Vanderbilt, Nashville communities react to Hamas attacks, Israeli declaration of war

Hundreds of community members attended an Oct. 9 rally and Oct. 10 vigil in support of Israel, organized by the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Vanderbilt Hillel and Chabad, respectively.
Zeppos Tower at sunset, as photographed on Sept. 28, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Isabella Bautista)
Zeppos Tower at sunset, as photographed on Sept. 28, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Isabella Bautista)
Isabella Bautista

CORRECTION: This piece was corrected on Oct. 12 at 10:09 a.m. CDT. It previously stated that Thomas Schwartz was the director of Vanderbilt’s Department of History; he is actually the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of History.

Hamas, an Islamist militant group that governs Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, launched a surprise attack and invasion of Israel on Oct. 7. Vanderbilt administrators, faculty and students expressed sorrow and concern in response to the attack and Israeli retaliation and official declaration of war.

Nations including the U.S., U.K. and Canada have designated Hamas as a terrorist group. Its stated goal is to replace Israel with an Islamic Palestinian state, and it has carried out many suicide bombings and attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in an effort to achieve this goal.

An estimated 700 people, including Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti, attended a Jewish Federation of Nashville rally in support of Israel at Nashville’s Gordon Jewish Community Center on Oct. 9. Vanderbilt Hillel and Chabad jointly hosted a vigil for Israel on Oct. 10 at Library Lawn.

The Student Center for Social Justice and Identity and Center for Spiritual and Religious Life hosted a “Reflective Walk” on Oct. 11 at 5:30 p.m. beginning at Wyatt Rotunda. 

“Above all else, we are a community that cares for one another, so let us come together to remember all the lives lost, and firmly stand united against all forms of violence,” the SCSJI and Center for Spiritual and Religious Life’s post reads.

Oct. 7 attacks

Under the cover of a barrage of rockets, Hamas soldiers reportedly entered Israeli towns near Gaza on Oct. 7, killing at least 260 Israeli civilians at a music festival and taking over 150 others hostage. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently issued an official declaration of war on Hamas. Since the initial attacks, Hamas has launched over 4,500 rockets at Israel, whose military has responded with “a complete siege” in Gaza via a large-scale bombardment. As of publication, across all attacks, 1,200 Israelis and 1,100 Palestinians have died, with over 7,000 people injured — numbers that continue to rise.

The Israel Defense Forces also announced a complete blockade of Gaza on Oct. 9, preventing food, water and electricity from reaching the approximately 2 million Palestinians living in the region and greatly exacerbating Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. Netanyahu instructed Palestinians to evacuate the area as the IDF targets Hamas strongholds. On Oct. 9 and 10, the IDF reportedly bombed Rafah, the single exit point from Gaza into Egypt. Assistant professor of history Samuel Dolbee emphasized that Palestinians have nowhere to go. 

“With these comments and what appear to be plans for a ground invasion, I only see further and immense suffering in store,” Dolbee said in an email to The Hustler. “And, as in all conflicts, the poor and the oppressed will suffer the most.”

This war comes exactly 50 years and one day after the start of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Yom Kippur War, when a coalition of Arab nations launched a surprise attack against Israel on the High Holy Day of Yom Kippur. 

The Oct. 7 attack has widely been called an “unprecedented” surprise, this time occurring on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah. 

“Hamas’s attacks on Israeli police and civilians are unprecedented in scale and in their intrusion into Israel,” Dolbee said. “They also reflect a colossal intelligence failure by Israel and the United States.”

Administration responses

In an Oct. 7 email to community members, Chancellor Daniel Diermeier called the initial reports of conflict “heartbreaking” and acknowledged the “deeply personal” nature of the conflict for those with familial and religious ties to the region.

“In the wake of today’s developments in Israel and Gaza, we are heartbroken at the reports of violence in the region and the hundreds of victims who have died,” Diermeier said. “In this time of what may feel like uncertainty and unrest, your One Vanderbilt community is here to support you.”

Diermeier’s message to the Vanderbilt community differs slightly from his official statement released online and on social media, which a university spokesperson said was not actually a “statement.” It called on community members to “denounce violence” and foster spaces for open dialogue in the wake of the “nuanced” attacks. This message was removed as of Oct. 11 from the university’s website.

“The deeply layered and nuanced complexity of today’s incidents reminds us that we must denounce violence, hate and prejudice in all forms and remain steadfast in our commitment to open discourse and a compassionate, supportive environment,” the Oct. 7 message reads.   

Many community members took to Facebook with criticism of Diermeier’s usage of the word “nuanced” to describe the Oct. 7 attacks. Many of the 72 comments express disappointment and hurt regarding the apparent statement and inflict “shame” on the university.

Diermeier’s Oct. 7 message and subsequent deletion was cited in an Oct. 10 Washington Post article as an example of the “tightrope” of commenting on the war. Diermeier sent another email to the Vanderbilt community on Oct. 11 sharing how faculty, students and staff have come together in the past few days. 

