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By Arthur O’Sullivan

Over five months have passed since the outbreak of war in Gaza following the October 7th terrorist attacks on Southern Israel. The military response from the Israeli government and IDF has caused worldwide consternation. Debate rages at all levels; invocations of “genocide” are commonplace. All are forced to reckon with past and present wrongdoing. No part of the world is unaffected, not even Binghamton University.

This is hardly surprising. Over one quarter of Binghamton University’s undergraduate population is Jewish, according to Hillel figures. At the same time, support for Palestine has run high on-campus for years. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), for instance, has played a significant role in campus politics since at least 2014, when Binghamton Review’s own Daniel Milyavsky sat down to much the same conversation as we are having now. Thus, to describe the debate on campus as a “lightning-rod” wouldn’t do it justice, even before said rod was struck on October 7th. 

I have already documented what I consider to be the disgraceful reactions among certain academics—those who made excuses (if not outright celebrated) the “decolonization” that took place on October 7th. Since then, we discovered that a professor from neighboring Cornell said that the “exhilarating” and “energizing” attacks have “changed the terms of the debate,” and that “nothing will be the same again.” On the last two statements, at least, he may be right. 

Yet in fairness, this covers only one side of a small portion of the debate, from a quite biased angle (i.e. my own pro-Israel hawkishness). Conspicuously absent, likewise, is any reference to Binghamton University’s students’ or staff’s reactions. This was because, as far as I could tell, there were no comparable statements made by anyone at this school. It seemed to me that the “lightning rod” nature of the debate made all parties tread lightly—that they think before they speak or act (or tweet). Five months later, I readily admit that I was wrong.

A number of dramas and conflicts have erupted between pro-Israel and pro-Palestine students on campus since the article’s publication. Some have reached far beyond the bounds of “the brain,” eliciting reactions from the community, national commentators, and even Congressmen. At the same time, a number of protests, discussions, debates etc. went off without major incident. The purpose of this article is to construct a timeline of significant events on campus relating to the Israel-Palestine debate. In doing so, I intend to demonstrate the state of the discourse—the good and the bad (not to mention the ugly)—and opine on its future. I will attempt to do so with as little personal bias as possible. To that end, I have interviewed both Saul Hakim of the Binghamton University Zionist Organization (BUZO) and a local organizer for the Palestinian cause who has requested to remain anonymous, citing that “students nationwide have been doxxed, received death threats, been told they should be raped by Hamas in instagram comments for their support of Palestine. Students and workers/adults alike have been alienated, discriminated against, and attacked in workspaces due to their support of Palestine.” 

I asked both for supplemental information and clarification of the timeline across these past five months. Without their input, this article would be so much more limited and biased. My deep thanks go to both of them for their willingness to interview, comment, and respond quickly and thoroughly to my (sometimes harebrained) questions.

The Timeline

This timeline begins on October 7th, with Hamas’ attack on Southern Israel and the outbreak of war. Omer Neutra, IDF tank commander and prospective Binghamton Student, was taken hostage. After this, all events listed take place at Binghamton University, or involve relevant Binghamton University groups. 

On October 8th, Jewish Students gathered to mourn the dead of the previous day’s attacks outside of Dickinson dormitories. The following day (October 9), numerous Jewish organizations held a “Unite Against Terror” vigil, where students gathered by candlelight in silence, punctuated by speeches, songs, and testimonies from affected individuals. The same day, SJP released a statement on instagram, stating, “The violence that has culminated in the past couple of days is the result of more than 75 years of ethnic cleansing, pogroms of Palestinian towns and villages, regular desecration of sacred Muslim and Christian sites, and massacres that go unspoken in Western media.”

Days later, on October 11th, university president Harvey Stenger offered condolences to those who lost loved ones in Israel, assured the safety of students on campus, and called for respect and civility in political discourse around the issue. 

On October 12th, SJP held its first protest for Palestine—a “Rally for Palestinian Solidarity,” at which BUZO members were to counterprotest silently, though video evidence reveals at least one counterprotestor shouting “Am Yisrael Chai” and obscenities at the crowd. Saul Hakim informs me that he was in no way affiliated with BUZO, and that all regular members maintained silence during their protest. In the video, a girl is seen raising her arm in apparent mockery of the counterprotester’s height. This was initially interpreted as a Nazi salute, but later dismissed by all parties. What was confirmed, however, were chants of “long live the intifada” among SJP protestors. 

In response to this and a Hamas call for a ‘Day of Rage’ on October 13th, President Stenger increased UPD patrols on campus. This, along with Stenger’s previous statement, would receive criticism from SJP and multicultural groups for failing to support Arab, Muslim and Palestinian students and “relieve the tension on campus.” 

The days following were largely silent. BUZO held numerous tabling and informational events in this time, without reported incident. Hillel likewise hosted Alex Lederman, a Senior Policy and Communications Associate for the Israel Policy forum on October 16th. 

Things heated up, however, between October 24th and 26th. In that interval, Chabad led students, parents, and alumni in an 18 hour “One People; One Body.” trip to Israel. This trip included visits to wounded IDF soldiers, civilians, and those who lost family members. As this went on, SJP held a speaker panel with Palestinian students recounting their experiences in the West Bank under Israeli occupation. On the following day (October 25th) SJP held a “Walk out for Palestine.” A modest counterprotest occured, but was not organized by any on-campus groups. This protest is infamous for a statement made by Jacob Wisnock, former Pipe Dream columnist and now-resigned SJP E-board member, who responded to a counter-protester’s sign by yelling into his megaphone, “If Hamas is worse than ISIS, then Israel is worse than Nazi Germany.” 

