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By Arthur O’Sullivan

My previous article created a timeline of events pertaining to the Israel-Palestine debate on campus, up to the February 14th Peace Quad protest. It was there that I interviewed my opposing sources for the article: Saul Hakim of the Binghamton University Zionist Organization (BUZO) and a local Palestinian organizer who asked to remain anonymous. This article aims to expand this timeline to the present and give a final verdict on the “state of Israel-Palestine dialogue on campus.” I once again deeply thank my sources for their time and clarifications as I muddle through the many questions this conflict raises.

The February 14th “Palestine Day Moratorium” Protest 

Organized by the Binghamton Solidarity Committee, a loose coalition of local and student groups, the protest brought in organizers from as far as the Democratic Socialists of Northeast Pennsylvania to the Peace Quad of Binghamton University in support of Palestine. According to Saul Hakim, BUZO’s decision to silently counterprotest this event was due to the anonymity of the committee, call for divestment, and also Julie Ha’s editorial in Pipe Dream, “Sexual trauma does not justify further violence in Palestine.” 

I was present at this protest—much of it, at least. The following were my observations:

The two sides faced one another on the Peace Quad. Facing north, the pro-Palestinian side stood in a loose arrangement on the left, mainly dressed in red. Some made speeches with megaphones. Some were planned, others were impromptu, according to my anonymous pro-Palestinian source. Mainly, however, the protest saw activists chanting “Revolution is the only solution,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “I believe that we will win.” 

BUZO members, meanwhile, stood in a much more rigid line, maintaining silence. The dress code was largely blue and white, some wearing faux-blood stains—referencing the “Sexual trauma” described in Ha’s editorial. An older counterprotestor with a megaphone and draped in the Israeli flag did not observe BUZO’s silence, shouting chants such as “release the hostages.” Hakim told me that this man had no affiliation with the group.

Near sunset, each protest broke. Both returned to the Union where I met both of my sources, interviewing them separately. 

Saul Hakim largely refused to comment on broad political issues such as the upcoming presidential elections. He maintained his refusal to comment on Molinaro’s call to ban SJP, though he did suggest that any group promoting Boycott, Divest, Sanction “warrants a thorough examination” on account of its “inherently antisemitic undertones and the obstruction it poses to peace.” He further contended that Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza, dismissing the rhetoric as an appalling appropriation of the Holocaust’s imagery. When asked his opinion on the chants employed in the protests, especially “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” Hakim told me, “In my view, these slogans, at their most benign, are misguided, and at their worst, they dangerously verge on advocating violence, ethnic cleansing, or even genocide.” He likewise maintained that a two-state solution is possible, calling the status-quo in the region “unacceptable.” He cited BUZO’s co-sponsorship of Hillel’s February 15th “Two Truths, One Land” event as evidence of his faith in the two-state solution. He still noted the diversity of belief within BUZO, as well as globally, on what the most feasible path to peace looks like. 

My interview with the anonymous activist for Palestine happened next. I was introduced by “Frankie from Scranton,” a Democratic Socialist field organizer, to a group of leading student-protestors. One person spoke principally, with the rest adding supplementary commentary. Unlike Hakim, the group was willing to speak at length about broad issues, tentatively endorsing the Green Party for the Presidential elections, describing the two mainstream parties as unacceptable for Palestine, and most other issues. When asked whether Israel was committing genocide in Gaza, I referred to the 84-page South African brief to the International Court of Justice, alleging that Israeli rhetoric and actions obviously constitute genocide. Upon asking when this “genocide” began, I was told that Israel’s actions are not necessarily contained to one genocide. Instead, they argued that incidents such as “Project Cast Lead,” alleged use of versions of the “Dahiya” and “Hannibal Doctrines” in this war, and the destruction of cultural objects, buildings, orange and olive trees all indicate a “pattern of ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians. They cited many other things, but I can not include them here. Finally, when asked about the viability of a two-state solution, I was told that it was irrelevant. Even if it were possible, the creation of “two ethnostates” would be immoral, and I was asked rhetorically whether Jews would be more safe surrounded by other hostile ethnostates.

Continuing the Timeline

The next day, February 15th, Hillel held an event titled “Two Truths, One Land,” featuring an Orthodox Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger, a settler in the West Bank, and Palestinian peace activist Noor A’wad, a former refugee from the West Bank. The two are involved in the organization “Roots,” an activist group which attempts to encourage dialogue between local Israelis and Palestinians. From what I could gather from each speaker’s speech, the titular “two truths” on this one land are that the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives are ostensibly built on erasing the other, creating the intractable conflict seen today. Rabbi Schlesinger described the group as “not political, but principled.” He nevertheless maintained that as a practical matter, Israeli settlements in the West Bank ought to be opposed. Saul Hakim largely agreed with the sentiments expressed, emphasizing that there is truth in both perspectives, and that grappling with difficult realities is necessary for peace. My anonymous Palestinian source took a different position, telling me, “I decided not to go. I do not believe that the event was objective; anecdotal narratives are not a replacement for material analysis.”

On February 27th, a group of activists initiated the “hard launch” of SUNY Boycott, Divest, Sanction (SUNY BDS). This was not without controversy. By February 25th, two days before the “hard launch,” the actual SUNY system had sent a cease and desist letter to the organization for copyright infringement on their name. This came in the wake of a months-long New York Post inquiry, which described SUNY BDS as a “rouge anti-Israel SUNY group.” 

