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'Lehigh 4 Palestine' group rallies at Lehigh University to call for end to Israel-Hamas war

Isabella Insingo
Community members at the "Lehigh 4 Palestine" rally on Feb. 20, 2024.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Lehigh University students rallied Tuesday on the school's front lawn, with organizers saying they hoped the demonstration would inspire divestment and other long-term changes in the university's Israel-related relationships.

“We know that a cease-fire isn't enough,” said student Nicole Guglielmi, who helped organize the rally.

“If we got a cease-fire, Palestinians still wouldn't be liberated, they would still be facing the violence they have for 75 years. The goal is also to get our universities to stop being complacent.”

About 100 people participated in the rally organized by the unofficial student group Lehigh 4 Palestine. It included students from Lehigh University, Muhlenberg College, Lafayette College and other organizations such as My Lehigh Valley and Lehigh Valley Artists for a Free Palestine.

Multiple student speakers demanded that their universities’ administrations publish their investment portfolios and divest funding away from weapons manufacturers and corporations that support Israel.

Isabella Insingo
Community members at the "Lehigh 4 Palestine" rally on Feb. 20, 2024.

For Lehigh University, Guglielmi said, that would include ending relationships with programs like TAMID Group, a “nonprofit that seeks to forge a strong connection to Israel for the next generation of business leaders,” and other study abroad programs to Israel.

“We know these things fuel the occupation. It provides them money, it provides normalization and support,” Guglielmi said.

A statement released by a Lehigh University spokesperson Wednesday did not address the divestment issue.

Allentown resident Kathryn Hoffman, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace and LEPOCO Peace Center, said that she is unhappy with her elected representatives' failure to support a cease-fire.

Hoffman said she chose to attend the rally because she felt “impotent.”

“It grieves me that so many children have been harmed and died,” Hoffman said, “and that our president seems to be following a Cold War script about how our big ally in the Middle East has to remain Israel even when they don't obey U.N. resolutions, when they commit human rights violations with impunity.

“That's why I think most people are here, because we're aggrieved and we don't have anything else we can do to object to it.”

“I'm outraged, as are the Jewish students at Lehigh and parents and donors. This is outrageous and I hope my grievances are heard.”
Arthur, a Lehigh University freshman

Israel declared war after Hamas militants stormed into Israel on Oct. 7, killed 1,200 people and took about 250 captive.

Earlier this month a survivor of the Oct. 7 attacks, 28-year-old Eden Gefner, was scheduled to speak at the Lehigh University Jewish Student Center as part of a program co-organized by the Hillel Society of Lehigh University. She served as a fitness officer in the Israeli Defense Forces and hid with her family in a shelter as terrorists invaded the family home, according to a flier promoting the talk. The family was rescued by the IDF.

After receiving complaints from members of their student body, the Feb. 12 event was postponed.

Protest the protest

During Tuesday's rally, a Lehigh University freshman who asked to only be identified by his first name, Arthur, walked behind speakers and through the crowd while holding an Israeli flag.

Isabella Insingo
As community members gather at the "Lehigh 4 Palestine" rally on Feb. 20, 2024, a counter-protestor can be seen holding the Israeli flag.

He said he did so because he was outraged that the Hillel event was called off.

“[Gefner] was supposed to speak about her experiences during Oct. 7,” Arthur said, “and the current mob mass emailed Lehigh administration, forcing them to indefinitely postpone the event.

"Yet, subsequently, Lehigh administration then allows them to have this gathering, demanding a cease-fire, but we're not allowed to have a memorial of the lives of the people who were murdered brutally on Oct. 7, and this is allowed.

“I'm outraged, as are the Jewish students at Lehigh and parents and donors. This is outrageous and I hope my grievances are heard.”

In its statement, Lehigh University said Tuesday's rally was organized by a recognized student organization that followed the university's approval process.

"Lehigh is committed to creating an environment that supports our educational mission, including the exchange of experiences and engaging in meaningful discourse while also promoting a sense of belonging for all members of the Lehigh community," the statement read. "Before any event, Lehigh follows an event approval process.

"The event featuring a survivor of the October Hamas terrorist attack on Israel was postponed because the organizers did not provide sufficient notice to allow for review and approval of this event. Sponsors of the event are exploring options to reschedule it."

Lehigh student Dylan McFarland, who said he identifies with the anti-Zionist Jewish movement, said organizing the demonstration was urgent because of an anticipated Israel offensive in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza that holds more than a million and a half Palestinians with few resources.

He said Tuesday's demonstration was organized over the past five days and speakers finalized only the day before.

McFarland helped open and close the rally, which lasted about 90 minutes and was the first stop for several participants who attended a Bethlehem City Council meeting Tuesday night.

McFarland said that portraying the Feb. 12 appearance at Hillel by a former IDF officer as something educational or healing was unreasonable. 

Multiple student speakers on Tuesday condemned hatred and antisemitism in the community.

“When people don't want to engage with you in good faith,” McFarland said, “when they don't want to listen, when they don't want to have a conversation or they want to be annoying and yell and do whatever they want to do, be the better person.”

CORRECTION: An early version of this article misidentified the person who was to speak Feb. 12 at the Lehigh University Jewish Student Center co-organized by Hillel.