Protesters from the recently disbanded Liberated Zone call on University of Washington (UW) President Ana Mari Cauce to retract her statement describing their chants and signs “vile and antisemitic" after she used photos that appear to be from Florida and California as proof of her claim. 

In a public letter released Friday morning, a group of people affiliated with the Liberated Zone accused Cauce of acting either in malice, incompetence, or both. “What is truly vile,” they wrote, borrowing Cauce’s words, “is the way proponents of Zionism have falsely and maliciously tried to discredit a movement protesting documented human rights violations. It is shameful and embarrassing that the administration of the UW became the driving force of this malice.” 

United Front for Palestinian Liberation (UF) set up their tents in the quad on May 1, joining college students across the country in pressuring their universities to divest from Israel and weapon manufacturers amid the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Unlike at other schools, UW did not sicc the cops on protesters but rather negotiated, albeit not very generously

Then, on May 15, as UW administration appeared more and more impatient at negotiations, Cauce released a public statement in which she accused protesters of “vile and antisemitic” rhetoric and redoubled her call for a voluntary end to the encampment. However, as her critics quickly noticed, Cauce did not provide any examples of the “vile and antisemitic” rhetoric. UF assumed Cauce referred to the maligned phrase “from the river to the sea,” but after multiple email requests, Cauce finally clarified. 

In a May 30 email exchange between Cauce and UW graduate student and encampment participant Juliette Majid, Cauce sent five images others had sent to her that she used to justify her accusations against her students. She attached a photo of a bench with the words “MUG ZIONISTS ONLY” written on it, a corner of a brick building with the phrases “FREE PALESTINE” and “FUCK OFF ZIONISTS” spray painted on it, and the statute of George Washington tagged with “SAVE A LIFE… KILL YOUR LOCAL COLONIZER.” 

In the letter, Liberated Zone participants argued only two images Cauce sent qualified as antisemitism rather than anti-Zionism—a picture of a swastika followed by the words “ThE Jews,” and a bit of sidewalk with “Kill Jews” painted on it. But neither of those images came from their protest. 

Majid told Cauce that the last two pictures were not captured at UW, in the state of Washington, or even in the year 2024. The swastika image appeared in a 2021 news story about an antisemitic rally at the Florida Holocaust Museum, and the “Kill Jews” image appeared in a tweet posted by the Anti-Defamation League of Los Angeles in 2019.

Cauce emailed back, “I do believe there is another ‘Kill Jews’ that I will look for.” 

Still, Cauce said even if those last two images did not come from UW, “reasonable people who not believe [sic] that criticism of Israel or its policies is antisemitic, would still believe that the the [sic] ones saying F*ck Zionists or Death to Zionists or Kill Colonizers or the Mugging bench for Zionists are anti-Semitic. And they all fit the Department of Education’s definition of anti-semitism.” 

In a later message, Cauce apologized that false images “got mixed in” and that in trying to respond quickly she did not verify their origin. But she said she made her assessment “primarily based on the images we all agree were from the camp.” She stands by what she says and continues to believe other instances of graffiti qualifies as antisemitism because it crosses a line between “criticism of the Israeli government and the specific targeting of ‘Zionists’.”

Still, the Liberated Zone protesters said using the easily disprovable pictures suggests UW and Cauce acted either “with malicious intent or are fully incompetent.” Either way, they wrote that Cauce’s accusations, still not substantiated to their standards, “tainted the reputation of activists and granted Zionists false legitimacy to berate any pro-Palestine people at the UW,” putting students in “physical, academic, and social danger.” The Liberated Zone protesters claimed the night following Cauce’s statement, a drone crashed into the Quad and someone “intentionally” launched a firework from a surrounding building. They said those events felt parallel to those that preceded attacks at other schools. 

“If you truly cared about student safety, these would have been investigated before being used to perpetuate false and unfounded accusations against the Liberated Zone and its members,” Majid wrote to Cauce in the email exchange.

Cauce wrote to Majid that she sees “no evidence” of harm from her statement. She wrote, “...when individuals participate or justify vandalism and the use of that sort of vile and violent rhetoric toward others… they, in fact, do damage to their cause. And that is exactly what happened. It was not my email that did this.” 

In an email statement, UW spokesperson Victor Balta reiterated what Cauce said in her emails to Majid. He wrote, "I can’t speak to the source of the images, however, it was a relief to know that two of those images were not from the UW — as President Cauce told the student after learning more about their origin. Regardless, the May 15 statement from President Cauce was not based on any one or two images. There was ample evidence of graffiti that reasonable people would consider to be antisemitic on campus and this created an unwelcome and fearful environment for many in our community."

While the University does not plan to retract Cauce's accusations against the protesters, this latest episode shows students will continue to push back on UW administration with or without tents on the ground. The students will keep advocating for their demands: Academically and financially divest from Israel, cut ties with Boeing, and end the repression of pro-Palestinian voices on campus.