“Our first task was to confirm that none of our faculty, students or staff were in harm’s way. I, along with a number of our faculty and staff, have spent many hours talking with members of Vanderbilt’s Jewish community,” Diermeier said. “There has been an outpouring of grief and empathy on our campus.”

He added that the university is developing ways to promote open dialogue about the conflict in classrooms and on campus.

“Faculty members are working to integrate the events of the past several days into thoughtful classroom discussion, and we are developing forums on campus where experts from inside and outside of Vanderbilt can share insights and experiences that can inform ongoing dialogue and education,” Diermeier said.

Junior Zander Schwartz, Dores for Israel president, said he appreciated the “firmer” stance taken by Diermeier in his second email.

“We value the Chancellor taking a firmer stance on what’s happening. Hamas has shown time and time again that they are the enemy of both the Israeli and Palestinian people,” Zander Schwartz said.

Usma Saleh (B.A. ‘23), founder of Vanderbilt’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, formerly known as Dores in Solidarity with Palestine, criticized Western institutions for ignoring the fates of Palestinians. 

“It’s imperative that we engage in more extensive discussions about Israel’s actions and the ongoing loss of Palestinian lives. The evident bias in Western media coverage underscores the deeply ingrained issue of white supremacy,” Saleh said. “I have been waking up the past four days with a heavy heart, angry at those who use vague language that falsely portrays the oppressed and the oppressor as equals.”

Student and organization sentiments

In a statement to The Hustler, SJP addressed Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation as a whole. They emphasized that their organization’s goal is to represent Palestinians, “not a specific military group.” 

“We support the right for Palestinian resistance and liberation from its colonizer [Israel]. This resistance is occurring as a result of Israel’s decades-long military occupation, apartheid system and brutal siege and attacks on millions of Palestinians in Gaza. We mourn the lives of innocent people who are killed and injured as a result of this,” SJP said in an email to The Hustler.

In an Oct. 8 email addressed to the Hillel community, leaders of Vanderbilt Hillel called for its members to denounce the violence and to regard Hamas’s attacks as terrorism.

“We must denounce the slaughter of innocents, the desecration of bodies, the dehumanization and capture of civilians for what it is. This is terrorism. Calling it by any other name is a deep disrespect not only of the victims, but of every other Jewish person who has spent the subsequent hours since becoming aware of the attack frantically checking their phones, desperate to hear that their families and loved ones in the region are safe, for now,” the statement reads.

Saleh also pointed to the toll of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The casualties among Palestinians often go unnoticed; the daily humiliation of occupation is ignored,” Saleh said. “Looking at numbers and charts, the number of Palestinians killed in the last two decades exceeds ten times the number of Israelis.”

Hillel further acknowledged the anticipated toll of the violence on its members. Its leaders stated that they plan to gather over the next few days for shared processing and discussion, including providing bagels at noon and inviting the community to say Kaddish Yatom (“Mourner’s Kaddish”) at 9 p.m. CDT daily until further notice. 

“We recognize the intensity of the moment for many of our students is compounded by the already crushing workload preceding fall break,” Hillel said. “We hope to provide our students with nourishment, community and a practice whereby they can honor the lost lives and support one another in processing our grief.”

Zander Schwartz reflected on hearing the news over the “overwhelming” weekend. 

“Constantly checking in with friends and family to make sure they’re alive is a burden that nobody should have to bear,” Zander Schwartz said. “Though this conflict is unfolding 6,000 miles away, I want to reiterate that these matters affect anyone in the Vanderbilt community who has ties to the land. It is, therefore, our duty to unapologetically condemn the terrorist attacks that perpetuate the ongoing conflict and support one another as the violence continues.”

Saleh similarly called the past few days “emotionally draining.”

“I can hardly recall a time when I was not acutely aware of the turmoil surrounding me. I was, after all, born during the intifada while my city was under siege,” Saleh told The Hustler. “These recent days have been particularly exhausting, not only due to the emotional toll but also because, as a Palestinian, I find myself repeatedly educating the world about our ongoing plight.”

Saleh urged students and community members to examine the context surrounding Hamas’s attacks. 

“I firmly reject endorsing any wrongdoing, but it is essential to acknowledge that the conflict involving Hamas did not erupt without context,” Saleh said. “What the world witnessed on Saturday is the culmination of years of decolonization, a process marked by genocide, murder and apartheid.

She emphasized that Palestinians do not want violence but rather the end to this “apartheid” and “genocide” at the hands of Israel.

“People need to understand that Palestinians never desired more violence or bloodshed. We simply seek basic human rights and an end to apartheid and discrimination,” Saleh said. “We endure discrimination daily, unable to access our own land or have basic human rights. Should we remain silent while our land and people are subjected to violence?”

Junior Rhylee Tucker traveled to Israel and Palestine earlier this year with a cohort of Vanderbilt students led by Hillel. She expressed hope for peace and the re-emergence of the “better parts of humanity.”

