Kate Sanders/Sun Staff Writer

Chalk messaging on Monday, Nov. 29 accused Cornell of complicity in the over 14,000 Gazan casualties since Hamas's Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

November 28, 2023

Pro-Palestinian Advocates Condemn University Silence on Safety Concerns, Ties to Israel

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Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of religious and ethnic-based violence, as well as sexual assault.

Cornellians advocating for Palestine have criticized the University’s response to the Israel-Hamas war and ties to Israeli institutions, as well as accusing Cornell of silence towards threats to Palestinian students and their allies.

Sadeen Musa ’25, vice president of Cornell’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, said that the University’s response to the conflict is incongruous with its “Freedom of Expression” theme year.

“I really don’t think that the University is actually abiding by their freedom of expression theme because [of] everything that’s been happening,” Musa said. “I think maybe the University is still trying to silence any pro-Palestine movements on campus, which is definitely something we’re fighting against.” 

The Cornell Coalition for Mutual Liberation, a group formed after the Oct. 7 onset of the Israel-Hamas war advocating for several causes, including the Palestinian movement, posted a statement to their Instagram account on Thursday, Nov. 23 condemning Cornell’s “month-long silence” toward “physical and sexual threats and public acts of intimidation” towards Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students, as well as allies.

Meanwhile, recent and upcoming campus demonstrations not only aim to continue enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause but also educate students about historical events and contextualize Cornell’s place within the conflict. 

On Monday, Nov. 27 — the first day of classes after Thanksgiving break — Cornell students encountered chalk messages criticizing Cornell’s ties to Israel on several sidewalks on campus. 

CML has planned eight events about Palestine from Tuesday, Nov. 28 to Friday, Nov. 30. Events include an art exhibit, a vigil, a die-in, an anti-imperialist rally for both Palestine and Sudan, which is experiencing an escalation of violence, two teach-ins, a community prayer and an event titled “Martha Pollack on Trial.” 

A representative of the University declined a request for comment when asked about the chalkings as well as threats made to Palestinian students. 

Palestinian, Muslim and Arab Students Express Safety Concerns After Facing Intimidation, Online Harassment

On Friday, Nov. 24, CML released an Instagram post detailing safety concerns for Palestinian, Muslim and Arab students and allies of the Free Palestine movement. The post expressed frustration over the administration’s lack of response and action to voiced concerns. 

The post detailed incidents of Muslim students being targeted and recorded on multiple occasions, such as when leaving Anabel Taylor Hall after prayer and at Student Assembly events, where attendees were asked not to record speakers. The post underscored that President Martha Pollack, Vice President of Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi and other Cornell administrators have neglected to respond to these incidents and, in doing so, have failed to provide protection to their Muslim students. 

In a Nov. 11 Instagram post, CML explained that the Cornell SJP account has received death threats and rape threats. Based on numerous screenshots acquired by The Sun, viewers commented on posts and directly messaged SJP, calling them “baby killers” and “terrorists” and making threats of rape towards Muslims. Additionally, on Oct. 29, the same day as Patrick Dai’s ’24 threats towards Jewish students became known, threats were posted on Greekrank calling for the enslavement of hijabi women. 

Instagram users have sent threats of violence — including rape threats — to Cornell SJP in comments and direct messages. (Courtesy of Sadeen Musa ’25)

In addition to receiving online threats, many Muslim students have experienced intimidation on campus. Hasham Khan ’26 noted the unease particularly among visibly Muslim women wearing hijabs regarding their lack of safety as well as an incident of “white guys” photographing Muslim students without their consent as they left from Friday prayer in Anabel Taylor Hall. 

“We’ve had students say that they’ve been followed and their pictures have been taken,” Khan said. “[Muslim women wearing hijabs] say that they don’t feel safe, as they have been targeted, not verbally harassed but have received intimidating looks.”

On Saturday, Nov. 25, three Palestinian college students were shot in Burlington, Vermont while speaking a mix of English and Arabic and wearing black-and-white keffiyehs, a traditional Middle Eastern scarf that has been used as a symbol of Palestinian identity and solidarity as demonstrations have increased since the start the Israel-Hamas War. Musa referenced this act of violence while explaining the danger of visibly identifying as Muslim. 

