Editor’s Note: This story was updated with new information after the letter went public on Monday.

As of Monday afternoon, 194 Brown University faculty members have signed onto a letter asking President Christina Paxson to call for charges against the students arrested Nov. 8 to be dropped, to exempt them from internal discipline, and to begin a conversation that “that engages seriously with the students’ demands.”

The protesters arrested had two main demands: For Brown to call for a ceasefire and for the university to divest from financial interests in Israel. An additional demand by aligned protestors is for Brown to protect Palestinian students and their supporters against doxxing and harassment.

Among the faculty signatories on the letter was Israeli and American citizen Omer Bartov, Samuel Pisar Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Former Dean of Faculty, Rajiv Vohra also signed the letter. At least one adjunct teacher signed the letter. Paxson received the letter on Friday. At that time, the number of signatories was roughly 160. Nadje Al-Ali, one of the signatories, said the number of faculty interested in signing the letter went up over the weekend. On Monday, the letter was made public as an op-ed in the Brown Daily Herald.

The students were arrested on Nov. 8 after several hours of protesting, which began at around 1pm when 20 members of an undergraduate student group called BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now hunkered down in the administrative building that houses the president’s office. About 50 additional members of the group protested outside, along with dozens of members of other campus pro-Palestinian groups.

“We were prepared to sustain them there for as long as it took, even weeks,” said Israeli-American senior Rita Feder, who is a member of BrownU Jews for Ceasefire.

But the night ended in their arrest after the building closed at 5pm and campus security officers warned them they would be charged with trespassing if they did not leave the building by 5:25. 

All told, the protest drew hundreds of supporters from several different campus groups outside the building. According to a spokesperson for the university, it was the first instance of en masse arrests for trespassing in protest at Brown since 1992.

The students say they decided to form their group and launch the protest because of what they say is a misconception about how Jewish people view the violence in Gaza.

“We formed out of this desire to act, and also because there's a common perception across the globe right now that like the Jewish people are a monolith and stand solidly behind Israel,” said Mica Maltzman, a spokesperson for the group and a Brown junior. 

Maltzman said members of the group have complex feelings about the violence in Israel and Gaza. On the one hand, she said, Jewish students are mourning the roughly 1,400 Jewish lives that were lost when soldiers for Hamas, the governing body for the Gaza Strip portion of the Palestinian territories, killed Israeli citizens in a series of coordinated attacks that played out in kibbutzim, towns and a music festival across the country. Hamas also kidnapped nearly 250 people and continues to hold most of them hostage.

On the other hand, Maltzman said, students felt the desire to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, especially those in the Gaza Strip, upon whom Israel has launched air raids and a ground invasion. Palestinians have died in much greater numbers during this conflict. According to the United Nations, more than 10,000 Palestinians–roughly one third of them children–have been killed in the Gaza strip since Oct. 7. Before then, since 2008, it reports 6,541 Palestinians and 309 Israelis fatalities in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“It was this feeling of grief and mourning, and also understanding that our Jewish upbringing taught us to fight for justice and ask for justice that led me here today,” said Maltzman.

Some students from the group were raised in progressive communities, and they say their parents support their anti-Zionist values. But others, like senior Rita Feder, grew up in orthodox backgrounds with a pro-Israel view. Feder said her understanding of the conflict deepened after spending time in the Palestinian territories. She then switched her major to Middle Eastern studies, and eventually, after this latest eruption in violence in the region, felt compelled to join this group, but still harbors complex emotions about the topic.

“My love for my family within Israel, Palestine, my love for my friends within Israel, Palestine, many of whom are in uniform right now in Gaza, does not change, I don't sleep, I'm terrified for their well being–that does not change,” said Feder. “My love for the land, my love for the concept does not change. The thing that has changed is a narrative that's been pushed on to me, of us or them. That it's either our survival or their survival.”

Feder said she was initially reluctant to go on the record because she was afraid of her family’s reaction to her stance.

