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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

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Stony Brook criminalizes pro-Palestinian students and contradicts own values by failing to divest from Israeli apartheid

A Stony Brook official speaking to pro-Palestinian protesters at the Stony Brook Union with the University Police Department (UPD) on Feb. 22. The Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter held banner drops around campus to protest the presence of Starbucks on campus. PHOTO COURTESY OF KAYLA GOMEZ MOLANO

Since Oct. 7, 2023, pro-Palestinian college students across the United States have made their voices heard despite repression from universities and governments. I am the President of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter at Stony Brook University, which I co-founded last fall with close friends. Since then, Stony Brook has not recognized SJP as an official organization. Our reach has grown to thousands on campus via our Instagram (@sb4palestine) and news coverage.

The SJP began with a handful of undergraduate students organizing protests, from on-campus events to regional marches on Long Island and in Manhattan. SJP members are also on the steering committee for the SUNY Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS), a grassroots organization connecting students, faculty and alumni at SUNY schools across New York State (NYS) and urging SUNY institutions to divest from Israeli apartheid. A recent New York Post cover about the official SUNY BDS launch event held at Stony Brook and other SUNYs on Feb. 27, 2024 led to a cease and desist from NYS. 

Currently, the greatest obstacle that student activists face on campus is Stony Brook administration’s commitment to upholding the American status quo: complicity in Palestinian genocide. 

On March 26, Stony Brook made headlines when the University Police Department (UPD) arrested nine peaceful pro-Palestinian protesters inside the Administration Building during a sit-in held by SJP. The main demands expressed during the protest were for the University to acknowledge the Palestinian genocide and to schedule a meeting with the Stony Brook Board of Trustees about SUNY’s investments in Israeli apartheid. 

Nearly 40 protesters entered the building shortly after 2:30 p.m. and were met with a warning from UPD to quiet their chanting, to which they obliged. SJP organizers reassured other students of their right to protest inside the building and communicated with UPD on behalf of the crowd. 

Vice President for Student Affairs Rick Gatteau and other administrators claimed that the protestors were still “disrupting” University activities and threatened those who did not leave with arrest, so the crowd began to disperse. The remaining nine protesters — seven students, one alumna and one community member — refused to leave. 

Gatteau, Dean of Students Ric McClendon, Associate Dean of Students Gareth Shumack and other University officials watched as UPD officers handcuffed and escorted the nine protestors into police vehicles. After hours of being held in UPD Headquarters with their hands restrained behind their backs, the protesters were released. All nine of them were given summons for criminal charges and a court date set for April 15.

UPD officers arresting students at the sit-in demonstration in the Administration Building on March 26. The arrests of nine Stony Brook students led to an emergency sit-in on March 27 inside the Administration Building again. PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELA ESCOBAR

The arrests immediately caused an uproar in the University community. While the protesters were in police custody, a dozen of the largest undergraduate organizations at Stony Brook expressed solidarity by demanding that the University release the protesters and drop all charges against them. 

Stony Brook faculty and the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) also demanded a dismissal of charges. On March 27, 2024, the day after the arrests, Stony Brook faculty held an emergency sit-in inside the Administration Building in solidarity with the nine protesters. In the next few days, the faculty released a petition condemning Stony Brook’s criminalization of student protests on campus and demanding a dismissal of charges. The petition gained hundreds of signatures in a matter of hours. A week after the arrests, USG passed a resolution stating that the behavior of the protesters “did not warrant arrest.”

The fact that Stony Brook is comfortable arresting peaceful protesters — mostly their own students — for the simple act of protesting during building hours should be alarming. By criminalizing and over-policing pro-Palestinian protests, Stony Brook contradicts its own anti-discriminatory policies and heinously fails to protect students’ free speech. Though the arrests are the most climactic measure Stony Brook has taken so far in response to the eruption of campus protests since Oct. 7, 2023, it is crucial to recognize that they are a steady culmination of Stony Brook’s hypocrisy when it comes to activism for Palestine.

