Ming DeMers/Sun Senior Photographer

Cornellians for Israel regularly holds pro-Israel demonstrations.

March 4, 2024

Cornellians for Israel Rejects Ties to Proposed Hamas Sexual Violence Demonstration Amid Social Media Controversy

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Students expressed outrage on social media over an event Cornellians for Israel had been accused of planning, claiming that the event would feature volunteers acting out a live imitation of Hamas’ sexual violence against Israeli women in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

CFI leadership denies that it planned to go forward with the event.

The Coalition for Mutual Liberation — a pro-Palestinian umbrella organization that has hosted several demonstrations on campus — posted a statement on Wednesday, Feb. 28 condemning the pro-Israel group, accusing it of organizing an event that “risks re-traumatizing members of the Cornell community who are survivors of sexual harassment and assault.”

Despite CML’s assertion that the event was canceled due to “widespread condemnation from the Cornell and local communities” on its Instagram story on Thursday, Feb. 29, CFI President Zoe Bernstein ’24 told The Sun the event was proposed and quickly rejected over February break, which ended one day before CML’s original post.

CML commented on the CFI Instagram post through an Instagram story repost on Thursday.

Bernstein also said that the event was never affiliated with CFI and that an outside organization approached CFI, asking for its assistance in hosting the event.

“There was never any official plan to hold the demonstration,” Bernstein wrote in an email to The Sun. “The idea was posed to [the] CFI [executive] board and immediately rejected.”

In an Instagram statement on Thursday, the group asserted that they decided not to host the demonstration as they felt it was “not an effective or thoughtful way to raise awareness and provide a meaningful educational opportunity.” 

“CFI is dismayed at the accusation that as an organization, we are being held responsible for an idea that never even materialized,” the statement continued.

The pro-Israel organization also condemned CML for publishing messages from “a safe space,” referring to a private WhatsApp group, without communicating directly with CFI to ensure accurate information about the event.

The pro-Palestinian group did not answer a request for comment regarding whether it attempted contact with CFI leadership.

The event was proposed to occur on Tuesday, March 5 at Ho Plaza to honor International Women’s Day, according to the CML post, which included a screenshot of a WhatsApp message announcing the event. 

Documentation detailing the logistics of the event as posted by the pro-Palestinian organization stated: “We will mimic a popular live demonstration of a Hamas terrorist and a kidnapped woman with red stains on her clothing tied up. Behind them will be people holding up signs of the kidnapped women from Oct. 7.”

The documentation called for 10 volunteers — one man dressed as a Hamas terrorist, one female acting as a hostage and eight people donning red shirts and lifting up “kidnapped” posters. The volunteers would be paid $20 per hour and reimbursed for travel and sleeping accommodations on an as-needed basis.

The Sun could not independently verify the existence of the WhatsApp messages, who sent the messages or who received them. However, CFI did not deny the accuracy of the screenshots.

CML posted screenshots of a WhatsApp message announcing the event and documentation detailing the logistics of the event on Wednesday.

According to the CFI post, the organization was approached by a “non-Cornell external organization about the event.”

CFI leadership did not respond to a request for comment verifying the exact organization that approached it about the event or if any members of CFI were also members of the external organization.

According to a screenshot posted by CML, Maman Nonprofit and the Israeli American Council were set to hold the demonstration.

Maman previously held “Bring Them Home Now” demonstrations at Cornell, referring to art installations bringing attention to hostages taken from Israel and held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, according to the organization’s website. Maman specifically supported a stroller display on Ho Plaza on Nov. 16 and the Law School Courtyard on Nov. 17 to honor the Israeli children held hostage by Hamas.

CML posted a screenshot of a form for volunteers to sign up to participate in the demonstration.

In condemning the event, the pro-Palestinian organization pointed toward policy 4.19 of the Cornell Student Code of Conduct, which prohibits exposing “a private or intimate part of one’s body in a lewd manner or commit[ing] any other lewd act in a public place.” It is unclear from CML’s provided documentation whether organizers intended for there to be nudity at the demonstration.

But CML emphasized that the most egregious issue was the event’s potential mental health repercussions for victims of sexual harassment and assault.

CML said it sent an email to the Cornell administration detailing its issues with the demonstration and asking for an intervention to prevent it from occurring, but claims it was not answered in the 24-hour timeline the organization provided “before [it] would go public with this information [about the demonstration.]”

CML posted a screenshot of an email the organization sent to Cornell administration.

The pro-Palestinian organization did not respond to a request for comment on how and when it acquired information about the demonstration, when the administration was approached and its reaction to the Thursday CFI post.

The CML Thursday story post expressed relief about the event’s cancellation, but said “the lack of accountability from CFI for entertaining such an event is disappointing.”

CML also announced in the Wednesday post that it would hold a “peaceful art build” on the Arts Quad next to Ho Plaza when the now-canceled event would occur, to serve “as a safe space for the Ithaca community to gather in light of this lewd and blatantly racist spectacle.”

A Friday, March 1 CML Instagram post said that the event would include sign painting and feminist poetry reading “in honor of the plurality of feminism.”

The pro-Israel organization is also looking into appropriate and effective events to address Hamas’ sexual violence on Oct. 7, irrespective of this incident.

“CFI is exploring ways to respectfully honor the women who remain in captivity and the victims of the mass sexual assault on Oct. 7,” Bernstein wrote.