Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Momodou Taal, grad, speaks to demonstrators outside Day Hall on Feb. 2, 2024.

February 3, 2024

Protesters Praise Mideast Militants in Divestment Rally

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About 70 demonstrators gathered outside of Day Hall on Friday afternoon to protest the Student Assembly’s 16-4 rejection of Resolution 51, which called on Cornell to end partnerships with and suspected investments in arms companies — such as Boeing and Raytheon — that provide weapons to Israel.

“We don’t take our cue from some bullsh*t Student Assembly at Cornell,” said Momodou Taal, grad, who led chants throughout the event. “We take our cue from the armed resistance in Palestine. We are in solidarity with the armed resistance in Palestine from the river to the sea,” he continued, garnering some cheers from the crowd. 

At time of publication, Taal did not respond to repeated requests to elaborate on his remarks. Taal has previously described himself as the liaison representative for Cornell’s Coalition for Mutual Liberation, an activist collective that organized Friday’s protest. 

Taal’s statement was not the only apparent praise of militant groups at the event. At one point, the crowd chanted, “Yemen, Yemen, make us proud. Turn another ship around.” Yemen’s Houthi rebels, a group the Biden administration recently labeled a terrorist organization, have fired at Red Sea ships, including commercial vessels and a U.S. warship.

Cornell’s Media Relations Office did not respond to a request for comment on how, if at all, it would respond to instances of students expressing support for militant groups.

Students rally outside Day Hall to demand that Cornell divest from arms companies allegedly contributing to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, on Feb. 2, 2024. (Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor)

Friday’s protest came nearly four months after Oct. 7, when Hamas gunmen and other Palestinian militants charged across Gaza’s border, systematically killing around 1,200 people, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Since then, Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed more than 27,000 people, according to the Hamas-run Gazan Ministry of Health.

Throughout the protest, demonstrators shouted, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” a rallying cry whose specific meaning is the subject of widespread debate, with some defending the slogan as a demand for Palestinian liberation and others decrying it as advocating for the destruction of Israel. 

In a Dec. 9 statement, President Martha Pollack clarified that “explicit calls to genocide” would be in violation of Cornell’s policies. The University did not respond to a request for comment for this article on whether the phrase “from the river to the sea” constitutes a call to genocide and has previously declined to comment on how it would respond to instances of students using the phrase.

Cornell has been under scrutiny from the federal government over its response to antisemitism on campus.

Chairman Jason Smith (R-M.O.) of the House Ways and Means Committee on Jan. 10 sent a letter to Pollack, which threatened to revoke Cornell’s tax-exempt status over a “failure to adequately protect Jewish students from discrimination and harassment.”

The Department of Education announced on Nov. 16 that Cornell was under investigation for violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 over either on-campus antisemitic harassment, anti-Muslim harassment or both. A spokesperson from the Department of Education declined to disclose whether Cornell’s investigation was for antisemitic or anti-Muslim harassment.

A set of speakers denounced the Thursday vote against the divestment resolution. Hasham Khan ’26 expressed his anger over his peers objecting to the measure. 

“It was just embarrassing to see our fellow students — people that we go to class with — vote no. I’m never going to forget 16 to four. I was angry in that room,” Khan said.

Taal claimed that many of the 16 students who voted against the measure may have been motivated by fears of retribution in their future careers. Students at Cornell and other universities have faced doxxing and blacklisting over their support for the Palestinian cause.

“This is a direct message to the Student Assembly yesterday,” Taal said. “I understand people are scared. They’re worried about their career. They’re worried about the internship they may get afterwards…if you choose your career over courage, then you have chosen [to be] powerless.”

In December, CML staged a multi-day sit-in at University buildings calling for Cornell to enact a new anti-doxxing policy, adopt a new definition of antisemitism that does not include anti-Zionism and divest from particular companies said to support Israel. In response, CML said the University agreed to stage a meeting between Chief Financial Officer Christopher Cowen and CML representatives to explain Cornell’s investment policies.

Speakers on Friday — as in previous demonstrations — called Cornell “complicit” in what they considered to be a genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. On Dec. 29, South Africa filed a case against Israel in the International Court of Justice, accusing the country of committing genocide in Gaza. A verdict has not yet been reached, though the ICJ called the charge “plausible.” 

Adrián Cardona Young ’26 spoke about what he perceived to be Pollack and the Board of Trustees’ responsibility for the conflict in Gaza.

“Let’s continue calling on [President] Martha [Pollack] to recognize and the Board of Trustees to recognize that they have the power here,” Cardona Young said. “They are not powerless. There are people who have no means to change what’s happening right now. Their decision not to cut ties with these companies is directly making them complicit, and they are choosing to prioritize their funding and their money over this.”