May 14—LEWISTON — The student government at Bates College joined 14 other student organizations to denounce the college's decision this week to ask police to investigate some anti-Israel graffiti.
Getting the police involved, their joint statement said, was "a censure of student voices" that "makes students feel unsafe and oppressed on our campus."
"We fear for our communities of color, specifically brown, Arab, Middle Eastern and Muslim students, that will most likely be the targets of this investigation," said the statement, which also included a call to "free Palestine."
Bates contacted police Sunday after someone told the college a hate crime had occurred when anti-Israeli slogans that were written in chalk on at least one college building and flyers were distributed denouncing Israel for the violent clashes in recent days between its security forces and Palestinians. Officials said they had an obligation to tell the police after receiving the report.
The college issued a response to the students' statement late Thursday that said, "The depth and complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict aggravates painful generational wounds for many members of our community. Throughout this week, faculty and staff at the college have been meeting with individual students and student groups to hear their fears and concerns and to provide support."
"As an institution of learning, we are working hard with students to create opportunities to promote deeper understanding across divides and provide space for discourse focused on healing as a campus community," it said.
The Lewiston police looked into the incident as a potential hate crime. It is not clear how seriously the case is being pursued. The state attorney general's office said Thursday it is waiting for a report from the local police before taking any action.
The organizations backing the new statement, including the Bates Black Student Union, the Bates Leftist Coalition and the South Asian Student Association, said they issued it "to express our solidarity with the Palestinian people and their cause as well as our deep disappointment with Bates College for the way they have handled the events of the past week."
The statement said students "cannot turn our backs on victims of apartheid and occupation when it becomes inexpedient to speak up. It is hypocritical that Bates College has chosen to neglect the humanity of the Palestinian people while claiming to be an anti-colonialist, anti-racist and abolitionist institution."
The students signing the statement said that if Bates finds the "Free Palestine" push offensive "then they reveal their alliance to settler-colonialism and genocide."
Israel came into existence in 1948 after the British occupation of Palestine ended shortly after the end of World War II and the defeat of Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime that deliberately murdered six million Jews.
Lexow said in the email sent to student that "Bates is a community committed to openness, pluralism and inclusion, where every individual should feel safe and supported. Incidents of this kind can have a significant and harmful impact on those who experience them."
Her words caught the attention of Donna Joss, a professor emeritus at Worcester State University, who wrote to Lexow this week to urge that Bates recognize that while "there is violence on each side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," it is not a conflict between equals.
"Please keep in mind that Palestinians are under a long, brutal and crippling occupation by Israel, that they have endured dislocation and dispossession as well as injury and death at the hands" of the Israeli military and settlers for decades, Joss said.
"The current situation in Jerusalem and Gaza is not new, only worse than usual," Joss added.
"I hope you and the Bates College administration and outside officials will have the same concern for members of the Bates community who are Muslim, Palestinian and/or who are deeply concerned about the Palestinian situation as you have shown for the Jewish/Israeli members of the community," Joss said.