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Pro-Palestine protesters remove UW-Milwaukee encampment, university faces criticism

Student activists with UWM Popular University for Palestine Coalition announce an agreement with the university to remove their encampment from campus grounds on May 13.
Eddie Morales
Student activists with UWM Popular University for Palestine Coalition announce an agreement with the university to remove their encampment from campus grounds on May 13.

As the war in Gaza continues, protests endure at universities across the nation. For two weeks, members of a pro-Palestinian activist group occupied dozens of tents outside UW-Milwaukee’s Mitchell Hall. Protesters have voluntarily removed the encampment after reaching an agreement with the university.

At a Monday press conference, student protester Ameen Atta said more than 100 people had joined the encampment.

"As a Palestinian, just hearing the support, seeing the support — the physical presence around the campus, the amount of people that are coming up to us saying, ‘What you guys have done is amazing’ — my only focus is putting eyes on Gaza, putting eyes on those who are suffering," Atta says.

The students had a list of demands for UWM leaders. It included that UWM release a statement condemning Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and refer to Israel as “an apartheid state.” Protesters also wanted UWM to disclose and divest financial ties to Israel.

UWM released a letter from Chancellor Mark Mone, detailing the agreement that ended the encampment. It says UWM condemns genocide and scholasticide. It adds that protesters were granted an opportunity to request disclosure and divestment details related to Israeli companies and organizations.

Also, in the letter, Mone addressed the criticism of how UWM chose not to use law enforcement to force protesters out of the illegal encampment. He wrote that UWM leadership prioritized safety by seeking resolution through dialogue.

One of those critics is UW System President Jay Rothman. He took his comments to social media, writing: “I am disappointed by the course taken by UW-Milwaukee, and I am continuing to assess the decision-making process that led to this result.” Rothman adds that he condemns the violation of law while expressing full support for the First Amendment.

At UW-Madison, university leadership used law enforcement to remove the encampment before reaching an agreement with protesters. Rothman also noted the importance of “maintaining viewpoint neutrality on challenging public issues” and wrote that “students must be free from harassment and intimidation.”

Miryam Rosenzweig is the CEO and president of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. In an interview, she shared Rothman's sentiments.

"There’s a lot of loss of life, and we shouldn’t minimize any individual’s pain," she says.

Rosenzweig says some Jewish students have experienced discrimination on UWM’s campus.

"We were shocked when last week, the chancellor came out and lauded the incredible learning opportunities and the spirit of community that he saw across the encampment without acknowledging that there’s an entire group who wasn’t part of that learning — who wasn’t part of those dialogues because students were forced to answer if they were Zionist or not before they entered the encampment," Rosenzweig says.

She says the university is lacking acknowledgment for its Jewish population, adding that it is part of a larger trend across America.

"The experience of antisemitism is being minimized and ignored because it looks different than other hate, and it’s allowed to flourish, even at UWM," Rosenzweig says.

In a statement, UWM acknowledged UW System President Rothman’s comments, and it says it was “deeply concerned” with the experiences shared by Jewish groups. The statement adds that the UWM will “respond comprehensively” and will soon share how the university came to terms with protesters.

Eddie is a WUWM news reporter.
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