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Students organize silent protest to boycott speaker for Hillel event

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Caleb Kaufman
Sophomore Quincey Fireside was one of the students who participated in the sit-in. Five days before the event, Fireside — president of Ithaca College Students For Palestine (ICSFP) — took to the ICSFP Instagram, sharing posts tweeted and retweeted by speaker Uriel Abulof that they said, in an Instagram post, “downplay the reality of Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people.”

Approximately 40 students sat outside Textor Hall in a silent protest to boycott Uriel Abulof, instructor in the School of Continuing Education at Cornell University and an associate professor in the School of Political Science, Government and International Affairs at Tel Aviv University, for the Side-By-Side discussion Feb. 6.

Side-By-Side was a one-hour dialogue, followed by a Q&A session with Nizar Farsakh, chair of the board of the Museum of the Palestinian People, and Abulof. The purpose of the event was to share candid perspectives on the Israel-Hamas war from both Israeli and Palestinian point of views and personal experience. Both Farsakh and Abulof joined virtually via Zoom. At 5 p.m., approximately 25 students sat down in silence surrounding the flagpole outside of Textor Hall. Roughly 20 more students joined the silent boycott over the hour and a half that followed. The students sat in below 30-degree weather as the sun set with their signs in front of them until exactly 6:30 p.m. when they all dispersed and made their way inside.

Sophomore Quincey Fireside was one of the students who participated in the sit-in. Five days before the event, Fireside — president of Ithaca College Students For Palestine (ICSFP) — took to the ICSFP Instagram, sharing posts tweeted and retweeted by Abulof that they said, in an Instagram post, “downplay the reality of Israel’s genocide against the Palestinian people.”

ICSFP is not an official organization and has been functioning on Instagram since December 2023. It is separate from Students for Justice in Palestine, which is in the process of establishing a chapter at the college.

Fireside said Abulof expresses Zionist — a movement for the re-establishment, development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel — viewpoints and that he is dismissive of the killing of Palestinian people. Fireside said Abulof has a history of aligning himself with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Israeli Defense Force and the Israeli Occupation Forces. 

“He talks about the genocide as if it’s caused by political zealotry, rather than by white supremacy and anti-Muslim sentiments,” Fireside said. 

Fireside said it is dangerous to have such a big platform for the Zionist community while they think there is little space for the Palestinian and anti-Zionist community on campus. 

“We’re boycotting the talk, his presence on campus and also the idea that Palestinian people on campus have to be accompanied by Israeli people to speak,” Fireside said. “I think we’ve had quite a lot of talking from the Zionist community on campus since Oct. 7, [2023], and I’m personally a little tired of hearing it. I’d like some more stage time for the Palestinian and anti-Zionist community on campus.”

In October, Hillel put on the event Chamsas For The Heart, a pop-up therapeutic art studio in response to the war, and has continued to host Shabbat services every Friday. The Jewish community has also been supported by President La Jerne Cornish in her letter to the campus community Oct. 10. 

“It was heart-wrenching to hear our students, staff and other members of our extended Jewish community express their grief, anger, pain and fear,” Cornish stated in the letter. “It is important to note that we are actively seeking ways to support both Jewish as well as Palestinian and Gazan community members during these difficult times.”

In a comment to The Ithacan, Dave Maley, director of public relations at the college, said Cornish has made it clear that the college values the open exchange of ideas and the promotion of a peace in which human rights are non-negotiable. 

“She has pledged the college’s support of Palestinian and Gazan as well as Jewish members of the community, and she has spoken out against both Islamophobia and antisemitism,” Maley said in an email to The Ithacan. “She and other administrators have also conveyed this in meetings they have held with Muslim and Palestinian students.”

Fireside said they think the reason Abulof was brought in for the discussion is because he has been very vocal about his opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister who has opposed any hostage-for-prisoner deals that would be necessary for a long-term cease-fire in Gaza.  

Lauren Goldberg, director of Hillel at Ithaca College, said to The Ithacan that the intent of the Side-By-Side program is not to position two people against each other, but rather how individuals can come together to work toward a better future.

“[The purpose of the event is] to show that two people can hold … these two truths at the same time and speak to each other about ways forward that hold up the human rights of all people,” Goldberg said. 

Goldberg said she recognizes that it is very difficult for students to listen across lines of difference and that it is often much easier to tune the other side out. She said the program is not trying to convince anybody of anything, but is built on mutual respect and honest conversations. 

“We really believe that this is critical toward a sustained peace for all people,” Goldberg said. “The entire hope of this program is that it will allow us to step out of our silos and to hear truly from the voices of people who live really, in this milieu, what it’s like to be in their skin and what it’s been like to be who they are over the course of their lifetime.”

Fireside said that while the Side-By-Side was a good idea in theory, bringing Abulof to a campus that, according to them, already has such a high favorability toward Zionism showed a lack of interest in student concerns. 

“Honestly, it felt like crumbs being thrown at the anti-Zionist community on campus, and there is mounting frustration,” Fireside said. “I think it felt like a ‘Please shut up’ moment from the administration.” 

A couple of hours before the boycott, a few ICSFP members met in the West Tower lobby to create signs for the sit-in. Sophomore Marshall Long, a politics major, came up with the idea to create the signs. Long said the boycott was not a protest of the event itself, but a protest of the invitation of Abulof to speak at the college. 