“It does feel kind of unsafe to be visibly presenting [as] Arab or Muslim. This past weekend, there were three Palestinian students shot in Vermont,” Musa said. “And this is the reality that we’re living in where it’s not safe to be Palestinian, Arab or Muslim.”

In the Nov. 24 statement, CML assured Cornell’s Muslim, Arab and Palestinian community that it will continue to advocate for their community on campus to ensure that every student is valued and create a place where they can speak about their concerns without fear. 

Cornell-Israel Relationship Condemned in Sidewalk Chalk Messages

On Monday, Nov. 27, several chalked messages supporting Palestine appeared on campus sidewalks. These messages attacked Cornell’s partnerships with Israeli institutions and cited the number of deaths reported in Gaza, which has exceeded 14,000, according to the Gazan Ministry of Health, an organization currently controlled by Hamas but whose death tolls are considered generally reliable by international officials and experts.

This is not the first time that messages about the war have appeared on Cornell’s sidewalks and walking spaces. On Wednesday, Oct. 25, Cornell’s campus was tagged with anti-Israel graffiti, which included “Israel is fascist” and “F*** Israel.” On Nov. 2, the names of Palestinians killed in the war were chalked on Ho Plaza. 

Chalk messages on Ho Plaza listing the names of those who have been killed in the West Bank on Thursday, Nov. 2. (Ming DeMers/Sun Assistant Photography Editor)

The recent sidewalk messages specifically criticized Cornell’s role in the conflict, bearing slogans such as “15,000 [Palestinians] murdered with your tuition” and “Cornell invests in genocide” — both found at the corner of Forest Home Drive and Feeney Way — and “Over 15,000 killed by Israel / No more weapons research,” which was found outside Uris Library.

Cornell’s partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology on its Cornell Tech campus in New York City has come under scrutiny by pro-Palestinian groups on campus, such as SJP and CML.

“Student tuition is how Cornell gets a lot of its money, and Cornell puts some of its money into pro-Israel development. For example, [Cornell] has a partnership with [the] Technion, which is responsible for the development of weapons used against Palestinians,” Musa said.

The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island was created to develop technology in key New York City industries, such as health technology and transportation. The Technion conducts research in military technology, some of which is used in the Israeli Defensive Forces.

Eight Pro-Palestine Events in Four Days

CML has planned eight events about Palestine this week, including a vigil in the Arts Quad, a community prayer and a die-in in Duffield Hall. Since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, Cornellians have held several demonstrations in support of both Israel and Palestine. Khan said that previous demonstrations about Palestine have garnered mixed reactions from the Cornell community.

“I would say that there’s a mix between negative and positive attention, because a lot of these rallies are posed as antisemitic, or people believe that they endanger Jewish students,” Khan said. “That has never been the goal ever for SJP at all or other mutual organizations.”

At a die-in for Palestine held on Thursday, Nov. 9 in Klarman Hall, some students were observed filming the protest and handing out “KIDNAPPED” posters that raised awareness of individuals being held hostage by Hamas. CML’s postscript from the event called this an “intimidation tactic.”

Two of the events planned for this week are “teach-ins,” which will provide information about the Nakba — which refers to the displacement of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, also known as the Israeli War of Independence in Israeli historiography — and Cornell’s ties to Israel at Cornell Tech.

At other college campuses, pro-Palestinian groups have faced administrative backlash for their demonstrations. On Nov. 10, after a walkout for Palestine, Columbia University suspended its SJP chapter along with its chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a Jewish anti-Zionist organization, following a protest during which Columbia said both organizations broke rules on mass gatherings on campus. George Washington University suspended its chapter of SJP on Nov. 14 following an anti-Israel demonstration at a campus library. 

While SJP set up many past pro-Palestine events at Cornell, Musa said that SJP has not played a major role in setting up this week’s events but has been publicizing them.

Some people in SJP are in CML. Right now, SJP’s role is kind of just promoting the events. I think the behind-the-scenes and the back-end organization was done by CML,” Musa said.

Musa praised the continued momentum for the Palestinian cause at Cornell, despite the backlash and threats students have experienced.

“I think that especially on campus, I’ve been seeing a lot more support and involvement [for the pro-Palestine movement],” Musa said. “I think from our first rally that we’ve had to now, I see a lot more engagement and people regularly attending events, and I think overall just enthusiasm to make change on campus.”