HomeBerlin NewsPlanned pro-Palestine rally at Eastern canceled

Planned pro-Palestine rally at Eastern canceled

A student pro-Palestine rally planned for last Friday at Eastern Regional High School was canceled after heated debate in the community and sharp criticism from the Camden County Commissioners.

The rally – planned during school hours – saw significant pushback, including a letter from commissioners Jeffrey Nash and Melinda Kane urging school administrators to reconsider their approval of the protest.

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In their letter to school Superintendent Robert Cloutier, Nash and Kane expressed outrage over the school’s decision to allow the walkout, which they described as an effort to create a “hostile and isolating environment for Jewish students.” They also objected to the insensitive timing of the protest given that it coincided with Passover.

The commissioners were also concerned that the rally could incite anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric, arguing that such speech should not be protected under the Constitution’s right to freedom of expression.

Nash and Kane also invoked the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, noting that the planned rally’s pro-Palestine message could lead to antisemitic tropes and discrimination against Jews. They also invoked the potential legal ramifications of the protest under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires consideration of the alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

As a response to concerns, student leaders at Eastern held a meeting to address the controversy. Following discussions with Principal Robert Tull, they agreed to cancel the walkout and instead organized a rally for Monday, May 20, to support victims on both sides of the Israel-Gaza conflict.

Township committee members also echoed the call for unity and action, emphasizing the importance of ensuring that members of the community can express their beliefs or identities without harm and denouncing any events that contribute to division and hostility.

The controversy at Eastern coincided with recent student protests over the Israel-Hamas war that have roiled an increasing number of college campuses, including Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Many of the students are calling for universities to separate themselves from any companies that are advancing Israel’s military efforts in Gaza, and in some cases from Israel itself.

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