The source of the hypocrisy in Stony Brook’s response to Palestine is the leadership of President Maurie McInnis and her administration. McInnis’ belief that institutions of higher education should use their resources to “address major societal problems” only seems to be applicable when the victims are not Arab or Muslim. In the last six months, two million Gazans have been forcibly displaced as their homes have been reduced to rubble by Israeli airstrikes. Palestinians in the West Bank have not been spared from the massacre either. Israeli forces raided the Jenin refugee camp, as well as the cities of Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem on Dec. 25, 2023.

Israeli violence has only escalated to new heights since then. As of March 15, 2024, the Gaza Ministry of Health reported that, at the very least, 31,490 Palestinians have been killed and 73,439 others have been injured by Israeli forces since Oct. 7. This means that over 100,000 Palestinians are now either dead or have been inflicted with injuries, leaving some permanently disabled.

Stony Brook has not explicitly condemned any of these events. 

In 2022 during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, McInnis released a statement sympathizing with victims of war, stating that “the Ukrainian people both resist and suffer” in the face of their oppression. Interestingly, the term “resistance” is glorified in this context. The Statesman, Stony Brook’s official student newspaper, released an opinions article in the same month advocating that Ukraine has nuclear arms to defend itself against Russia; it remains uncriticized. This also shows open support for armed resistance from an oppressed people.

McInnis’ narrative drastically shifts when it comes to the resistance of Palestinians against Zionism. In an email sent out on Oct. 31, 2023, McInnis refers to Palestinian resistance as “terrorist attacks,” completely ignoring the historical context in which these events occurred. As a historian herself, McInnis contradicts her own academic integrity by implying that the Oct. 7, 2023 attacks occurred in a vacuum — thereby villainizing the resistance. The “terrorism” does not rest in resistance efforts but rather embodies the Israeli occupation itself.

Palestinian resistance is an act of survival. According to the history of the region, the system of Israeli apartheid has been ethnically cleansing Palestinian villages and wiping out entire bloodlines since the Nakba in 1948. For far too long, Israel has weaponized Holocaust exceptionalism and the collective suffering of Jews to commit similar atrocities against Palestinians. These ideas are echoed by Jewish activist groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace who compare Israel’s genocidal tactics to those of Nazis during the Holocaust. Under such conditions of mass slaughter and illegal occupation, Palestinians have the right to defend themselves by any means necessary; this is not up for debate. 

It is also crucial to note that in her statement about Russia and Ukraine, McInnis claims she is “horrified” by Russia’s militaristic attacks, calling them “brutal atrocities.” Meanwhile, Stony Brook consistently fails to publicly denounce the Israeli military’s war crimes that are considered illegal under international law. All of this is unsurprising given McInnis’ lack of care towards addressing the plight of Palestinians both on campus and overseas. 

The double standard created by the University’s response to the struggle and resistance of white European victims versus ones that happen to be the darker skinned and largely Muslim population in the Middle East does not escape us.

Under McInnis’ leadership, Stony Brook also fails to uphold values of intellectual integrity that should govern the basic foundation of every academic institution. Countless experts and scholars from around the world have exposed the Israeli state’s genocidal motives and actions; however, the University refuses to acknowledge any of these findings. 

Craig Mokhiber, a former director for the United Nations (UN) and specialist in international human rights law, calls the assault on Palestine a “text book case of genocide.” He resigned in October after citing the UN’s failure to halt Israel’s “wholly … horrific assault” on Gaza, of which he writes that the U.S., United Kingdom and the rest of Europe are complicit. In his last letter, he attributes the “wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people” to Israel and its “ethno-nationalist colonial settler ideology.” 

We can also look to Dr. Gabor Mate, a Holocaust survivor, physician and author. Mate talks about previously identifying as a Zionist before he learned about the state’s origins of “extermination, expulsion, and massacres” of the Palestinian population. He admits that he was raised by Zionists — which influenced his views — but his education exposed him to the reality of land theft and colonization.

