Socialist USF students end hunger strike that demanded divestment from Israel

Nearly 20 pro-Palestine students at the University of South Florida initiated a hunger strike on March 18, demanding divestment from companies linked to Israel, among other demands.

The university cautioned students away from hunger striking but the students rejected the warnings, with one protestor saying: ‘We will die if that’s what it takes.’

This April, students at the University of South Florida ended an anti-Israel hunger strike, but are continuing to present their demands to the university’s leadership, reported Tampa Bay Times

The group of 18 pro-Palestine students, which included individuals belonging to Students for Socialism, convened to protest at a USF Board of Trustees meeting, with one student laying out the group’s demands as: “We want [university leadership] to call for a ceasefire, publicize the investment portfolio and establish a student oversight committee,” according to WUSF

The students demanded that the school divest from its alleged investments in companies with connections to Israel such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, with a protestor stating during the public comment period: “It is pathetic on your part that we have to resort to these means of a hunger strike to get our demands finally met. But if that’s what it takes for you to listen to your students once and for all, and stop profiting from the genocide, then so be it. I and 17 others will go without food starting today until you divest.”

[RELATED: Most Dartmouth hunger strikers give up after a week, forfeiting ‘last resort’ to make school cut ties with Israel and Starbucks]

The hunger-striking students additionally demanded that USF President Rhea Law refer to the ongoing Israeli counteroffensive in Gaza as a “genocide.”

The Chair of the Board of Trustees, Will Weatherford, spoke to the students before the beginning of the board meeting, saying: “USF investments are guided by our mission or fiduciary responsibilities in the state and federal law. Therefore, the university’s investments are managed based on performance to produce benefits for the entire university regardless of political viewpoints or disagreements,” and added that, in accordance with state law, USF cannot “make decisions about vendors or investments based on political viewpoints or opinions,” related Tampa Bay Times

Weatherford also said that USF doesn’t “actually invest directly in the stocks that have been portrayed.”. 

The protestors rejected Weatherford’s words, and one student replied: “This is a matter of human lives. There are no more functioning hospitals in North Gaza. You are complicit through your investments, and the aforementioned corporations have been raking in billions of dollars by selling these weapons, which means you are profiting from these atrocities.”

Weatherford pleaded with students, saying: “Please don’t go on a hunger strike . . . because you’d be waiting a long time,” and one student responded: “We will starve ourselves. We will die if that’s what it takes to reaffirm the belief and the truth that there is blood on your hands, that there’s complicity on your hands.”

One student later said: “I feel malnourished… USF would rather watch us starve than meet our demands,” according to a March 20 post by the X account Libs of TikTok. 

While the hunger strike went on, several students were hospitalized and roughly twelve others joined the original hunger strikers, WUSF wrote

[RELATED: Brown University students end failed eight-day anti-Israel hunger strike]

Though the protestors alleged that the university did not provide them with medical care, a USF official denied the claim, stating that “no students have been, or will be, denied access to care. . . . In recent days, several participants have sought medical care from the USF Student Health & Wellness Center. In each case doctors have provided treatment or recommended that the patient visit a local hospital or emergency room if their symptoms are beyond the services offered in our on-campus facility,” WUSF related.  

The official also said that USF tried several times to persuade the students to protest in a different, less risky fashion without starving themselves, WUSF continued. 

Campus Reform has contacted the University of South Florida and the Students for Socialism group at USF for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.