Local tensions surrounding the conflict between Israel and Hamas came to a head as student groups clashed during a pro-Palestine protest outside Brooklyn College on Oct. 12.
“This protest is in direct condemnation of the statement written by the president of Brooklyn College,” wrote the Students for Justice in Palestine, referring to an Oct. 10 statement from BC president Michelle J. Anderson that condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks, on Instagram. “We will show up on Thursday showing CUNY that its students stand with Palestine.”
Protestors waving the Palestinian flag and holding signs that read “Fight apartheid, free Palestine,” and “You will never erase Palestine” were met with a heavy police presence, counter-protestors, and local elected officials — including Council Member Inna Vernikov, who was arrested on Friday for bringing a gun to the rally.
Ariel Homayoonfar, president of Alpha Epsilon Pi at Brooklyn College, said he believes all students have the right to protest and exercise their First Amendment rights.
“With that being said, there are no two sides when civilians are beheaded and their slain bodies are burned and paraded in the public sphere; terrorism is terrorism,” Homayoonfar said. “We chose to not be here or counter-protest because we believe that will only further divide the community at Brooklyn College. What has occurred in Israel over the past 5 days has been pure terrorism and shows that Hamas has never cared about the Palestinian cause and that this has always been about killing Jews.”
Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 people and taking roughly 200 hostage. In the days since the attack, Israel has launched a devastating counterattack on the Gaza strip, which Palestinian officials say has killed nearly 3,000 people and injured 10,000 more.
The fighting has rattled Jewish and Palestinian communities around the globe and created local tension between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian New Yorkers, who have clashed in several protests around the city. Last week, two Palestinians and a Gravesend Synagogue were attacked in incidents that appeared to be linked to the ongoing conflict.
The Brooklyn College protest was originally set to take place on-campus, in front of Ingersoll Hall – but was shifted to Bedford Avenue, in front of the school’s gates, a “public space that Brooklyn College does not control,” Anderson said in a statement.
CUNY chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez said in a statement that “We want to be clear that we don’t condone the activities of any internal organizations that are sponsoring rallies to celebrate or support Hamas’ cowardly actions. Such efforts do not in any way represent the University and its campuses.”
In an open letter to Rodriguez and Anderson three student organizations — SJP, the Brooklyn College Muslim Students Association, and Muslims Giving Back — said the groups had not endorsed the actions of Hamas, and would never do so in the future.
“It is imperative that the BC & CUNY administration distinguish between the actions of Hamas and the broader Palestinian people,” the letter reads. “Unjustly associating Palestinians, our student organizations, and our larger communities with violence is a dangerous and unsubstantiated claim.”
The administration’s reaction to Thursday’s protest “can lead and are leading to” the criminalization and harassment of Muslim students at CUNY, the letter says.
“Falsely labeling a human rights rally as a sense of terrorism is considered hateful and stereotypical and we can assure you, by the reaction of our community, many now feel afraid to stand up for their moral beliefs.”