Yale Administrators Stand By as Students Unveil 'Free Palestine' Banner During Official Class Photograph

'I was incredibly disappointed that there were over 5 school officials there that did nothing,' Jewish student says

April 9, 2024

Yale University officials stood by silently as students unveiled a large "Free Palestine" banner during an official class photograph for the School of the Environment. The move came after university officials said they had warned students not to display "political messages," according to internal emails obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

Students in the school's 2024 class met Tuesday morning for a class photo. Those photographs are displayed at Yale's Forest School. The photo shoot was derailed, however, when students unfurled a large banner that displayed a message that included the words "Free Palestine,"  according to an email from School of the Environment dean Indy Burke reviewed by the Free Beacon.

While Burke advised students in a message sent ahead of the photo shoot to avoid "displaying political messages as they may not represent all students," Yale officials "did nothing" and "still took the photo" after the banner was displayed, according to a Jewish member of the class.

"I was incredibly disappointed that there were over 5 school officials there that did nothing," the student said in an email to Rabbi Shmully Hecht of Shabtai, the Jewish society at Yale. "I felt that the Jewish students were targeted by this poster because there was no protest occurring at the time that was relevant to this banner. It was just about denouncing Israel for all memory and stating that it should not exist."

Burke acknowledged the ordeal in a follow-up email sent to Yale professors, administrators, and students. "The staff members present were in a tough position," Burke wrote in an email following the event, which included Yale University professors and other members of the media, adding that the sign "definitely broke the rules." She pledged to "destroy" the photo in question.

She did not indicate whether the students who displayed the banner would face disciplinary action. A spokeswoman for Yale University did not respond to a request for comment.

Yale is no stranger to anti-Israel protests. In February, the law school's Students for Justice in Palestine chapter called on Yale to cancel an event with an Israel Defense Forces soldier, saying his presence on campus "will make students unsafe."

In the wake of Hamas's Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel, meanwhile, the head of Yale Law School's Schell Center for International Human Rights wavered on whether to address the massacre, calling the situation "more complex than people hurt so directly by last week's atrocities in Israel might feel."

The law school's dean, Heather Gerken, issued a statement three days after the attack that did not include the words "Jewish" or "anti-Semitism." Gerken is now gunning for a promotion to serve as Yale's president.

The School of the Environment's photo shoot invitation, which was sent to the school's 2024 class Monday afternoon, informed students that "TWO photos" would be taken: "one with signs and one without signs." The school asked students to display "smaller more personal signs" and discouraged both political signs and "signs that may block the persons around you from being seen in the class photo."

"Also, important to note (per previous feedback from students) that we encourage everyone to think carefully before displaying political messages as they may not represent all students," the message said.

"The hope is for the class picture to live on as a celebration of and for the entire group," the invitation said. "Thank you in advance."