UCD students gathered outside O’Reilly Hall to protest U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders spoke at UCD as part of an event organised by Dalkey Book Festival to promote his most recent book ‘It’s ok to be angry about Capitalism’. The student group, who are demanding a cease-fire in Gaza, condemned the Senator for rejecting his similar calls and taking a more moderate tone on the conflict.

Although the event, which took place on Thursday the 15th of February, was independent of the University, UCD BDS were disappointed that the political figure was welcomed to campus and viewed it as another sign of UCD’s refusal to take a stance on the conflict.

The students waved Palestinian flags over the entrance to the O’Reilly Hall. They chanted “Angry about Capitalism, what about Zionism?” as ticket holders made their way into the event.

Other protestors aired similar frustrations inside the event, with the Senator being heckled repeatedly during his interview with Irish economist David McWilliams. One person was removed from the O’Reilly Hall by security after multiple outbursts and disruptions. 

Although the event primarily focused on the contents of Sanders’ most recent book, talk soon turned to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. 

“A lot of people including myself disagree strongly with the stance of the Biden administration,” Sanders said. “The issue is one I have been wrestling with for the past several months.” The Senator continued, calling the conflict in Israel an “intractable situation”.

As the conversation deepened between McWilliams and Sanders about the United States’ support of Israel and Sanders’ personal opinions on the conflict, more people rose from within the audience to shout their rebuttals. “Resistance is an obligation, in the face of occupation. Occupation is terrorism.” 

Sanders brusquely responded by saying “Good slogan, but slogans are not solutions.” 

Senator Bernie Sanders ultimately described the actions of October 7th as “a terrorist attack against Israel” and stated that Israel “have a right to defend themselves, what they do not have, is a right to go to war against the entire Palestinian people.” Sanders received applause from the crowd for the statement.

The Vermont native further explained that America’s support for Israel “has a lot to do with political organizations, it has a lot to do with tradition.” However, he noted the state of Israel had changed significantly since it had started receiving support from America.

Throughout his interview, the protesting group outside the hall could still be heard yelling “Bernie Sanders shame on you”. 

The leader of that protest, Joseph Collins (Josie), spoke with the College Tribune to explain why UCD BDS were opposing the Senator’s visit to campus. “UCD’s President has refused to call for a ceasefire, which is the bare minimum, and while UCD didn’t particularly invite Bernie Sanders, it is their campus and he is here. Bernie Sanders has supported Israel and has not called for a ceasefire. So while he is showing progressive and liberal ideas, Bernie Sanders is very much supporting the military machine of Israel.”

When asked if the outbursts from inside the hall were part of a coordinated attempt by UCD BDS to disrupt the event, Josie said “The people who were inside the hall, who stood up and started shouting, are members of Action for Palestine. Some of them are here today to support us in our protest and some of them were inside the hall. Although it was not UCD BDS, we support them speaking truth to power.”

Speaking to The College Tribune, Dylan Murphy, the student who was escorted out of the hall by security for being disruptive, explained why he spoke out. “I am a PhD student here at UCD and I campaigned for Bernie in 2020. I went over [to the US] on my own dime, saved up, took off leave from work because I was hopeful for Bernie’s message and campaign. Obviously, he lost the election, but he said that we could trust in Biden. But we can’t trust Biden now, Biden is facilitating and supporting a genocide.”

Dylan explained that although Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill to the Senate to suspend aid to Israel, it is his belief that Sanders should be doing more and should put more pressure on Biden to take action in support of Palestine.

When asked why he decided to speak up in the middle of the interview, rather than wait for the allocated time for questions later in the evening, Dylan said “I wouldn’t have gotten an answer either way. And that’s what happened, I was told by people who stayed in the hall that Bernie actually left early because he didn’t want to take hard questions. So I needed to take my opportunity while I could to get my message across”.

Sanders’ Trinity Appearances:

A similar event took place at Trinity College Dublin, for which around 400 people had purchased tickets valued at €45.49, to listen to Senator Bernie Sanders discuss the themes of his latest book It’s Okay to Be Angry about Capitalism. Moderated by Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole, the event was organised by The Sanders Institute in collaboration with the I.NY Project, an “international cultural project that celebrates and brings to life the shared story of Ireland and New York”.

During discussion around the Israel-Palestine conflict, Sanders was interrupted as a woman stood up and yelled, “Bernie, why won’t you call for a ceasefire?” The woman announced that she was from Gaza and that she had family members trapped in inhumane conditions in Palestine.

The woman questioned why Senator Sanders continued to stay away from labelling Israeli atrocities as genocide, and why he refused to call for a ceasefire. Sanders responded that his vote against the aid package in Congress and consistent comments against the $3.5 billion in military funding the US gives Israel was sufficient representative of his disapproval of the conflict; in short, he was doing as much as he could in his power. He did state that the statistics and footage coming out of Gaza “keeps me up at night”.

The event ended with clapping for the Senator as he shuffled off the stage. The clapping was hardly one of confidence; it rose and diffused quickly into a sea of voices, most of which carried the trademark, rapid cadence of shock. The entrance door opened, and the roar of the protestors which had underlined the evening funneled into the hall, this time with shouts of: “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

The group of protestors had grown since the evening had begun, now totalling perhaps 35 students. Trinity student Emma, who had organised the protest, offered her viewpoint between shouts and megaphone blasts directed towards the audience.

“I will say, as a Trinity student, it is not our job in Trinity to platform liberal Zionists. As a Trinity student, I am ashamed of my college […] for platforming for someone like Bernie Sanders who has not done enough. What is his business being here? Why do we have to engage with him?”

Hugh Dooley & Emma Hanrahan – Co-Editors

Additional reporting by Ben Floyd & Ben Carter