Stony Brook has not condemned or acknowledged the fact that all of the universities that once nurtured the young minds of Gaza have been reduced to rubble. Palestinian children could not continue the school year as of November 2023 due to deliberate Israeli bombardment of schools — not to mention many of the children’s classmates were dead. These man-made tragedies were all preventable. 

If we do not listen to the educated about the nature of this massacre, then what is left for us?

Over the past few months, it has been made abundantly clear that the trend of universities violating the First Amendment rights of SJP chapters on campuses has not skipped SUNY’s flagship University. The Stony Brook administration and UPD frequently use intimidation tactics to repress pro-Palestinian voices on campus. University administrators voiced their disapproval of SJP Stony Brook’s Instagram page, @sb4palestine, to our faces upon its creation in November 2023. UPD detectives began monitoring our account shortly after. It’s no secret other groups on campus do not get this same treatment.

From UPD threatening protestors with “criminal mischief” — a serious misdemeanor in NYS — for simply putting anti-genocide stickers on doors of a building and claiming that protestors “vandalized” school property by drawing pro-Palestinian art on the ground — with Washable Crayola Chalk — their role is clear. UPD continues to serve as an accomplice to the administration’s attempts to suppress student voices and beliefs.

Last month, SJP held a banner drop to protest the presence of Starbucks stores on campus for the company’s attempted silencing of pro-Palestinian union members. In the Stony Brook Union, a UPD officer immediately approached my fellow organizers and me as we held our banners over the railing of the second-floor balcony. Not a minute later, a University official appeared and reprimanded us for alleged “violations of the code of conduct.” We recited the policies back to him reaffirming our right to protest. He returned two more times, with different reasons intended to remove us. After standing our ground, we were told that we could resume our demonstration.

It is undeniable that the University had no basis to interrupt our demonstration in the first place. This is just one recent anecdotal example of Stony Brook’s deceptive attempts to not only infringe on our rights as students but our constitutional rights as well. Stony Brook or any other SUNY institution cannot present a misleading version of free speech rules simply because they do not like the students’ speech and want to silence them. It does not work this way under the First Amendment.

Two months after Oct. 7, 2023, the University attempted to maintain a “neutral stance” on the violence. Reactions to a mention of “Palestine” at University meetings evoked a response reminiscent of the McCarthy Era. Besides a few outspoken students and faculty, the Stony Brook community had largely grown indifferent to the genocide. There was a clear need to generate visibility for the Palestinian cause on campus through a historically effective method: public disruptions.

In December 2023, during the last University Senate meeting of the year, SJP and other pro-Palestinian students and faculty disrupted the agenda. A student delivered a speech about McInnis’ refusal to address the Palestinian genocide — specifically the University’s economic ties to companies directly connected to Israeli violence, proving their complicity in genocide. 

For example, the Advanced Fluid Dynamics, Propulsion, and Energy Lab affiliated with Stony Brook’s Department of Mechanical Engineering collaborates with Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. These three companies directly fuel Israel’s assault on Palestinians. Boeing aided the establishment of the state of Israel after the Nakba when Palestinians were initially displaced and massacred, while Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman produce weapons that Israel fires at Palestinians.

Unlike other universities that recently divested from Israel, Stony Brook continues to deny economic ties to Israel despite overwhelming evidence that proves otherwise. Palestinian students on our campus should not have to live with the knowledge that their institution fuels the American war machine responsible for the death of their family members. 

Rather than hearing out any of our concerns at the Senate meeting, University administrators and faculty watched as a UPD officer approached the student giving the speech until we left voluntarily after the message had been delivered. Breaking the illusion of “open dialogue” that Stony Brook claims to promote, the administration later attempted to press disciplinary charges against SJP members. In the end, SJP involved legal representation to fight the charges.

Let it be known: we are not afraid of threats from the University to silence us, especially not from morally depraved administrators who turn a blind eye to genocide for the sake of their careers. We do not have any regrets about rekindling the history of human rights activism that once lit up the University’s campus.

