On Tax Day, students protest US, USC’s role in Israel’s war in Gaza

The demonstration, part of a nationwide effort, came as Middle East tensions are ramping up.

Monday’s walkout, the six co-host organizations wrote in an Instagram post, was “not merely an act of solidarity but a direct demand on the US administration … to take decisive and permanent action to end the ongoing genocide in Gaza.” (Ana Hunter / Daily Trojan)

Donning kaffiyehs and waving Palestinian flags, more than 100 students and community members stood at Tommy Trojan Monday afternoon as part of a national protest scheduled to coincide with Tax Day. The national protest was coordinated by a “Strike4Gaza Coalition” of more than 20 pro-Palestine organizations in the United States. 

The USC Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, Trojans for Palestine, USC Graduate Students in Solidarity with Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace USC, the USC Palestine Justice Faculty Group and Students for Justice in Palestine at USC jointly organized the demonstration. Participants began with chants: “Free, free Palestine”; “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Daily headlines, sent straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with the latest at and around USC.

Some minutes into the protest, a white drape painted with the Palestinian flag and “CEASEFIRE NOW” — the same drape featured in a February protest calling on USC to divest from Israel — appeared at Tommy’s pedestal. 

Organizers handed out flyers promoting an effort, led by a “Divest from Death Coalition” of pro-Palestine organizations at USC, to suspend the University’s study abroad programs in Israel. The flyer accuses the programs of discriminating against Palestinian and Palestinian American students. It also alleges that study abroad in Israel is also “complicit in violation of international law.”

Two speakers stepped before the crowd, each wielding on their turn a bejeweled pink megaphone. The first — Harlow Raye, a junior majoring in sociology — began, “I stand here today as a Black, Jewish Israeli person in protest against the Zionist occupation and the genocide committed by my government against the Palestinian people in Gaza.” 

Raye also recounted what they described as the “intellectual terrorism” that they encountered as a student in the Israeli education system. 

“I urge USC to cut all ties with a Zionist regime that will forever be remembered as a colonial, genocidal movement,” said Raye, a member of JVP’s chapters in Los Angeles and at USC. (The USC chapter is not yet a recognized student organization at the University.)

Harlow Raye speaks before a crowd of protesters. (Ana Hunter / Daily Trojan)

A second speaker identified themselves as Madeline, a Palestinian American student who lamented that “the world pretended to care about students feeling safe on campus until it comes to Palestinian students, Arab students, Muslim students or anyone who is brave enough to call for justice for Palestine.”

“It’s not your right to fight for Palestinian liberation. It is your responsibility,” Madeline said.

The organizers then led a moment of silence, honoring the more than 33,000 Palestinians killed by Israeli attacks since Oct. 7.

In a press release posted to its webpage, Strike4Gaza called on supporters to, in addition to attending local pro-Palestine demonstrations Monday, “abstain from business as usual (e.g., no spending, no work, no school, no banking)” and from engaging “in any form of action that stimulates the economy.”

In their joint Instagram post promoting the USC event, the six co-hosting organizations echoed excerpts from Strike4Gaza’s statement, writing that their walkout was “not merely an act of solidarity but a direct demand on the US administration” — which has thus far played a “pivotal collaborative role in the occupation of Palestine” — to “take decisive and permanent action to end the ongoing genocide in Gaza.” 

The demonstration had barely finished when Provost Andrew Guzman announced the Class of 2024 valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, would not be speaking at the commencement ceremony. Tabassum had come under scrutiny for promoting and engaging with anti-Zionist content on social media.

Signs held up at Monday’s protest. (Jonathan Park / Daily Trojan)

The walkout also came as the U.N.  rebuffed Israel’s claims that it is allowing in more humanitarian aid in Gaza, as officials and aid workers say they have yet to see noticeable changes on the ground while starvation and disease run rampant. 

Meanwhile, Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said, in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike two weeks prior on its consulate in Syria. The IDF said it had struck down 99 percent of the projectiles, with assistance from the U.S. military. 

In an emergency meeting convened the following day, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warned the Middle East was now “on the brink,” as concern mounts that Israel’s current war in Gaza could now escalate to a wider regional conflict.

The Shoah Foundation issued a statement Saturday expressing “unwavering support for our families, friends, and partners in Israel” and that Iran’s attacks “have brought new and dreadful uncertainties to communities already grieving.”

After observing two minutes of silence, the crowd morphed into a line, then a stream of signs, flags and kaffiyehs as it marched through campus. From Tommy Trojan to Pardee Lawn, through McCarthy Quad to the Trousdale North Entrance, chants rang: “No more war with our tuition,” and, “Trojans, Trojans, you can’t hide. You’re supporting genocide.” 

The protest dispersed peacefully after half an hour of persistent chanting. Daphne, a senior and co-organizer with Trojans for Palestine, said she was satisfied with the turnout.

“Given how long it went and how much chanting there was, I’m glad that people were able to keep up that energy,” said Daphne, who declined to give further identifying information, citing a “fear of Zionists, as they constantly use violence and doxxing to quiet any opposition, as they know they’re on the wrong side of history and want to silence those who bring this fact up.”

The protest falling on Tax Day served as a reminder, Daphne said, of the money that the average U.S. taxpayer was “giving to the slaughter of innocent people.”

“It’s not going to education, it’s not going to infrastructure. It’s going to killing children in Palestine,” she said.

© University of Southern California/Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.