Attacks bring out support for Israel, Palestinians on Georgia campuses

Students attend a vigil for Israel at Emory University in Atlanta on Wednesday, October 11, 2023. The vigil comes after Hamas militants waged a surprise attack over the weekend. (Arvin Temkar /



Students attend a vigil for Israel at Emory University in Atlanta on Wednesday, October 11, 2023. The vigil comes after Hamas militants waged a surprise attack over the weekend. (Arvin Temkar /

Heads bowed under rain and grief, roughly 200 students gathered at Emory University on Wednesday evening for a vigil for Israel.

Students and faculty spoke about how fearful they’ve been for friends and loved ones in Israel who were victims of the surprise attack by Hamas militants over the weekend. They described feeling distracted as they try to go about their lives, unable to tear their attention away from the news on their phones. They expressed anger and hurt after seeing people excusing or outright celebrating the attack.

“Saturday morning was one of the saddest and loneliest moments of my life,” said Lyndsey Lipson, the first student speaker at the vigil. “Creating this event and seeing it come to fruition has made me feel a little less lonely in the world.”

More than 2,300 people have been killed since the Hamas attack that included a deadly assault on an Israeli music festival. Israel’s military responded with airstrikes in Gaza, where thousands of residents have fled.

The war has turned college campuses in Georgia and across the United States into stages for pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups to hash out long-running disputes. Students have taken to social media to post opposing views, with some planning campus rallies and vigils.

At Emory, a private university in Atlanta where the estimated Jewish student population is as high as 30%, students have spoken out about both sides of the issue as they returned to campus after the fall break.

Morgan Ames, a senior and one of the vigil’s organizers, said it’s been a shock to see the response on social media from some of her peers.

“A lot of Jewish students, for the first time on Emory’s campus, are feeling unsafe,” Ames said. “As scared as we are, we’re not going to hide.”

Students become emotional at a vigil for Israel at Emory University in Atlanta on Wednesday, October 11, 2023. The vigil comes after Hamas militants waged a surprise attack on Israel over the weekend. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Emory Students for Justice in Palestine issued two statements Tuesday. One demanded protection for students who support the Palestinian cause. The group said students “have been unjustly targeted and threatened by members of the Emory community.” The group also said it mourns the loss of unarmed Palestinian and Israeli civilians and supports “the Palestinian right to resistance, liberation and self-determination.”

Gregory Fenves, Emory’s first Jewish president, declined an interview request but shared a Wednesday message to the campus describing the “profound pain” felt by many following the Hamas attacks.

“The reality of Jews being senselessly murdered and taken as hostages will not soon leave my mind, and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” Fenves wrote.

Earlier this week, a spokeswoman said the school was aware of two Emory students in Israel and said they were safe.

Fenves urged members of Emory’s diverse campus to treat each other “with dignity as difficult conversations take place.” That respect should come “even, and especially, in moments of disagreement,” he wrote.

Across town at Georgia Tech, Jewish student groups organized a Wednesday event to pray and show solidarity with Israel, saying they stand with the people of Israel and “affirm their right to defend themselves.”

The school’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America said it’s planning a vigil to mourn the deaths of Palestinians. The group posted a statement on Instagram calling the escalating violence “tragic.” The group said it “denounces war crimes at the hands of Hamas forces while recognizing that such acts ultimately stem from the Israeli occupation of Palestine and provide Israel with justification for its own continuous terrorism and war crimes against Palestinian people and lands.”

Georgia Tech President Ángel Cabrera declined an interview request. In a message to student organizations, the student engagement and well-being office expressed deep sadness at the loss of life and offered mental health services and other resources. The message also focused on fostering “mutual respect for our collective humanity.”

At the University of Georgia, Students for Justice in Palestine planned a protest Thursday evening in Athens. The group invited students “who support the freedom and self-determination of the Palestinian people” to attend and said “Israel has murdered” hundreds of Palestinians and cut off electricity, food and fuel to Gaza. The “Day of Resistance” is part of an effort led by the group’s national organization, and the event has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League and condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Staff members at UGA Hillel, which offers programs and support to more than 1,000 Jewish students, provided opportunities for students to gather and grieve.

In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, UGA said it is supporting all those “affected by the horrific terrorist acts and loss of life in Israel” and encouraging students to access campus services. The university’s president, Jere Morehead, planned to visit UGA Hillel on Thursday, officials said in a statement.