Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Students pack into the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room during a Student Assembly meeting on Oct. 12, where students commented a proposed resolution critical of Israel.

October 12, 2023

Israel, Palestine Supporters Discuss Proposed SJP Resolution at Student Assembly Meeting

Print More

Roughly two hundred students gathered in the Memorial Room in Willard Straight Hall — with over a hundred more Cornellians present on Zoom — for the Student Assembly meeting on Thursday, Oct. 12 to discuss the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has been designated a terrorist group by the United States government since 1997. What brought them there was a resolution — drafted by members of Cornell’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine — that called on Cornell to “recognize the Palestinian right to resistance and contextualize the violence as a direct response to decades of Israel’s occupation.” 

SJP Outreach Chair Sadeen Musa ’25, SJP President Malak Abuhashim ’23 and S.A. LGBTQIA+ Liaison-at-Large Karys Everett ’25 sponsored the resolution titled “Acknowledging Palestinian Suffering Under Israeli Apartheid.” It recognized the “tragic loss of life on both sides” and referred to Hamas’s attack as “a direct response to over 75 years of illegal occupation, settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid governance endured by Palestinians.” 

The resolution also criticized President Martha Pollack’s statements on the conflict for omitting the words “Palestine” and “Palestinians,” claiming that her statement is “not only explicitly biased towards Israel but is also ahistorical and completely void of context” and urged Cornell to “reassess its response not only to this week’s events, but to the events leading up to it,” including providing “historically and politically informed responses to this ongoing violence that denounce Zionism as an ideology and acknowledge Palestinians’ right to existence in their homeland.”

SJP’s resolution failed to make it out of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee — and therefore was not designated a number. Because of this, it required two-thirds of all voting members to vote in favor of suspending the rules in order to be considered by the full S.A., which ultimately voted 7-4 not to consider the resolution — one vote short of the required threshold. 

Several members of the S.A. abstained from voting because they did not have access to the resolution and therefore had not read it. The Sun acquired a copy of the resolution from a Cornell Hillel email. 

According to Clyde Lederman ’26, S.A. interim undesignated representative, the resolution was initially rejected from reaching Thursday’s S.A. agenda in a 6-4 vote over email. However, the resolution became the sole focus of the meeting’s open microphone section, during which students gave fiery and emotional three-minute speeches presenting their opinions on the resolution.

Talia Dror ’25 said she and other Jewish students felt unsafe given Hamas founder Khalid Mashal’s call for a “day of rage” against Jews on Friday, Oct. 13 and argued the resolution was tantamount to a lack of care for the Jewish community on campus.

“Jewish students are terrified, and rightfully so,” Dror said. “They are afraid to go to class. They are afraid to wear their Stars of David. They are afraid to sign their names on statements out of fear that they will be targeted and harassed.”

Dror went on, citing the assault of a Jewish student at Columbia University that occurred on Wednesday, Oct. 11 and arguing that the S.A. would be complicit in civilian deaths should it vote for the resolution.

“By voting for this bill, you would be condoning the actions of Hamas and the loss of innocent lives of both Israelis and Palestinans in the Middle East,” Dror said. “I ask you to do your job and vote against this bill because you should care for the safety and well being of Jewish students on campus.”

Students hold flyers with information about missing Israelis during a meeting in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room on Oct. 12. (Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor)

Timo Isreb ’26 also spoke at length on the SJP resolution, saying Cornell and the S.A. could no longer sit idly by as events unfolded in the region.

“I think this is a time where it is completely unacceptable to be neutral,” said Timo Isreb ’26 at public comment. “I’m not saying we need to pick sides, but I am saying we can’t say nothing — the S.A. cannot say nothing.”

Isreb also said the issue was too personal for too many students for the S.A. to dismiss the issue.

“I’m affected. Palestinians are affected. Israelis, too, are affected,” Isreb said. “And clearly, [Pollack] thought that this was worth writing a statement about — not just one, but two.”