“I went in with almost zero knowledge on the conflict and came out with a deep appreciation for Jewish culture and humanity. What Hamas is doing is not fighting for the rights of the Palestinian people, but instead using their pain to commit terrorism,” Tucker said. “This solves nothing but, instead, takes us further backward. I will continue to pray for the families dealing with this horror.”

Several Vanderbilt fraternities and sororities took to social media with statements of condolence for the lives lost, including Alpha Epsilon Pi, Alpha Delta Pi, Chi Omega, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Delta, Pi Beta Phi and Zeta Tau Alpha. Interfraternity Council members Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Zeta Beta Tau launched a fundraiser for United Hatzalah, Israel’s largest independent, non-profit emergency medical service organization. According to the SAE instagram, they reached almost $1,500 of their $5,400 goal in less than 24 hours.

A pair of Vanderbilt siblings, who are being kept anonymous for personal safety, announced their family and friends’ creation of the Hank Greenspun Legacy Fund via Instagram on Oct. 11. According to the fund’s website, a donor provided a private chartered plane that will leave the Los Angeles International Airport on Oct. 12, and the fund’s goal is to stock the plane with $1.5 million worth of medical supplies for IDF soldiers.

Faculty perspectives

Dolbee expressed his shock and remorse to the news.

“I’m horrified and heartbroken by the suffering of so many, as well as the ongoing and longstanding violence that gets less media attention but has led us to today,” Dolbee said.

Professor Ari Joskowicz, chair of the Department of Jewish Studies, referred The Hustler to Thomas Schwartz, professor of history, political science and European studies. Thomas Schwartz provided insight on the conflict from the perspective of U.S. foreign relations. Calling Israel “America’s most important ally in the Middle East,” Thomas Schwartz said that the U.S. has a “vital” interest in the nation’s security. President Joe Biden called the U.S. and Israel “inseparable partners” in an Oct. 9 press release and condemned Hamas’s attacks in a joint statement with France, the U.K., Germany and Italy.

“For that reason, I think we should support Israel’s efforts to destroy Hamas just as we were supported in the war against Al Qaeda and ISIS,” Thomas Schwartz said in an email to The Hustler. 

Thomas Schwartz compared the weekend’s violence to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. He acknowledged the unpredictability of the war but shared insight on how he foresees the war unfolding.

“The destruction of Hamas may finally force Palestinians to give up their dreams of eradicating Israel, and lead them to develop responsible governing institutions that could cooperate with Israel,” Thomas Schwartz said.

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About the Contributors
Brina Ratangee
Brina Ratangee, Editorial Director
Brina Ratangee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. She previously served as News Editor. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys trivia nights, solving NYT crosswords and biking around Nashville. You can reach her at [email protected].
Charlotte White
Charlotte White, Staff Photographer
Charlotte White (‘26) is from Los Angeles, and is majoring in medicine, health and society and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. Outside of class, she loves to read, watch movies or do anything outside. They can be reached at [email protected].
Isabella Bautista
Isabella Bautista, Life Copy Editor
Isabella Bautista (‘26) is double majoring in mathematics and psychology and minoring in biological sciences on the pre-medical track in the College of Arts and Science. She is from Easton, Pa. When not writing for The Hustler, she can be found spending hours alone in a piano practice room, photographing Vanderbilt squirrels with her Canon camera or poring over research papers in the lab she works in. She can be reached at [email protected]  
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T
Tana
7 months ago

FREE PALESTINE

D
Davis
7 months ago

People are sharing literal Nakba apologia re: Hank Greenspun

“A 1952 FBI file reveals that after being indicted a second time for violating the Neutrality Act, Greenspun traveled to Washington and contacted Seth Solomon Pope. An earlier criminal proceeding ended when smuggling defendants during the trial contacted a juror who became the only vote against conviction. Pope worked in Hawaii at the War Assets Administration, in charge of decommissioning and selling off WWII surplus. Pope was investigated on three occasions for fraudulent sales of war materiel. Greenspun and associates stole 58 crates of .30 and .50 caliber machine guns from the U.S. Navy and smuggled them from Honolulu through Mexico to Jewish fighters in Palestine in the late 1940s. After Pope transferred to the General Services Administration in Washington, Greenspun offered $25,000 to Pope “or anyone else designated by Pope” to “quash” a second Neutrality Act indictment against Greenspun. The effort failed and Greenspun was convicted of a felony and forced to pay $10,000, but received no prison time.  
FBI reports reveal Greenspun received a 10% “kickback” on millions in illegal arms deals funded by the Jewish Agency – Haganah smuggling network through banks in Geneva and Mexico. Greenspun’s net worth from holdings in publishing, motels and construction projects grew to $517,000 by 1952 according to FBI reports”

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/fbi-files-hank-greenspun-parlayed-profits-from-israel-arms-smuggling-into-las-vegas-media-empire-201286611.html