I’ve been to dozens of rallies, demonstrations and marches in support of Palestinians’ right to live freely on their own land. And at each of them, there was inevitably a counter-rally sponsored by the highly-organized and well-funded Israeli lobby. In addition, I have often found the police or security forces present to monitor and control the event to be more sympathetic to the Israeli lobby than to crowds gathered in support of Palestine. So the fact that both of these—a Zionist counter-rally and an unsympathetic police force–material- ized at Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine’s November 19th rally in solidarity with Gaza did not surprise me. What did surprise me however was how little Cornell Police and administrators attempted to hide the fact that they essential- ly took orders from the Zionist groups on campus.
From where I was standing on November 19th, amongst a peacefully-gathered crowd of grass-roots organizers and stu- dents who spanned a wide range of ethnic, racial and reli- gious backgrounds, the Cornell Israel Public Affairs Com- mittee (CIPAC) told Cornell Police and administrators to jump so Cornell police and administrators leapt. When CIPAC filed a complaint against SJP’s previously-organized rally, police and administrators immediately came marching over demanding that we vacate Ho Plaza despite the fact that according to Cornell’s own Campus Code of Conduct (Titles III and IV), we had every right to be there. And when we declared our right to remain in the space over a megaphone, which we were also entitled to use according to campus reg- ulations, police quickly began to shove through the crowd, pushing a young female protestor to the ground in their at- tempts to silence us.
In my eyes, the Cornell administrators and police might as well have been carrying the corporate-sponsored Hillel signs reading “wherever we stand we stand with Israel.” After the rally, I tried to make sense of the outright hostility and aggres- sion shown to us, a group of peacefully assembled students, faculty and Ithaca community members, by the Cornell ad- ministration. But when you think about Cornell’s extensive ties to the apartheid regime in Israel, it really isn’t very sur- prising. Besides Cornell’s partnership with The Technion, an integral part of Israel’s military-industrial complex, two of Cornell’s top officials recently traveled to Israel to reaffirm their support of the settler-colonialist and white supremacist state which systematically attempts to displace and eliminate Palestinians from the land and which is an expert at drafting 21st-century Jim Crow-esque laws against an entire people based only on ethnicity.
In October 2011, according to the Cornell Daily Sun, Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner traveled to Tel Aviv in order to attend a “counterterrorism” training course. The purpose of this visit was supposedly to enable Zoner to apply some of these Israeli “security” tactics to her policing of Cornell’s campus. It appears as if she learned her lesson well—while Israel uses the propagandist terms of “external threats” and “security” to justify its decades-old ethnic cleansing opera- tion against Palestinians, Zoner came back to Ithaca in or- der to silence a group of legally and peacefully-assembled students who dared to question Cornell’s financial ties to an apartheid regime. We were inconvenient, so we were to be silenced. It is no coincidence that many of the same students who attended the rally in solidarity with Gaza also attended rallies criticizing Cornell’s response to the recent slew of ra- cial and sexual assaults on campus, a trend that Police Chief Zoner has failed to stem in favor to traveling to Israel instead. What message does this send to the Cornell community? That Cornell would rather protect its economic relationships than support the women and students-of-color under attack on this campus.
A year after Zoner returned from Israel, Cornell President David Skorton made another journey to the apartheid state. On November 18th, four days into Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, which killed 169 Palestinians, many of them children, President Skorton visited Haifa, where the president of Tech- nion declared Cornell “a true friend to the State of Israel.” The actions of the Cornell administration make it abundant- ly clear that the lives of Palestinians mean as little to it as they do to Israel.
The students standing in solidarity with Palestine did not have the means or the administrative backing of the Zionist groups on campus. We were a rag-tag, grassroots bunch with hand-written signs. So why did we pose such a threat to the Zionist students and to Cornell’s administration that they felt the need to attempt to arrest us and physically accost us in order to silence us? I maintain that it is because our message terrifies them. Muslim and Jewish students, Native Ameri- can and Latino students, queer and straight, Cornell faculty members and representatives from Ithaca’s working class community: we stood together not just in defense of Pales- tinians, but of all indigenous and oppressed peoples across the world, including here in Ithaca and at Cornell. Standing together on Ho Plaza, we were a physical refutation of the white supremacist attitudes of both Israel and the Cornell administration. We used our bodies and our voices to offer an alternative to racism, colonialism and apartheid. And as long as we continue to do that, we’ll always be a threat to the Israeli lobby and to its partner, Cornell University.