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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Protesters stand outside the Reitz Union Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.
Protesters stand outside the Reitz Union Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.

The UF Police Department removed three pro-Palestinian demonstrators from the Reitz Union Tuesday evening after they argued with a pro-Israel speaker inside.

The protest came in response to a scheduled speaking event featuring Charlotte Korchak, an outspoken supporter of Israel. She gave a speech co-sponsored by UF Students Supporting Israel, UF Hillel and Stand with Us Israel. At least 75 students were in attendance. 

About 45 protestors gathered outside of the Reitz Union starting at 6 p.m. for what was advertised as a “Shut it Down for Palestine” event, organized by the Party for Socialism Liberation on Instagram

Some protesters’ signs read, “ceasefire” and “stop Zionist apartheid.”

Protesters are not allowed to demonstrate inside buildings, according to university policy. The regulation was re-introduced in 2022 after a group of protesters entered Alumni Hall during UF President Ben Sasse’s Q&A forum

Several posters reminding students of the policy were taped to the door at least an hour before protestors arrived. 

Raymond Parker, a 25-year-old UF sustainable development master’s student and member of PSL, led the protest.

“This should be a place for people to celebrate their cultures and heritages,” he said. “We don't want to create a space where some students feel very safe and some students feel as if their lives are being potentially threatened.” 

The last PSL protest Jan. 27 led GPD and UF Student Life to threaten student expulsions and arrests, according to PSL’s Instagram page. The increased tension from previous protest made this event even more important for Parker, he said. 

“We won’t be intimidated, we’re not gonna go away,” he said. 

After over an hour outdoors, the protestors entered the building, despite being aware of the policy. Protestors were allowed into the ballroom as long as they weren’t holding signs or causing disruption. 

“While speech is protected, disruptions inside university buildings are not, as university regulations clearly state,” wrote UF Spokesperson Cynthia Roldan in a statement. “We told them we would enforce the rules, and they decided they would break them and face the consequences.”

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When Korchak opened a Q&A session, eight protesters stood up and demanded a ceasefire in the conflict, striking an argument with Korchak. 

Korchak raised her voice many times, threatening removal, after being interrupted. 

“I don’t understand what you’re gaining from a [ceasefire] … this is my stage and you showed up … you can keep trying to act like you know what you’re talking about,” Korchak said.

Raymond Parker was removed from the room by officers for disruption. Upon his removal, three protestors stood up with signs and started shouting in the ballroom, “ceasefire now, free free Palestine.” 

Two of those protesters — Tybee Wilcox, a 28-year-old Gainesville business owner, and Farrah Maswadeh, a 25-year-old Gainesville yoga instructor — were trespassed from campus for disrupting the event. Neither were affiliated with UF. 

Nobody was arrested.

“I don’t believe any more of our tax dollars should go towards funding a genocide,” Wilcox said. “I believe in human rights for all.”

According to their trespass ticket, they will be prohibited from entering all areas of UF grounds for three years. If they are seen on campus, they will be arrested. 

After her speech, Korchak said she knew about the protest beforehand.

“I just wish they had come in and listened,” she said about the protesters. “I think the way we’re going to break the divide is listening to each other and having respectful dialogue and debate.” 

Amit Sapir, a 22-year-old UF biomedical engineering student who attended the speech, agreed and said he hoped the protesters gained something from the conversation.

“I hope that both sides can educate themselves to reach a mutual truth,” he said.

David Wygodski, a 19-year-old UF computer science freshman, attended the speech but had no knowledge of the protest happening outside. Seeing the protest made him angry, he said, but he feels more work needs to be done to reach a peaceful resolution between Israeli and Palestinian students. 

“Yelling at the top of your voice and leaving is not a good way to learn about this situation…we need to come together and sit down and listen to each other,” he said. 

Katherine Canev, a 19-year-old UF biochemistry freshman, attended the protest. 

“Palestinian persistence is huge to me,” she said. “It makes me feel good to see people and be with people who share the same views as me.” 

Contact Sara-James Ranta at Follow her on X @sarajamesranta.

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