Furthermore, in November 2023, Vitaly Citovsky, a professor in the Biochemistry & Cell Biology Department, posted a flier of our event, “Honoring the Palestinian Martyrs,” to social media. He reposted a Facebook post that claimed that our memorial for dead Palestinian children was “supporting terrorists.” In his caption, Citovsky added that Stony Brook must take action against SJP for “Jew hatred.” There is no logical correlation between the memorial and his comments.

Citovsky did not face any repercussions from Stony Brook for openly agreeing with racist and Islamophobic characterizations of an entire Middle Eastern ethnic group as “terrorists.” The post remains public on his Instagram profile. The reality is that the University’s administration has created an environment for this kind of hateful rhetoric to remain unchecked. For example, in the same month, a pro-Palestinian Muslim student’s car was vandalized on campus with the words “terrorist” and “go to hell” in red spray paint. McInnis called the incident report “erroneous” and did not address the student’s pleas for the administration to recognize the surge in Islamophobia on campus. 

A screenshot from Stony Brook University’s Professor Vitaly Citovsky’s Instagram. Professor Citovsky claims that Stony Brook must take action against SJP. VIA INSTAGRAM @CITOVSKY

Around the same time, Stony Brook allowed Jewish graduate student and instructor Callen Zimmerman to suffer intense doxxing and harassment after Zimmerman was filmed removing Israeli propaganda posters from a public place off campus. Though this activity is legally protected under the First Amendment, Stony Brook did not protect Zimmermann from doxxing and harassment when the video of the altercation went viral online.

Zimmerman wrote to The Statesman, expressing that the University did not offer them any support or resources while facing “defamation, death threats and queer bashing.” Instead, Stony Brook interfered with their job, converting their class into a Title IX workshop on bias and discrimination. At a campus protest on Nov. 9, 2023, Zimmerman spoke further about their experiences feeling unsafe on campus due to Stony Brook’s failure to protect their freedom of speech. They concluded by saying that as a Jewish person facing backlash from Stony Brook for their pro-Palestinian views, they will continue using their voice to amplify those of Palestinians. 

Stony Brook’s poor treatment of their Jewish students during a time when antisemitism is claimed to be rampant contradicts the values of justice the University prides itself on. One wonders whether administrators have the capacity to grasp the magnitude of such irony.

Stony Brook’s efforts to repress pro-Palestinian voices will not diminish the fact that it has active contracts with companies that are directly funding genocide — which implicate our tuition money as students at this University. It comes as no surprise that the University’s investments and other financial information are not easily available online — another beast altogether. 

Stony Brook conducts financial transactions and investments through the Stony Brook Foundation, a private nonprofit entity that operates through the Stony Brook Board of Trustees. The most recent financial report published by the foundation in 2022 displays investments in domestic equity funds — $138 million — and global equity funds — $68 million — at fair value prices. Conveniently, the specific equity funds to which this money is allocated are entirely excluded from the report. Given that the U.S. holds over $43 billion in Israeli stocks and bonds, and that other major universities such as Harvard invest almost $200 million in companies tied to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, there is beyond reasonable concern that a noteworthy percentage of the Stony Brook Foundation’s funds have been invested in these same companies. 

Despite the barrier posed by the lack of financial transparency from the University, SJP compiled divestment demands using publicly available information. Though the Stony Brook Foundation has been gatekeeping details about University investments, the research in this document exposes Stony Brook’s complicity in the Palestinian genocide in other ways. The main evidence is the University’s partnerships with entities directly linked to Israeli apartheid, such as International Business Machines Corporation, the Hewlett-Packard Company and Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel.

In a private meeting between SJP, McInnis, Gatteau and other administrators, we presented our divestment demands in a research document that explicitly explains Stony Brook’s economic ties to Israel. The demands have four parts: transparency with University investments, divestment through termination of institutional and corporate partnerships with Israel, academic boycott of Israeli institutions and banning domestic recruitment practices from companies linked to genocide on campus. Unsurprisingly, the demands were met with patronizing responses from a room full of administrators who struggled to even utter the word “Palestine.”

McInnis claimed to be uninformed of virtually every connection the University has to Israeli apartheid, saying that she would get back to us with more research on her end. A particularly interesting moment during the meeting was the reminder that Stony Brook previously divested from apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. McInnis replied that she was not aware of this crucial information about the University’s history.

