Illustration by Dhiyaa Al Jorf

NYUAD, You Need to Talk About Palestine

The NYUAD administration’s silence on the ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah in the face of student backlash not only makes them complicit in the injustice but also alienates the student body. They must act now.

In May 2021, Israel attempted to unjustly force out eight Palestinian families from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Violent clashes ensued as protesters resisted the eviction, the latest in a long line of Israeli attempts to erase Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem.
Standing in solidarity with Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine, a Student Interest Group, in collaboration with other members of the student body, organized a Zoom discussion on May 16. More than 400 people attended to learn how to be better allies and to listen as Palestinian students recounted their stories of the Palestinian struggle. Attending the call was the only way in which the administration acknowledged the Palestinian struggle.
The organizers of the event urged attendees to push the administration to do their part in solidarity with Palestine and Palestinian students. At the end of the semester, more than a 100 seniors donned the keffiyeh — a traditional Palestinian headdress — during their Commencement walk to show solidarity. In the summer, in response to continued silence from the administration, students uploaded posts on Instagram with slogans such as “Silence is Violence,” demanding acknowledgment of the abhorrent events in Sheikh Jarrah.
NYU Abu Dhabi’s radio silence was especially jarring for a university that had, in the past, acknowledged acts of injustice and violence, natural calamities and the disproportionate costs of the Covid-19 pandemic in community-wide emails. The killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, for instance, prompted Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann to send out an email dated June 3, detailing the structural inequalities that enabled such a crime and offering students support and resources. This email came after similar messaging from NYU President Andrew Hamilton and the Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation. Likewise, official communication was sent out and resources provided following a string of hate crimes against the Asian American community.
When the administration selectively chooses which injustices require an email to the student body and which do not, intentionally or not, it implies that some causes are worth fighting for more than others.
In a public statement in July 2020, Vice Chancellor Westermann expressed that the university is committed to “[fostering] a culture of belonging” and “[becoming] an inclusive and equitable community anchored in mutual respect and solidarity.” However, in order for students to feel like they belong, they need to feel supported in times like these, especially within a university that often makes it a point to emphasize its diversity.
Choosing to stay silent also renders the administration complicit in this injustice. It stands in stark contrast to NYUAD’s mission as an educational institution. In an email sent following the murder of George Floyd, dated June 3, 2020, Vice Chancellor Westermann states, “NYU Abu Dhabi is a resolutely diverse community, designed to use learning and research to make progress on humanity’s shared challenges.” The administration’s silence on the Palestinian struggle clearly does not reflect this professed intention. This is especially evident when you consider the fact that NYUAD offers ACS-UH 2614X, Colonization of Palestine, a class devoted to studying settler colonialism and occupation in Palestine, which is precisely what has been happening in Sheikh Jarrah.
So, how is this matter any different from the acts of injustice the NYUAD administration has acknowledged and taken a stand against before?
NYUAD could have followed the lead of the UAE government, which put out a statement condemning the acts of the Israeli authorities’ occupation of Sheikh Jarrah. Moreover, even if the NYUAD administration did not want to actively condemn Israeli occupation of Sheikh Jarrah, it could have, at the very least, provided students with spaces to grieve and reflect.
Why did it not? Perhaps, it has to do with NYU New York’s response (or lack thereof) to the same issue. In the other instances, NYUAD only sent out communication after the NYUNY administration had done so. So, it would not be unreasonable to assume that the reason the NYUAD administration did not respond in this instance is because NYUNY did not either.
It may not be a coincidence that NYU President Andrew Hamilton has previously pushed back against student led movements for the Palestinian cause. He has opposed the NYU Graduate Student Organizing Committee’s decision to join the BDS movement, been absent from the President’s Service Awards in New York following the selection of SJP as one of the awardees and written an op-ed in the Washington Square Journal where he called SJP “divisive” and stated that he would not have given them the award.
It seems that the NYUAD administration has refrained from commenting on the issue because of President Hamilton’s views and NYUNY’s silence. However, NYUAD is in no way bound to conform to NYUNY’s, or Hamilton’s, lack of a response. Doing so undermines NYUAD’s unique cultural context and adversely impacts its goals of being a global institution. When even individual NYU-affiliated bodies have released statements acknowledging the violence, it is worrying that the limits of NYUAD’s advocacy appear to be determined by NYUNY.
The Faculty of Color for an Anti-Racist NYU released a statement in solidarity with Palestine, along with a pledge of non-cooperation with NYU Tel Aviv, which 107 faculty members and 325 students have signed, among others. Likewise, the NYUAD Student Government emailed the student body a letter of support for Palestine and Palestinian students, which included resources to both learn and take action.
If these bodies can develop their own stance on the issue, why can’t the NYUAD administration?
If the university is to nurture the diversity of its student body and if it is to facilitate real change, it must follow suit when its student body speaks out on issues of both personal and global significance. It cannot remain silent, especially in the face of injustices rooted in silencing and erasure. Being silent about the occupation is being complicit.
Naeema Mohammed Sageer is Deputy Opinion Editor. Email her at
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