“We’re not going to be complicit in just allowing blatant genocide deniers or blatant Zionist rhetoric to be spread,” Long said. “The vast majority of the student body doesn’t agree with that sort of rhetoric.”

First-year student Cameron Miles created a sign for the boycott. He said he was unable to make it to the protest but still wished to show his support. 

“I don’t have a ton of money to go out and give donations to charities, but I still want to make it visible that I support Palestinian students,” Miles said. 

Fireside said they hoped the demonstration would be a wake-up call to the community and the administration. They said they hope the administration provides the same amount of support and resources that they have put out there for Israeli and Zionist students on campus to Palestinian or anti-Zionist students on campus. 

“I’ve spoken to a lot of Palestinian students on campus; I know they feel really isolated,” Fireside said. “I think that the administration has a lot of work to do in gaining back the trust of anti-Zionist and Palestinian students on campus.”

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    NebulaFeb 8, 2024 at 1:04 pm

    Zionism is a movement for Jewish self-determination. Anti-Zionism is, literally, anti-Jew, so it’s antisemitism. The Zionist movement started in reponse to the widespread pogroms and extermination of Jews in Russia, Europe, and later the expulsion of Jews from the Arab countries. Throughout history, most Zionists were quite literally refugees seeking safety from persecution and extermination. Anti-Zionism is based in the Islamic antisemitism that seeks to exterminate the Jews wherever they are in the world. It is evident throughout history in documents, actions, daily Islamic teachings, and in all interviews given by terrorist organizations like Hamas, who repeatedly state that they will repeat Oct 7 over and over. It is also evident in most recorded interviews with the locals in Gaza and West Bank who believe the Jews have to be “removed”, “go back to where they came from”, or killed. The official Hamas plans from years ago (available online for anyone who is curious at MEMRI) and until today are to destroy the state of Israel, expell and kill most Jews, and to not allow those Jews Hamas would consider “necessary” to run technology, medicine, and whatever else requires skills that the newly formed state in place of Israel would need – so, literally, slavery. The fact that anyone would call Israel’s just defence from these offenders with Jew extermination plans a “genocide” and not a war, even though it is no different from what US did in reponse to 9/11, what the Allies did to Nazi Germany, or any other war, really just shows the double standard applied to the only Jewish state in the world, and is a normalized expression of antisemitism. Proclaiming Israeli Jews as “white settlers” is ignorant at best, grossly antisemitic at worst, since Jews lived in that area throughout history, uninterrupted, those immigrants who joined them were refugees feom pogroms, wars, and Arab-inflicted persecution and expulsion, and 60% of Israeli Jews aren’t even white! The term “IOF” is a derigatory term for Israel Defense Forces, used by the antisemitic Islamic financed propaganda scripts to attemp to discredit Israel, its right to defend itself, and its right to exist, so that the long-desidred extermination of Jews in Israel and elsewhere can eventually be justified and proceed according to plan. This is, literally, what happened in the WW2 Holocaust, and you with this article, and anyone else who provides a forum for expression of twisted antisemitic Islamic propaganda, are moving their plans nicely along. BTW, Israel is just a part of the target for the Islamic world. US is a much bigger, and even more desirable target, it’s just not as easy to attack, yet. But fear not, you all are bringing that day closer by promoting the interests of those powers whose goals are “Death to America and Death to Israel”, like Iran+Russia+China. So wrong.

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      Antony SidleFeb 9, 2024 at 1:56 pm

      Im just curious as to why Hamas doesnt bear any of the responsibility for this said genocide. And, i might also ask why political zealtry on both sides is dismissed so easily as a large part of the cause for this. Furthermore i also might ask why it is also so easily dismissed the fact that Hamas livestreamed the rape and murder of women and children? I have no real truck in this war, except as a fellow human being that mourns the deaths of all the innocent lives lost to political and religious zealotry. At the end of the day, im not there digging my brothers, sisters, parents children and neighbors from the rubble. Im not there mourning those same said people massacred during an attack. It is easy to sit back 100s or 1000s of miles away from a situation and point fingers. Why are we not instead asking the manufacturers of destruction or the politicians in all governments to find a better way? Why are we not asking all soldiers to stop fighting for those who send them into death and destruction? When the heart stops beating, death does not care how old you are, what religion you observe or what color your skin is. It seems to me that much of the rhetoric is designed to separate us and allow smarter folks than myself to spout same said rhetoric to catch those with an opposing view in an aha gotcha moment that means nothing. It is up to us, those that, at the end of the day just wanna put food on our tables and enjoy the best quality of life available to us, to hold our leaders accountable when they fail to use logic and reason and compromise instead of force. With the technological advances humanity as a whole have created, it is a pity that the same life that lives on in the old testament is still living today. But if we continue to promote hatred, bigotry and political zealotry as a means of dialogue we are always going to get what weve always got, the death of our loved ones in battles and wars that only chew up and spit out pawns when its our leaders that send them off to fight in a battle they have no intention of being in. Its 2024, if we all cant figure out how to get along and live in peace and harmony without using violence than we dont deserve it

      Reply