Devon Whyte, left, of Sanford, a first-year criminology and political science major, and Julianne Siegfriedt, an assistant professor of sociology and women and gender studies join in to protest the war in Gaza at the University of Southern Maine on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A small group of pro-Palestine students gathered at the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland on Wednesday in support of similar demonstrations at schools around the nation.

They chanted, briefly marched down the street and carried signs denouncing U.S. support for Israel and issued calls to “free Palestine.” They often were interrupted by car horns – one protester held a sign asking people to honk for support.

It hardly matched the chaos at Columbia University in New York on Monday, when more than a hundred demonstrators who had formed an encampment there were arrested and charged with trespassing. The pro-Palestine demonstrators had asked the school to condemn Israel’s attacks on Gaza, calling it genocide. Meanwhile, Jewish students there and on other U.S. college campuses say the criticism against Israel is veering into antisemitism.

There were no arrests outside Glickman Family Library in Portland on Wednesday afternoon, where roughly 30 people, mostly students, assembled. The event was organized by Maine Students for Palestine, which includes students at schools throughout the state.

In public remarks, one organizer disagreed that Columbia’s pro-Palestine protesters were antisemitic.

“We should all aspire to their level of conviction and commitment in the fight for Palestinian liberation,” Nick Caruso said over a megaphone covered in pro-Palestine stickers.


University of Southern Maine students and staff protest the war in Gaza on Bedford Street on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Emma, who declined to give her last name citing privacy concerns, said Wednesday that the group’s requests to USM and the University of Maine system are similar to what pro-Palestinian students are asking for at other schools: divestment of defense companies that do business with Israel.

Earlier this month, a group of University of Maine students at Orono approached the school system’s board of trustees, which also oversees USM, with a request to divest its investments in companies that manufacture weapons being sold to Israel.

“This whole thing is about solidarity and about standing up for what’s right, standing up for human rights,” Emma said.

Samantha Warren, a spokesperson for the UMaine system, said the board of trustees chair met with students in Orono on Tuesday about the issue. Warren said the university system is in the process of identifying specific holdings for students who have asked and is committed to an “open dialogue” on the topic.

“As is its fiduciary responsibility, the board’s investment committee routinely reviews the system’s portfolio to ensure assets are being invested and managed in a manner that delivers the greatest return of earnings that can be reinvested directly to benefit our students, employee pensions and public university programs and campuses,” Warren said in an email.

The University of Southern Maine declined to comment on the protest Wednesday.

The ongoing war is the deadliest between Israel and Palestine in decades. It began Oct. 7, 2023, when Hamas, which Israel calls a terrorist organization, raided southern Israel and killed about 1,200 people, the majority of whom were civilians. More than 250 people were kidnapped and taken into Gaza – roughly half were still being held as of Saturday. At least 30 hostages have died.

Since the war erupted, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 77,000 wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. The Hamas-run health authorities do not differentiate between combatants and civilians in their count but say at least two-thirds have been children and women. Israel blames Hamas for the civilian casualties, saying the group deliberately embeds itself within the general population.

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