On March 5th, the Post followed up with an article titled “SUNY Binghamton students fear flagship school has become ‘perfect target’ for antisemitism.” The paper notes multiple allegations of threats, such as “We tried our best to put you in Auschwitz” and “History will judge Hitler as a hero.” It also noted other incidents described in my previous timeline: Jacob Wisnock’s “Israel is worse than Nazi Germany” comment, protestors’ calls for an “intifada,” Lecture Hall 5 being plastered with pro-Palestinian posters right before a BUZO speaker event there, and Julie Ha’s original editorial on the “debunked” claims of sexual violence in Palestine. 

Things remained quiet until March 25th, when “Israel Apartheid Week” began in Binghamton. This involved an array of events and protests from Monday to Friday. 

March 26th, the “Day of Action” for SUNY BDS, saw the most activity. For our university, it saw the Binghamton Solidarity Committee protest in front of the University Downtown Center. According to the Facebook event, affiliated groups ranged from the BU Feminist Collective to the Northeast Pennsylvania Democratic Socialists to an “unnamed group of communists with a cat logo” [sic]. 

There, protestors called for Binghamton’s divestment from Israeli institutions. My anonymous pro-Palestinian source tells me that an aggressive girl videotaped her and her friend, trying to catch them saying something incriminating without much success. 

The following day, March 27th, the Latin American Student Union and SJP gave away Palestinian flags in front of the library. This attracted some debate. I personally saw an intense discussion taking place between those at the Palestinian table and two girls with an Israeli flag. I was told that these girls engaged “in hopes of ‘enlightening’ us on the wrongness of our views, our ‘delusional/not fully informed’ perspective; their intention as far as I can perceive was about changing our minds and/or shaming us.” I was likewise told that although the discussion was intense, and even sometimes hostile and defensive, the conversation didn’t seem aggressive from my pro-Palestine source’s point of view. Yet the argument seemed ultimately fruitless. As my source said, “I engaged in that dialogue with no intention or belief in changing minds; if 40,000 dead in six months does not give you pause, then who am I to give you pause?”

Finally, on April 10th (the day of publication), the New Yiddish Bund of Binghamton is calling for support for Gaza and a permanent cease-fire in the Binghamton City Council. That same day, BUZO and Hillel will be hosting Shye Weinstein, a survivor of the October 7th attack, to speak on campus. This magazine, being produced on April 4th, is not aware of the City Council’s final decision nor the results of Weinstein’s speaking event.

Conclusion – The Prospects of Peace

After writing almost four thousand words describing the recent history of the Israel-Palestine issue on campus, I have left only a few hundred words for analysis. Of course, this is not nearly enough room to evaluate the merits of each side’s arguments as they pertain to the region. I know that saying “it’s complicated” when discussing the conflict is rightfully dismissed as gauche. Nevertheless, it’s complicated. 

Though not as bad as other colleges described in a previous article, I hope that I have demonstrated that Binghamton’s activism is still pathological. Whether it’s pro-Israel students shouting down or harassing protestors, or the numerous outrageous statements and actions from the pro-Palestinian side that reach national and international news, this university’s climate is dreadful for discussion. Still, I do not want to “both sides” this too much: I believe that one group has done worse than the other. 

I came into this article with a pro-Israel bias. Despite this, my pro-Palestianian source is correct in saying that 40,000 dead must give anyone pause. The day I write this, Israeli airstrikes killed seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen. If there were ever a time to persuade people like me of the Palestinian cause, it would be now. Bear this in mind when I contend that the current activism for Palestine is actively making things worse—for both the cause and for the campus as a whole—even more so the most aggravating pro-Israel activists I have described. 

Pro-Israel activism on campus is generally restrained, upholding silence, not cooperating with fringe organizations, and not commenting on far-afield political issues. Although the worst of pro-Israel activists break from these principles, leadership in BUZO and other groups do not let them speak for the cause as a whole. Contrast this with recent pro-Palestinine activism: anyone could and would speak for everyone, allowing all sorts of explosive, alienating sentiments to be issued (“Intifada!,” “Worse than Nazi Germany,” “Claims of sexual violence debunked” etc.). This is not to mention the fringe organizations, namely communists, which have been free to speak at and for these protests. 

You might still dismiss this as “both sides” nonsense. So what if the Palestinian cause is “alienating” to my sheltered Western feelings? If Israel is committing genocide, than everyone must unite against it. But there’s the rub: it’s incumbent on the Palestinian cause—the accusers—to demonstrate the “obviousness” of this genocide. This involves more than throwing contested buzzwords around and demanding that one unquestioningly read an 87-page legal brief. This involves laser-focused activism and “managing the message” at all events. In this, the cause as a whole has failed.

Although I spent so many words on the February 14th protest, I found that the “Two Truths, One Land” event of the following day much more revealing. I agree with my pro-Palestine source that “anecdotal narratives are not a replacement for material analysis,” and I hardly found the central claim—that one must be “100% pro-Israel” and “100% pro-Palestine”—to be meaningful, much less persuasive. Still, I agree most with Saul’s interpretation, that it is only through authentic, productive dialogue that peace can be achieved. But if our campus is any indication, that kind of dialogue is a long way off.

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