For some older Jewish professors at Dartmouth and UNH, opposition to campus arrests feels personal

Dartmouth College Professor of History Annelise Orleck is held to the ground while being arrested during a protest of the Israel-Hamas War on the Green in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, May 1.

Dartmouth College Professor of History Annelise Orleck is held to the ground while being arrested during a protest of the Israel-Hamas War on the Green in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, May 1. James M. Patterson / Valley News

Alesandra Gonzales, a journalist with The Dartmouth student newspaper, is arrested during a protest of the Israel-Hamas War on the Dartmouth College Green in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Protesters demanded that the university divest from companies in Israel. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Alesandra Gonzales, a journalist with The Dartmouth student newspaper, is arrested during a protest of the Israel-Hamas War on the Dartmouth College Green in Hanover, N.H., on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Protesters demanded that the university divest from companies in Israel. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Dartmouth College student and activist Roan Wade attempts to tell student protesters to disperse and remain safe as New Hampshire State Police in riot gear move down North Main Street in Hanover, N.H., clearing the road after hours of protests on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth College student and activist Roan Wade attempts to tell student protesters to disperse and remain safe as New Hampshire State Police in riot gear move down North Main Street in Hanover, N.H., clearing the road after hours of protests on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Joshua Meyrowitz, 74, is a Jewish professor emeritus at the University of New Hampshire.

Joshua Meyrowitz, 74, is a Jewish professor emeritus at the University of New Hampshire. Courtesy

Jessica Bolker, 59, is a Jewish biology professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Jessica Bolker, 59, is a Jewish biology professor at the University of New Hampshire. Courtesy

Annelise Orleck, 65, is a Jewish history professor at Dartmouth College.

Annelise Orleck, 65, is a Jewish history professor at Dartmouth College. Courtesy

By JEREMY MARGOLIS

Monitor staff

Published: 05-10-2024 6:21 PM

Modified: 05-11-2024 11:02 PM


After police pushed Dartmouth professor Annelise Orleck to the ground and arrested her in an exchange that has since gone viral, an officer told her partner, “Age doesn’t matter if there’s bad behavior,” she said.

“They clearly were told it was okay to rough up old people,” the longtime Dartmouth history professor said in an interview this week.

Orleck, 65, was one of two Dartmouth faculty members and one of 90 people arrested during a protest for Palestinians in Gaza on the Dartmouth Green last week. At the other corner of the state at nearly the same time, police arrested 12 people during a protest at the University of New Hampshire.

On both campuses and across the country, pro-Palestinian protests have been led by a multi-racial, multi-denominational group of students in their late teens and 20s, but increasingly – and particularly in the wake of police crackdowns in recent weeks – they have found support from a perhaps unlikely group of allies: older Jewish professors.

At Dartmouth, Orleck – a Jew raised in Brooklyn – attended the May 1 protest along with other older women, many of whom were professors, Jewish, or both.

“We were naive enough to think that if we stood out there, it would reduce the police violence,” said Orleck, a labor historian.

At UNH, veteran Jewish professors also attended a protest on May 1, and a subsequent walkout and demonstration on May 6, in an effort to support student leaders, they said. Professors Joshua Meyrowitz and Jessica Bolker have condemned arrests by campus police.

The swift, near-simultaneous police responses on the two largest college campuses in New Hampshire came hours after Gov. Chris Sununu described pro-Palestinian protests as “pure anti-semitism.”

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In a state with an estimated Jewish population of only 10,000, the characterization struck a nerve with some members of the small minority, including Orleck.

“There’s something very political about what happened, and I’m really offended by them working this politics out on the bodies of educators and students, and innocent bystanders,” she said.

Orleck is one of approximately 700 Jewish professors to sign a statement rejecting the conflation of “antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israel.”

At a Dartmouth faculty meeting on May 6, some professors expressed a lack of confidence in President Sian Leah Beilock. A formal no-confidence vote may be forthcoming, Orleck predicted.

“I’ve been here much longer than this administration, and I feel like it’s my place,” Orleck said. “And it’s almost absurd as well as offensive to tell me I can't stand on the center of my own campus.”

Beilock has said she stands by her decision to call the Hanover Police Department to campus but has apologized for “the harm this impossible decision has caused.”

Orleck said that Beilock gave her a phone call to check in on how she was doing, but did not directly apologize for her arrest. A blanket ban on Orleck’s access to campus has been lifted, but she said that the conditions of her bail still restrict her from accessing certain areas, including the Dartmouth Green where she was arrested. As of Thursday, charges against her had not been dropped.

Beilock has also received praise from faculty for how she responded. Seventy-four professors have signed a letter commending her for what they described as “thoughtful and strong leadership in these complex times[.]”

“I felt strongly that what President Beilock did was absolutely right,” said Jewish anthropology professor and signatory Sergei Kan. “The students were given plenty of opportunity to demonstrate, but the college rules say no overnight camping on the College Green, and they were told repeatedly that eventually they would have to leave.”

Kan, 71, said that about as many Jewish professors at Dartmouth support Beilock’s response as oppose it. 

The protesters “didn't have time to commit violence, but I think some of them were willing to fight and it's only when the police came that then they couldn't really do anything,” said Kan, who described “a palpable element of antisemitism” on campus.

At UNH, professor emeritus Meyrowitz, 74, said that Gov. Sununu’s remarks aided in igniting support for protesters and criticism of the college’s involvement in the police response.

“Jews feel responsibility to participate [in protests] because of the crazy claim by the New Hampshire governor . . . that protesting what’s going on in Gaza is anti-Semitic,” Meyrowitz wrote in a text message.

The Faculty Senate is set to vote Monday on a resolution calling for a “transparent investigation” of how the May 1 response unfolded, according to text of the resolution obtained by the Monitor.

Chief of Police Paul Dean has faced calls to resign after faculty and students say he charged at protesters while in plain clothes.  An after-action review conducted by the police department and the offices of the provost, student life, and communications concluded that he was attempting to “de-escalate the situation”, according to a copy of a timeline shared by spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga.

At both Dartmouth and UNH, professors said their Jewish identities have compelled them to speak up.

“I think that we feel more of a responsibility because we know so much more and we know the violence is being done in our name and in the name of some of our family members,” said Meyrowitz, who has several close family members who live in Israel.

Bolker, a 59-year-old biology professor said that her Jewish upbringing has guided her support of calls for a ceasefire in Israel and for an investigation of the police response at UNH.

“I was brought up in a cultural and ethical tradition that's very focused on social justice, and this is consistent with that,” she said.

As an older professor, she says it is her role to speak out.

“I’m in a relatively safe place,” Bolker said. “I’m not gonna lose my job, I don’t have to apply for another job, I have union protection, which is important, so I can speak up, and therefore I think that’s my job.”

Nine days after being pushed and then thrown to the ground, Orleck is still recovering from injuries to her neck and wrist but, she said, the emotional damage will take much longer to heal.

“It’s taking a lot of emotional processing, not just for me, I think, but for the students themselves, that their college leaders would be complicit in such a traumatizing event,” Orleck said. “It was so completely unnecessary. People were really peaceful, there was no threat.”

On Thursday, she drove past a Dartmouth Outing Club van, which were used to transport those arrested. Her stomach clenched up and her breathing changed. The same thing has happened when she sees Hanover police.

The Dartmouth Green – the heart of campus, where the arrests took place – has also been transformed for Orleck.

 “I spent so much time on that Green,” she said. “My kids, who are now adults, grew up playing on that Green. It’s really all of our space, so to have it happen there, to have us charged with a criminal offense for standing on the Green, I think we’re all still having a little bit of trouble wrapping our brains around that.”