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Community members protest Condoleezza Rice event at Baker Institute

Community members protest former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to the Baker Institute Feb. 15. Ahitagni Das / Thresher

By Belinda Zhu     2/20/24 10:25pm

Students and community members gathered in the Central Quad Feb. 15 to protest Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state and national security advisor to George W. Bush, coming to campus, demanding that the university “divest from death.” A Houston Police Department officer at the protest estimated nearly 100 protesters were in attendance throughout. 

Ahead of the demonstration, protesters accused Rice on social media of being a war criminal who was the architect of the Iraq War. In a Feb. 12 Instagram post announcing the protest, Rice Students for Justice in Palestine wrote, “While Rafah remains under threat of ground invasion and experiences constant bombings by Israel, Rice University shamelessly upholds legacies of imperialism that enable the global war machine.”

According to a protester who identified as an Arab student and part of Rice SJP’s leadership team, this protest was held because they don’t want “war criminals on campus.” The person spoke on the condition of anonymity due to concerns of doxxing because of their position with Rice SJP.

“We don’t want people on our campus who are in part responsible for the death of a million innocent Iraqis,” the Rice SJP leadership member said. “The same day, [the university] decided to host [information technology company] Hewlett Packard Enterprise on campus, which is a major part of the way Israel’s prison systems are allowed to continue existing.

“We don’t want war criminals on our campus. We don’t want people enabling genocide on our campus,” the protester added.

Leo Luna, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation who attended the protest, said he cannot support a university inviting someone like Rice to speak.

“Given Condoleezza Rice’s involvement in the Iraq War, and given how instrumental she was in having that happen, the fact that she continues to be an advocate in the imperial court and continues to have gigs in this manner is something that we can absolutely not support, especially given it continues to fund the U.S. war machine that Israel will inevitably be a part of,” Luna said. 

Protesters held Palestinian flags and posters bearing slogans such as “Hands off Rafah!” and “End all U.S. Aid to Israel.” Protest organizers from Rice SJP, representatives from University of Houston SJP, Scholars Against The War on Palestine, Palestinian Youth Movement, Houston Democratic Socialists of America and Healthcare Workers for Palestine gave speeches. 

Phrases including “Rice, Rice what do you say? How many kids have you killed today? Condi, Condi what do you say? How many kids have you killed today?” and “Israel bombs, Rice pays! How many kids did you kill today? Divestment is our demand! No peace on stolen land!” were chanted throughout the event. 

Levi Bullen, a member of Houston Democratic Socialists of America, said protests like this are what bring about change. 

“The national narrative around Palestine has shifted over the last 15 years,” Bullen said. “This shift is largely due to organizing being done by many different organizations. This shift doesn’t happen by itself so we can’t be silent.”

The Rice SJP leadership team member said that they wanted the university to divest from Israeli interests.

“We want Rice to end all partnerships with Israel and with companies that help like Raytheon and [Department of Defense] contracts like HPE,” the student said. “We want all those contracts ended because we don’t want our university helping Israel perpetuate genocide.”

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