  legislation protecting Virginians from unlawful discrimination, hate crimes and antisemitism. 

The legislation codified a recommendation by the Commission to Combat Antisemitism that Virginia revise its laws to better protect Jewish citizens from hate crimes, along with Muslims, Sikhs and other ethnic-religious groups.

Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, chair of the Virginia House Education committee, posted Saturday on social media “Virginia Tech is making a statement” during a visit to Virginia Tech.

He added “Thank you to the students, staff and faculty calling for an end to the genocide and the liberation of occupied people.”