Pollack released two statements about the conflict to the Cornell community on Tuesday, Oct. 10 following Israel’s declaration on Sunday, Oct. 8 that the nation is at war against Hamas, a militant group that has ruled over Gaza since they seized control in 2007. Since Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on Saturday, 1,300 Israelis and 1,500 Palestinians have been reported killed. The first of Pollack’s statements expressed her “horror, sadness and concern” at the developing situation and asked Cornellians to support one another amid the ongoing conflict.

“In stressful moments like this, we need to embrace our shared humanity and be supportive of one another. As a community of scholars, we can also learn about the history and politics of the Middle East,” Pollack wrote in the statement. “Perhaps some of our current students will ultimately have the wisdom that has so eluded world leaders, and find a way to permanent peace, not just in the Middle East but around the world.”

Pollack sent a follow up email a little over six hours later that condemned Hamas’s actions as terrorism in response to outcry from some Cornellians.

“In the hours since [her first statement], I have heard from a number of you who expressed dismay that I failed to say that the atrocities committed by Hamas this past weekend were acts of terrorism, which I condemn in the strongest possible terms,” Pollack said in the follow-up statement.

But not all students were satisfied with Pollack’s response. Musa expressed her discontent with the messaging from the University in a speech during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I believe it is Cornell’s responsibility to ensure that the statements being released are accurate, balanced and do not silence any groups. In this case, it is important to not silence Palestinian grievances that have occurred in Gaza,” Musa said. “Throughout all issues, Cornell should uphold its commitment to equal protection and support of all students.”

Musa elaborated on her position in an interview with The Sun following the vote. 

“[Pollack’s response] has broken the possibility of neutrality,” Musa said. “By mentioning only Israel, she has essentially condemned Palestine.”

A student holds up Angela Y. Davis’s “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” at during a meeting in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room on Oct. 12. (Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor)

Following the vote, Everett apologized for the harmful language in the SJP resolution in an interview with The Sun, saying she hopes to revise the resolution to better condemn civilian deaths without ostracizing members of the community.

“I apologize to anyone that felt a personal attack, sense of fear or dehumanization from the words that were used in the resolution,” Everett. “I wanted to uplift the fact that this resolution was made to uplift, mourn and create an equality of recognition towards all innocent life that was lost. I hoped that I would have the opportunity to amend any of the language that specifically made people feel that way, and it’s unfortunate that we couldn’t. But I do look forward to creating something new.”

With the resolution now indefinitely tabled, SJP members will work on amending it to be palatable for all parties — including Jewish community members and S.A. members.

“I’ve already begun communication with the people that stood up [to speak at the public comment portion of the meeting] and the president of Hillel because that’s exactly what we should be doing,” Everett said. “This resolution was made quickly, and it was made with a lot of emotions and not a lot of consideration for how it would be introduced. We’ve thought more about the [end goal of creating equality of recognition] that we were seeking rather than [how the resolution would be received]. That’s just as — if not more — important, and I recognize that. I’m very excited to work with everyone to find a common ground that we can all stand on and uplift as a community.”

S.A. president Patrick Kuehl ’24 echoed Everett, saying the next step in the process would be to create a resolution that unifies, rather than divides community groups at Cornell by soliciting and receiving input from all involved parties.

“We’re going to go back to the drawing board and work with multiple stakeholders, multiple student organizations to create something that both sides have a say in,” Kuehl said. “We’re going to work to be collaborative and make a material impact on not only the student body, but the world at large to do the greatest good, which is, of course, Cornell’s mission at all times.”

Kuehl ultimately expressed appreciation for the hundreds of students who turned out for Thursday’s meeting.

“I’m really happy that everyone came out and shared their opinions,” Kuehl said. “Free speech and the ability to voice people’s opinions and speak on things is the foundation of everything the Cornell Student Assembly is based on.”