President Martha Pollack condemned members of the Cornell community who have made statements in support of the Oct. 7 attacks in Israel committed by Hamas — a group that controls the Gaza Strip and which the United States and European Union have designated as a terrorist organization — in a statement sent to the Cornell community on Monday, Oct. 16.
“I am sickened by statements glorifying the evilness of Hamas terrorism. Any members of our community who have made such statements do not speak for Cornell; in fact, they speak in direct opposition to all we stand for at Cornell. There is no justification for or moral equivalent to these violent and abhorrent acts,” Pollack wrote in the statement. “I am outraged by them and, along with senior leadership of the Cornell Board of Trustees, I again condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”
The statement comes following a comment made by Prof. Russell Rickford, history, at an Oct. 15 rally in support of Palestine on the Ithaca Commons. Rickford spoke of feeling “exhilarated” by Hamas’s attacks.
“[The attacks were] exhilarating. [They were] energizing,” Rickford said. “And if [Gazans and Palestinians] weren’t exhilarated by this challenge to the monopoly of violence, by this shifting of the balance of power, then they would not be human. I was exhilarated.”
In Pollack’s first email statement in response to the Israel-Hamas war on Tuesday, Oct. 10, Pollack described the University’s overall support for faculty, staff and students impacted by global conflicts and natural disasters. The same day, Pollack sent a follow-up email in which she apologized for not referring to Hamas’s attacks as acts of terrorism.
This third email is the first time Pollack has included the words “Palestine” and “Palestinians” in a public statement after the start of the conflict, something for which she has been criticized by students in other previous communications talking about the conflict for not talking about Palestine.
“The Cornell community on our campuses and around the world includes students, faculty, staff and alumni who are Israeli, Palestinian and others who have close ties to the region. As the fighting there continues, the pain and suffering felt by all people throughout the region is and will be completely heart-wrenching,” Pollack wrote in the statement. “I am a grandmother and I weep for the Israeli babies who were murdered or kidnapped; I weep for the Palestinian babies now in harm’s way.”
An international Cornell student, who requested anonymity due to privacy concerns, stood firm against Pollack’s previous omission of the word “Palestine” during a vigil held by Students for Justice in Palestine on Oct. 15.
“[I say this] at the risk of losing my visa as an international student, at the risk of losing my funding, at the risk of being deported from this country — your silence is saying that Muslim bodies do not matter to you, that Palestinian bodies do not matter to you,” the student said at the vigil.
At an Oct. 12 Student Assembly meeting, students from both pro-Palestine groups and Jewish affinity groups spoke at length regarding a resolution sponsored by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, which called for the University to reassess its messaging about the attacks and that the statements should represent both sides of the ongoing struggles.
“We desire historically and politically informed responses to this ongoing violence that denounce Zionism as an ideology and acknowledge Palestinians’ right to existence in their homeland,” the resolution states. “We urge Cornell to recognize the Palestinian right to resistance and contextualize the violence as a direct response to decades of Israel’s occupation.”
The resolution did not make it out of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee and was submitted from the floor by its S.A. sponsor, LGBTQIA+ Liaison at-Large Karys Everett ’25. As a procedural action required under this circumstance, the S.A. ultimately voted 7-4 not to suspend the rules and consider the resolution, with several assembly members abstaining from the vote without access to read the resolution.
Some Cornellians — like Simone Shteingart ’24, vice president of Cornell Hillel’s student executive board — expressed support for Pollack’s statement following its release.
“[The statement] condemns terrorism, it acknowledged the loss of all innocent lives,” Shteingart said. “And [Pollack is] really taking a stance against all forms of hate.”
Will Barkoff ’24, the Cornell Hillel student executive board’s president, echoed this sentiment.
“I’m supportive of [Pollack’s] statement, especially her condemnation of terrorism and her recognizing all the loss of life,” Barkoff said. “I’m glad that she recognizes how difficult a time this is for many students on campus.”
Hasham Khan ’26, who is a part of Students for Justice in Palestine, expressed disappointment with the amount of time it took for Pollack to include the word Palestine in a public statement.
“There are many people [at Cornell] who have Palestinian identity… or have family back home. … They felt that the atrocities happening in the Gaza Strip were now being overshadowed,” Khan said. “And they felt very, very marginalized.”