Anushka Shorewala/Sun Assistant News Editor

Jewish community members wave Israeli flags at the April 14 Jewish Unity Rally on the Arts Quad.

April 15, 2024

Jewish Community Members Rally for Israel as Pro-Palestine Students March for Divestment

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Hundreds of students, alumni, parents and community members came together on the Arts Quad for a “Jewish Unity Rally” at 1 p.m. on April 14 that aimed to combat antisemitism at Cornell and nationwide.

Hosted by the End Jewish Hatred movement in partnership with Cornellians for Israel and numerous other organizations, the event featured speakers including Amanda Silberstein ’26; entrepreneur David Litman ’82; activist Mandana Dayani; Prof. William Jacobson, law; Columbia Assistant Professor Shai Davidai Ph.D. ’15; political analyst Bassem Eid and Congressmen Marc Molinaro (R-N.Y.) and Brandon Williams (R-N.Y.). 

Hung from the roof of Goldswin Smith Hall by pro-Palestine activists, a large banner reading “Jews for Divestment, No Genocide in our name” created a black, green and red backdrop to the pro-Israel event. The attendees, waving Israeli flags and posters that read #EndJewHatred, cheered when the sign was removed at around 2:15 p.m.

The rally began with an electronic musical set by Fitche Benshimon that had the crowd dancing and singing along. Howard Erlich, an Ithaca resident and parent of an alumnus, explained that the songs Benshimon was playing were “well-known, patriotic songs,” setting an uplifting spirit for the rally.

The rally follows the rise of antisemitic incidents on campus since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war in October, such as former student Patrick Dai’s antisemitic posts on the anonymous discussion forum Greekrank that threatened Jewish students on campus. Dai pleaded guilty to a felony charge on April 10. 

In Silberstein’s opening remarks, she contextualized the event amid rising antisemitism she has felt at Cornell. 

“We have confronted incessant and pervasive hateful rhetoric from professors and students alike who have been attempting to terrorize and intimidate Jewish students,” Silberstein said. “Today we send a clear message to the world — antisemitism has no place on any campus.”

Following Silberstein’s remarks, Litman described the history of Hamas’ presence in Gaza and detailed the terrorist organization’s violence against Israeli civilians. 

“They came for civilians with a brutality and savagery rarely seen since the medieval world,” Litman said.

In light of this violence, Litman said that “Hamas stated on TV that they want to repeat October 7 again and again until there are no more Jews left. Israel has no choice but to extirpate Hamas.” 

Litman also compared the Israeli response to Hamas’ attacks to the American response to the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.  

“Israel did not seek this war, but when attacked, they responded with virtues like patriotism and self-sacrifice,” Litman said. “These are American values, too. After September 11, we all stood together against terror. Americans should do the same now for Israel.” 

Litman said that those who “stand against Israel and the Jewish people support terror.” Audience members murmured in agreement. Litman also addressed the presence of these anti-Israel advocates on Cornell’s campus specifically. 

“Those exhilarated and excited by the massacres, including those on campus who try to disrupt this university, are perhaps resentful of the 3,000 Jews on campus and their achievements,” Litman said. Litman’s comment comes after Prof. Russell Rickford, history, said that he was “exhilarated” by Hamas’s attack on Israel during a pro-Palestine protest on Oct. 15.

Jacobson discussed the upcoming Student Assembly referendum during which the student body will be polled on their opinions on Cornell’s potential divestment from weapons manufacturers “supporting the ongoing war in Gaza,” a topic of recent rallies held by the Coalition for Mutual Liberation. 

“You have coming up on this campus a [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions referendum]. They can call it whatever they want, but that’s what it is,” Prof. Jacobson said when discussing the calls for divestment. “It’s the anti-Jewish boycott repackaged in the language of social justice to fool innocent Westerners who are used to that language and get them to create the historical perversion that the people who are actually for justice, the Israeli people, are against it.”  

According to the BDS movement’s mission statement, BDS is a non-violent movement that began in 2005 with the goal of boycotting Israel until “Israel [complies] with international law.” The BDS movement emphasizes boycotts against companies accused of supporting the Israeli government. The movement has become increasingly popular in recent months. However, many have condemned BDS boycotts as antisemitic. 

When discussing the referendum, Davidai, an Israeli-born Columbia University professor, shared similar sentiments on the upcoming divestment referendum.  

“BDS is an antisemitic and anti-Israel policy. BDS is one step from the armed resistance,” Davidai said in an interview with The Sun. “Anyone who tells you BDS is a non-violent proposition, it is non-violent, but it’s for violent causes, so it’s completely unacceptable. No Jewish or Israeli student, staff or professor can feel safe in a university that supports BDS.”

When discussing the protests held by CML in recent months, Jacobson expressed a sense of frustration with recent pro-Palestine protests on campus. 

“When they march with their stupid bullhorns through this campus, when they do their childish die-ins, when they hang the signs behind us, which have now been torn down — we know exactly who we are up against,” Prof. Jacobson said. “

Bianca Kaplan ’24, a member of the rally, shared that the rally gave her a chance to show and see support for her Jewish community.

“I think it’s been hard over the last few months with the rise in antisemitism on campus and it’s nice to get together as a community and show our support together and hear all the amazing that [the organizers] got,” Kaplan said.  

While pro-Israel speakers were advocating against divestment on the Arts Quad, pro-Palestine students were rallying for that very cause on Ho Plaza. Hosted by CML in collaboration with pro-Palestine protesters from Ithaca College, the rally began on Ho Plaza before they marched down to Ithaca Commons where they met the Ithaca College protesters. As they walked, they shouted chants such as, “Martha Martha grow a spine, divest now or resign” and “Not another penny, not another dollar, no more money for Israel’s slaughter.” As they marched, passing cars honked in support.

Protestors from Cornell University march down the Commons during the Ithaca United March and Rally on Apr. 14. (Jason Wu/Sun Senior Photographer)

“Cornell must divest from genocide. It is as simple as that,” said Hasham Kahn ’26, a speaker at the pro-Palestine protest. “We beg, divest from this regime of apartheid that has decimated Gaza, that has decimated the West Bank. … I am not crazy for telling Cornell to not use my money to kill more babies. I’m not crazy.” 

Sadeen Musa ’25, vice president of Cornell’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, addressed the banner that hung in the in the background of the pro-Israel rally. 

“On the Arts Quad, there is a banner signed by Jewish students saying the genocide is not in their name,” Musa said. “However, they’re still having their rally, bringing in Islamophobic, racist speakers, doing their chant and listening to their music while directly looking at a sign that the genocide is not in the name of the students that signed.” 

Kahn urged speakers to vote in the upcoming referendum. 

“Next week is your opportunity to show Cornell what we want. We want a ceasefire. We want divestment. We want peace.”