A torrent of viral tweets followed from prominent accounts such as StopAntisemitism and Chaya Raichik (creator of the right-wing account “Libs of TikTok”). Local and national news featured the statement, even reaching as far as the Toronto Sun (whose hard-hitting, fact-finding writers reported our location as “BINGHAMPTON, NY.”). SJP was quick to denounce Wisnock’s “assertive position,” as were BUZO and even NY-19 Congressman Marc Molinaro (though in somewhat stronger terms). 

President Stenger, meanwhile, issued a statement on October 29th not directly addressing the controversy but condemning “all acts of violence, hatred and bigotry directed at any individual or group.” He balanced this by maintaining the first amendment rights of all students, “even on matters some may deem offensive or hateful,” while still encouraging those receiving direct threats to report them to UPD and student conduct. He did not name any specific instances of this occurring, though my anonymous source informs me that Wisnock and his parents were doxxed and harassed following his comment, such that the latter two were even kicked out of their synagogue.

Binghamton’s attention was diverted from Israel-Palestine tensions on October 30th when Natalia Malcevic, sophomore, was found dead at the base of the Library Tower—a suicide. Binghamton’s campus was shaken to its core: classes were canceled, events were postponed, and students gathered to mourn in silent vigil. Both BUZO and SJP had events planned for October 31st. The former, however, announced a postponement and alteration of its “Israel Education Fair” and hostage memorial, respectively. The latter made no such announcement, and I have not received any confirmation that its “Palestine 101” event was postponed or canceled. (Though for context, many clubs restarted events on October 31st, and at least one, College Republicans, held its scheduled meeting on October 30th.)

Things resumed on November 6 when an anonymous student issued a petition for “Binghamton University Students, Staff, Alumni, and More in Solidarity with Palestine,” calling for ceasefire and an end to the Gaza blockade. They quoted former Israeli NSC director Giora Eiland in describing Gaza as “a huge concentration camp.” That same day, Harvey Stenger donated to BUZO’s fundraiser for Israeli hostages.

On November 14th, SJP and YDSA co-hosted a screening of the 2020 film Gaza, mon Amour, by Palestinian brothers Tarzan and Arab Nasser. That same day, multiple on-campus Jewish groups were marching in Washington D.C. alongside many similar organizations; this was dubbed “Bearcats March for Israel.”

November 17th saw tensions flare once again. BUZO had reserved  Lecture Hall 5 for a speaker event with Charlotte Korchak of StandWithUs, a pro-Israel nonprofit. BUZO members entered the lecture hall, however, to find it plastered with various anti-Israel posters alleging that pro-Palestinian student groups were being censored and surveiled. The organization still allowed their guest to speak with UPD officers present. This event went viral similar to Wisnock’s “Israel is worse than Nazi Germany” statement. SJP was suspected, but not confirmed, to have been behind the posters. This suspicion prompted Congressman Molinaro to call for the ban of SJP at Binghamton University, and across the country. When asked about this in an interview, BUZO President Saul Hakim declined to comment on whether SJP should be banned from campus at this time, maintaining that “all student groups that operate on campus, especially relating to this matter, should take care to ensure that all information disseminated is accurate, does not spread hate speech or incite violence, and conducts their actions in accordance with university and SA guidelines. Any group in violation of those principles should be dealt with accordingly.” My anonymous source meanwhile argued that Molinaro’s statement reflected “neo-McCarthyism” and violence against political opponents. 

Little came of this, and things appeared to de-escalate as the semester drew to a close. On December 7th, SJP held a “Vigil and Speak-Out” for civilian deaths in Gaza, leaving paper flowers at an impromptu memorial. No counterprotest was documented. SJP also began the spring semester with the Thurgood Marshall Pre-Law Society, reviewing South Africa’s case in the International Court of Justice against Israel on the charge of genocide.

BUZO likewise began the semester with tabling events and a collaboration with StandWithUs, where students would wear shirts and bear posters demanding the release of Omer Neutra at the men’s basketball game on February 8.

It appeared that a rocky equilibrium had been established since the prior semester’s tumult—that each side’s activism would be recognized, but ignored, by the other.

Pipe Dream’s February 11th Sex Issue overturned this presumption when the paper published an opinion by columnist Julie Ha titled “Sexual trauma does not justify further violence in Palestine.” In it, Ha argued that the New York Times selectively reported on the rape of Israeli women on October 7th while ignoring sexual assault of Palestinian women. Ha based this on a now-deleted twitter post where a sister of one of the Oct. 7 victims claimed that the New York Times pressured the latter into dramatizing her assault. Ha claimed that this was part of a scheme to vilify Arab men, and use it as a “means to genocide.” The initial article, however, left all claims unsourced, confused the identities of the October 7th victim and her sister, and used the phrase “white woman tears” to describe the phenomenon. Under intense blow-back, Pipe Dream updated its online article and pulled all print issues. Pipe Dream’s succeeding “ALL EYES ON RAFAH” edition published two letters to the editor: one by Miriam Frankel titled “Me Too unless you’re a Jew,” where she excoriates Ha for apparent hypocrisy and anti-semitism; the other was written by Julie Ha herself, clarifying her stance on sexual assault and the violence of October 7

The damage was done, however. With both sides once again inflamed, the February 14th “Palestine Day Moratorium” protest became another flashpoint in the campus debate. This will be the subject of the next article in my series. There is too much to cover here in too little space, and what was lost in timeliness will be gained in perspective.

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