Protesters demand UNM regents call for cease-fire in Gaza

Feb. 15—Protesters jammed a University of New Mexico Board of Regents meeting Thursday to demand the university call for a cease-fire in Gaza.

More than 100 protesters lined the walls of a ballroom at the Student Union Building where regents were meeting. They cheered as speakers demanded that the board call for an "immediate and permanent" cease-fire by Israel.

"We are doing your job for you," UNM senior Rakin Faruk told regents.

"Ensuring students of this university are heard and protected should be your job," Faruk said. "I want you to look at the brave students, faculty and community members that are here today and ask yourselves, what has kept you silent?"

The protesters mostly consisted of UNM students joined by some faculty and community members.

Regents were guarded about how they might respond to the demand but expressed support for students' right to express their views.

Kim Sanchez Rael, regents chairwoman, told protesters that the board would discuss an "appropriate next step" with UNM administrators.

"I do really welcome hearing these voices and I respect everyone who is here to speak," Sanchez Rael told protesters.

Other regents made no direct comments to protesters during the meeting.

Regent Jack Fortner said during a break that regents "need to be careful" in their public comments.

"What the students are doing is a great thing," Fortner said. "Everybody should be able to express their opinions, as long as it's not hate speech."

Protests at university campuses have become commonplace across the U.S. since the Hamas assault into Israel on Oct. 7, when militants killed about 1,200 people and took some 250 others hostage.

The attack was followed by an Israeli assault on Gaza that has killed an estimated 28,000 people, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

College administrators since have struggled to draw a line between free speech and harassment, with both Jewish and Arab students complaining of discrimination.

The president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston suspended a student group Tuesday that has held campus protests against Israel's military campaign in Gaza.

Sara Koplik, director of the Aaron David Bram Hillel House, a Jewish support center at UNM, criticized calls for a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza.

"The loss of innocent life (in Gaza) is horrendous," Koplik, a spokeswoman for the Jewish Community Relations Coalition of New Mexico, said in a phone interview Thursday with the Journal.

"Any cease-fire must be bilateral and negotiated, it must remove Hamas from control of Gaza and must be conditioned upon the return of all hostages," she said.

UNM law student Hakim Bellamy and others told regents they should follow the example regents set in the 1980s when UNM divested from companies that did business in South Africa to protest the country's apartheid practices.

In 1986, UNM divested itself of $1.23 million in investments in protest against South Africa.

"A cease-fire resolution is the barest of minimums," Bellamy told regents.