A pro-Palestine event at UMass Amherst drew a full crowd, heavy police presence and fiery criticism from students and community members on Saturday evening.
The event, called "Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech and The Battle For Palestinian Rights," featuring Roger Waters, the bassist and founder of progressive rock band Pink Floyd and a pro-Palestinian political activist, was condemned by student groups as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
Other panelists included Palestinian-American political activist Linda Sarsour, professor and political commentator Marc Lamont Hill and author Dave Zirin. The panel was moderated by journalist Vijay Prashad.
"I am concerned about the event and that it might increase incidents against Jews on campus," said UMass student Stephanie Margolis as she waited in line to enter the packed Fine Arts Center where the event was held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.
"I want to listen to make sure it isn't hate speech," said Margolis, adding that the event makes students feel unsafe on campus.
"I'm a little hurt that there has been no condemnation of it on this campus ... but at the end of the day it's free speech," said Margolis.
The panelists outlined pro-Palestinian views, saying they are typically silenced, and encouraged the spirited audience to voice their opinions.
"We are not backing down. Not when the stakes are so high for Palestinian people, who should be the focus of the conversation," said Prashad as he opened the panel.
Howard Breslau, a UMass Amherst graduate who now has children enrolled at the school, stood outside in opposition, saying, "This event and its speakers are known and documented anti-Semites ... This is known, hate-filled virulence and venom."
Outraged students filed an emergency motion against UMass officials last week to get the event booted off campus, but Suffolk Superior Court knocked it down, citing freedom of speech and no threat of danger or violence.
According to a UMass Amherst spokesman, the event was presented by a private foundation that rented space on campus and the Media Education Foundation organized the panel.
Two university departments co-sponsored the event: the Department of Communication and the Department of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies.
UMass student Sean Vo said that those who were offended by the event should be the ones attending. "I think they should be here too because perspective is everything. I feel like when we are affected by things we should learn more about it," Vo said.
Haddiyyah Ali, a Connecticut resident who came to campus just for the event, said, "We don't hear the other side often. It shows the other side and it allows Palestinians and pro-Palestinians to speak about the issue."