A protester carries a large cutout image of Richard Saller, Stanford's interim president, with "Shame" written across his face on June 5, 2024. (Photo/Andrew Esensten)
A protester carries a large cutout image of Richard Saller, Stanford's interim president, with "Shame" written across his face on June 5, 2024. (Photo/Andrew Esensten)

13 arrested in Stanford president’s office occupation on same day Gaza tent encampment comes down

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Update, June 7: All 13 people arrested have been charged with felony burglary, according to the Stanford Daily.

A turbulent school year at Stanford took another dramatic turn Wednesday, as pro-Palestinian students occupied the university president’s office in the early morning before law enforcement arrived and arrested 13 people, one of whom was a student journalist reporting on the protest.

A few hours later, the university announced the removal of the pro-Palestinian tent encampment on White Plaza, set up since late April, “in the interest of public safety.”

The protesters injured one officer and caused “extensive damage” to the inside of Building 10, which houses the offices of the president and provost, according to a university spokesperson. They also sprayed anti-Israel, anti-American and anti-police graffiti on the exterior walls of several buildings in the same quad.

Wednesday is the final day of classes in the spring quarter, and some classes scheduled to meet in classrooms next to Building 10 were moved online, according to the Stanford Daily. Finals begin Friday, and graduation is set for June 16.

“We are appalled that our students chose to take this action and we will work with law enforcement to ensure that they face the full consequences allowed by law,” university spokesperson Dee Mostofi wrote in a statement sent to J. “All arrested students will be immediately suspended and in case any of them are seniors, they will not be allowed to graduate.”

A campus security guard told J. this was the most aggressive pro-Palestinian protest that he had witnessed since he began working at the university in October. Another security guard advised students on their way to class to bypass the area because of “graphic images” spray-painted on the walls.

The messages written in graffiti included “De@th 2 Isr@hell,” “Kill Cops,” “Pigs Taste Best Dead” and “School $$$ Is Blood $$$.”

Grafitti at Stanford reads "DE@TH 2 ISR@HELL," June 5, 2024 (Photo/Andrew Esensten)
Graffiti on a Stanford building on June 5, 2024 (Photo/Andrew Esensten)

A Jewish student who was cycling on campus stopped to look at the graffiti. “These are direct calls for violence,” she said. “There’s a difference between openly calling for violence and advocating for change. I don’t see how this helps.”

The student, who declined to identify herself, said she was horrified when protesters chanted, “There is only one solution, intifada revolution” on campus last month.

“We talk about the Holocaust and the Farhud. … All of these things started with things like this,” she said, referring to the 1941 pogrom carried out against the Jewish community in Baghdad.

Richard Saller, the interim university president, and Jenny Martinez, the provost, sent a message to the Stanford community Wednesday morning, condemning the “vile and hateful sentiments” expressed in the graffiti and announcing the removal of the encampment.

“The situation on campus has now crossed the line from peaceful protest to actions that threaten the safety of our community,” they wrote. “This began with the recent attempted occupation of Building 570 and has now escalated into today’s deeply unfortunate events. In the interest of public safety, the encampment has been removed.”

On May 20, pro-Palestinian demonstrators briefly occupied another building on campus before being arrested.

On Wednesday, the protesters entered Building 10 around 5:30 a.m. and blocked doors and windows, the Stanford Daily reported. They also hung a banner inside reading “Dr. Adnan’s Office,” a reference to Dr. Adnan al-Bursh, a Palestinian who died in Israeli prison in April. His cause of death has not been disclosed; his family believes he was tortured, Haaretz reported.

The demonstrators identified themselves on Instagram as a group of current students and alumni and accused police of assaulting one of them. In a video posted by the group, an officer wearing a “sheriff” vest can be seen shoving a protester with his baton.

The group’s demands included that Stanford divest from companies that they believe support Israel’s military, disclose its endowment holdings and give amnesty to pro-Palestinian student activists who are facing disciplinary action.

Around 8:15 a.m., after law enforcement cleared the building, dozens of masked protesters remained outside chanting pro-Palestinian slogans. One held an effigy of Saller with a bloody hand and “Shame” spray-painted across his face.

Nearby, graduate student Aaron Schimmel watched with horror. “I think this is an absolute shame,” he told J. “The administration allowed this to happen.”

Jewish student Aaron Schimmel walks past a pro-Israel display at Stanford, June 5, 2024 (Photo/Andrew Esensten)
Grad student Aaron Schimmel walks past a pro-Israel display at Stanford on June 5, 2024 (Photo/Andrew Esensten)

Schimmel, who identifies as Modern Orthodox and wears a kippah, said he has felt unsafe on campus throughout the school year. He met with deans to express his concerns but felt they did not take concrete steps to reduce tensions.

“I hope the situation gets better soon,” he said. “I’m here to learn. I just want to be a student. I don’t want to have to advocate for myself and my people in the middle of campus, like it’s a job.”

As the protesters dispersed, Schimmel and another Jewish graduate student who declined to be identified walked to White Plaza. The pro-Palestinian encampment was still up at the time, as was a pro-Israel installation that consisted of dozens of Israeli and American flags next to chairs decorated with posters of hostages held captive in Gaza.

The student with Schimmel said protesters had recently destroyed or stolen several of the flags and he had replaced them.

Asked how he felt, he replied, “I feel unsupported and pretty jarred. I had a class this morning that I’m not going to get to.”

Rabbi Jessica Kirschner, who leads Hillel at Stanford, said Wednesday’s escalation helped the Stanford community see the “true colors of this movement.”

“The activism of a very small group has had an enormously negative impact on the climate of the whole university all year,” she wrote in an email to J. “That has had implications for everyone, but especially for the Jewish and Israeli campus community, who have seen it for what it was all along. Enough is enough.”

Schimmel worries the upcoming summer break will not guarantee a more peaceful campus environment in the fall.

“I think the administration’s plan was to wait it out until the end of the year,” he said. “But it’s probably going to continue into next year because the war isn’t ending anytime soon.”

This article was updated June 6 to clarify that one of the 13 people arrested was a Stanford Daily journalist.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.