Students from the group said they were also protesting the Brown administration, who they say has failed to listen to student demands on this topic going back to 2019.

In 2019, 69 percent of Brown undergraduate students who participated voted yes to a referendum with the question: “Should the Brown University administration divest all stocks, funds, endowment, and other monetary instruments from companies complicit in human rights abuses in Palestine and establish a means of implementing financial transparency and student oversight of the University’s investments?”

In 2020, a campus advisory group recommended that the corporation that governs Brown take action and divest. But the proposal was never brought forward.

The group’s recommendation to divest did not meet established standards for identifying specific entities for divestment or the articulation for how financial divestment from the entities would address social harm as defined in the committee’s charge,” Brown spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email.

Sherena Razek, president of the Brown Graduate Labor Organization, was a second year PhD candidate in the Modern Culture and Media department during the referendum. She is Palestinian-Canadian, her father is from the village of Burqa in the West Bank. Razek said it was encouraging seeing such a large percentage of the student body support increased Palestinian rights and divestment from Israel during her second year. Eighty-seven percent of grad students voted yes on the referendum, she said.

“On one hand, for me, it was this incredible moment to see some form of recognition like, okay, yes, Israel is an apartheid state,” she said. “It is not ethical or moral to be profiteering from the crimes they're committing against Palestinians.” 

But she said it was equally disheartening when the Brown Corporation did not divest.

“I think it was a reality check on what these institutions actually stand for,” Razek said.

She said threats against Palestinians on campus have ramped up in recent weeks, including threats she has faced herself. She has been a prominent voice among the calls for a ceasefire, including serving as one of the speakers at a rally and march in downtown Providence on Oct. 21.

That week, a video of her speaking at a vigil circulated on pro-Zionist pages.

“Heinous comments saying like, ‘I wish you were in Gaza right now, you guys are gonna be flattened.’ ‘She's a terrorist, deport her,’” Razek said.  “Meanwhile, I’m a Canadian passport holder, so, sure, send me back to Ontario.”

The Public’s Radio independently confirmed her claims.

The threats she received are why Razek said calls for the university to protect Palestinian students and their supporters against doxxing is so important. She said she met with Brown President Christina Paxson on Oct. 19 to ask for more protection. The university responded by increasing the security presence on campus, which Razek said was not the intention of their request. 

“We at no point, at no point, said that police would make us safer,” she said. “Then these are the police who just arrested these 20 Jewish students.”

The group Razek heads up, the Graduate Labor Organization, was also involved in planning the protests and walkouts that have been taking place at Brown over the past month. Other groups involved include Students for Justice in Palestine, and the Palestine Solidarity Caucus.

Razek said BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now decided, in consultation with their Palestinian peers, that as Jewish students, it would make the most sense for them to be arrested. 

“They said, ‘What if we use our position as predominantly white Jewish students, who have a lot of protections inside these universities, to leverage these demands right now?’ And I just thought it was really smart,” said Razek. 

Brown has not said whether the arrested students will be suspended or expelled. 

“Brown has detailed procedures in place to investigate alleged conduct code violations, resolve them and implement discipline in instances when students are found responsible,” Brown spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in a press release,” and any additional disciplinary measures will be based on the outcome of those processes.” 

Steven Brown, the executive director for the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union said it is unlikely that the students who are first time offenders will face jail time. Still, there could be other consequences, he said. 

Brown also explained that by calling the city police, the school forced the charges. He thinks it is unlikely the university would then call for the charges to be dropped, saying it would be “very strange to have the university in a position like that if they were the ones that asked the police to come in and arrest the protesters.”

However, the school could decide to not cooperate with an investigation and trial, meaning it would be difficult to prosecute the students. 

The students are set to be arraigned on Nov. 28. 

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that BrownU Jews for Ceasefire Now does not share the Palestine Solidarity Caucus demand as one of its own for Brown to protect Palestinian students and their supporters against doxxing and harassment though it stands in support of it. Also, the students will be arraigned on Nov. 28, not Nov. 8.