A quick Google search brings up a headline from The Statesman in 1985: “SUNY Board of Trustees Votes to Divest South African Funds.” Stony Brook lecturer Ernest Frederick Dube, who was imprisoned in South Africa for several years in the 1960s, expressed his relief that the “SUNY system has become part of the more civilized people who are not more interested in profit than morality.” The irony of SUNY’s current situation does not escape us.

University administrations across the country have been crumbling under the pressure of their complicity in genocide. However, ours is specially equipped with the shield of feigned ignorance and dishonesty.

At one point during the private meeting, Gatteau asked us what the best way to assist Palestinian and Muslim students was during this time. I replied that a good starting point for Stony Brook is to stop funding the killing of their family members. The room momentarily fell silent, and then the administrators continued as if I had not said anything at all.

The historical trend of universities repressing and outright punishing student activists for speaking out against the violent status quo is nothing new. We know this from the generations of student activists who came before us. Right before UPD handcuffed the nine protesters on March 26, University officials repeatedly pleaded for the students to think about their futures and the mark that an arrest would leave on their records. Many of the students arrested shared their strong feelings about this.

 “You’re right, I have my whole life ahead of me,” Adam F., a sophomore double majoring in mathematics and environmental design, policy and planning, said. “But I would rather jeopardize my career knowing that I took a stand against a genocidal regime than live the rest of my life knowing I was complicit in genocide.”

“This is nothing,” James S., a junior economics major, said. “In comparison to the never-ending slaughter of Palestinian men, women and children on a daily basis, it’s a damn good deal that I get arrested for being vocal against imperialism.”

A few days after the arrests, Sam C., a senior at Stony Brook majoring in studio art, recounted, “We were warned by [administration and UPD] that we were going to be arrested, but my comrades and I stood our ground for SUNY to divest from apartheid.” 

“It was a decision that came easy,” Sam continued. “I would face arrest a hundred more times for using my voice … It’s the least I can do, put my body and ‘future’ on the line, while Palestinians are being senselessly murdered. Easiest decision I ever made.”

As students in the heart of the Western empire, we will continue to use our education to remain defiant in our commitment to justice and liberation. Years from now, history textbooks will cement the Palestinians as an unbreakable people. The Zionist entity and its Western allies will be held accountable for their atrocities on once-occupied land, and those who chose silence in the face of genocide will not be worth a space on those pages at all.

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  • J

    John PerroneMay 1, 2024 at 10:16 am

    This should not be conducted on property that is shared by all where many are funding the school! Please move your protests to the property off campus! Many will no longer grant money to the school because of your actions and your degree will be worthless! Potential parent now withdrawing student!

    Reply
  • I

    Israel Charo ('71)Apr 28, 2024 at 7:35 pm

    Stony Brook should not tolerate extremist views of any kind. It should not tolerate hate speech against any group. You can disagree with the policies of the State of Israel, without being anti-semitic. The bloodied in Gaza is horrifying for all… but I fail to understand why the students are not outraged over the Hamas atrocities…and why the students are not screaming for the release of all the innocent Israeli hostages!

    Reply
    • J

      John PerroneMay 1, 2024 at 11:10 am

      Well said! I concur!

      Reply
  • H

    Holly DomorApr 26, 2024 at 12:51 pm

    It’s over, Israel. You’ve lost the optics war. You and your supporters stand revealed before the world as the villains you are. You’re finished. 🤣

    Reply
  • R

    RJ MicusApr 26, 2024 at 8:04 am

    I remember on 911 when the towers fell the Palestinians people danced in the streets and handed out candy to their children while chanting ” American is dead, death to America”. To me Palestinians and Hamas are one in the same. They will be only happy when the Jews are no more.

    Reply
    • M

      Mitchel CohenApr 27, 2024 at 7:37 pm

      Ummm, you mean NOT Palestinians but the Israeli so-called “art students” filmed dancing in New Jersey as the towers fell, and who were quickly allowed to leave by the police?

      The stories are complicated, but truth helps sort it out.

      Netanyahu himself posted a video after October 7 of why he and other Israeli officials originally funded and politically supported Hamas when it was first starting ­ to use it as a wedge in the Palestinian community against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the two-state solution. I had linked to that video on my Facebook page ­ and then Netanyahu took it down and scrubbed it from the internet, it was just so damning.

      Bombing civilians for ANY reason, their hospitals, schools, infrastructure, is a war crime and crime against humanity. One must never hold civilian populations accountable for the actions of their government, or the Vietnamese people would by the same measure have every right to bomb the U.S. indiscriminately, as 2 million Vietnamese were murdered by the U.S. military.

      Mitchel Cohen
      Red Balloon Collective at Stony Brook
      founded in 1970.

      Reply
      • H

        Hélène Volat Librarian EmeritaApr 30, 2024 at 2:20 pm

        Thank you for your eloquent comment.

        Reply
  • G

    Graduate studentApr 26, 2024 at 7:57 am

    Thanks for this detailed, well-evidenced account of Stony Brook’s anti-Palestinian racism. Thank you also for explaining so clearly how what happened on October 7, 2023 is because of a longer history of occupation, apartheid and other forms of violence.

    Reply
  • Y

    Young Stroker the Body SnatcherApr 26, 2024 at 12:19 am

    Who cares

    Reply
  • F

    Fearful Jewish StudentApr 25, 2024 at 10:30 pm

    This is so disgusting that it was even allowed to be published. The love and admiration this student has for Hamas are obvious: from believing the numbers that the Hamas Ministry of Health releases, to calling the murder, rape, and kidnapping of innocent men, women, and children “justified” and to calling hostage posters only calling for the release of innocent victims from the torture they have been living through “Israeli propaganda.” The people who scream “Anti-Semitism is not Anti-Zionism” are the same people who target visibly Jewish people at Columbia and other schools around the US.

    Reply
  • M

    mark swaggerApr 25, 2024 at 5:23 pm

    Only psychopaths label rape and murder of women and children a “an act of resistance “.

    Reply
    • B

      BobbyApr 26, 2024 at 8:35 am

      I agree, Israel has no right to claim they are committing acts of resistance

      Reply
  • C

    Concerned studentApr 25, 2024 at 1:10 pm

    It is horrifying that this piece was allowed to run. It defends the atrocities by Hamas on Oct 7 by calling them “resistance” (is rape and shooting toddlers in their cribs resistance?), repeats extremist propaganda by referring to the state of Israel as the “zionist entity”, and explicitly calls for Israel’s destruction. It also defends the removal of posters describing the innocent hostages Hamas has captured and has refused to return for more than 200 days.

    The author really has to learn to distinguish being pro-palestinian from being pro-Hamas, and really question whether these types of statements put them on the “right side of history”

    Reply
    • B

      BobbyApr 26, 2024 at 8:33 am

      This commenter doesn’t understand history and cant read, womp womp

      Reply
  • E

    Ed PlutoApr 25, 2024 at 1:07 pm

    What do you expect from a place that is predominantly Jewish?! Cmon. It’s Stonybrook!! Their allegiance is to The Nazi Israeli regime first then to the United States. This comment will probably be taken down

    Reply
    • H

      HughApr 26, 2024 at 10:58 am

      Do you know anything about history? Hamas is a terrorist organization that wants the genocide of 6 million Jews- Tbe Jews were persecuted all over the world and Hitler exterminated 6 million of them and after the war they were given a land where they can live in peace and they became successful and teach there children to be wary of people like you.

      Reply
      • H

        Hélène Volat Librarian EmeritaMay 5, 2024 at 10:07 pm

        Unfortunately the Western powers “gifted” Israel to Jewish survivors of the Shoah, so that Palestinians could pay for the West’s guilt. Palestinians did not gas any Jews. Wrong country, wrong century.

        Reply
  • S

    Sam CornettaApr 25, 2024 at 12:53 pm

    finally some truth on the statesman

    Reply