top of page


  • Eric Santomauro-Stenzel

Hamilton College SJP’s Popular University: How One Afternoon Brought Out a Year

Community members gather for Students for Justice in Palestine's "Popular University" event on the West Quad by the Science Center on Thursday, May 2nd afternoon.

Event photos by Gabriel Bit-Babik '25, Digital Managing Editor

As students across the country were hoisting encampments against Israel’s demolition of Gaza and its people, about 300 Hamilton College community members came and went from a quad for two and a half hours to do what academics do best: learn. Elsewhere, students, educators, and journalists alike exercising free speech have faced state violence with the backing of administrators who, every other day of the year, proclaim that discomfort differs from danger. And yet, to those watching closely, Columbia and UCLA weren’t so far away.

The revival of a decades-old protest movement that forced out a Hamilton president. Watchful eyes of administrators on guard. Outside media dipping in to tell the story they wanted to tell. Debates about who gets to speak for Jewish people and Judaism. The demand to plant one’s flag – or resolution – in the ground in a time of moral conflict.

As much happened from 3pm to about 5:30pm on that quad on that rare sunny Clinton day, it’s the porous boundary of that moment, that space, that matters.

This is the story of Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Popular University.”

The Stakes

Students began to gather shortly before 3pm, setting out chairs facing Carnegie Residence Hall and tables with snacks and art supplies nearby. SJP leaders began by describing the enormous humanitarian cost of the  Israeli government’s assault on Gaza. Recent reporting puts the death toll at 34,622 people, including over 14,500 children, and nearly 78,000 injured. Millions have been displaced, and allegations of war crimes and the killing of civilians by Israel have become more frequent and thoroughly substantiated.

SJP posted a set of community guidelines on a tree by the event. The first rule says "We oppose Zionism and Colonialism and all oppression... NOT Jewish people."

In what some perceived to be a potential counterprotest, loud music emanated from the Team Hockey Room in the Alumni Gymnasium Basement. Songs included “Simchas Toireh - שמחת תורה” by Mordechai Ben David & The Shira Choir, the US national anthem, and more. The music stopped sometime during the event.

Shortly after the introduction, an SJP leader shared the details of a recent Hamiltonians for Divestment (H4D) meeting with President David Wippman. Wippman had committed to sharing a set of endowment disclosure and divestment demands mirroring those of other schools with the Board of Trustees. Now, to add pressure, attendees would write personal messages in favor of the demands before marching to his office in Buttrick Hall to deliver them.

After drafting their messages, attendees marched to chants of “Disclose! Divest! We will not stop, we will not rest!” before arriving at the main entrance of Buttrick. Organizers opened the door and entered, taking messages handed up from below, and delivered them to staff inside. The group then walked back to the West Quad to continue the event.

Video and reporting of Buttrick Hall march by Eric Santomauro-Stenzel '24, Editor-in-Chief.

Students delivered hand-written demands to the Office of the President.

At some point after the march, chalk writing appeared on Buttrick’s steps with similar messages.

Some unidentified individuals wrote chalk messages by the entrance to Buttrick Hall. | Submitted photo

Upon returning, Professor of History Shoshana Keller, who teaches Soviet, Eurasian, and Middle Eastern history, spoke. “We are here, right now, mostly because we are grieving.” She said people had gathered in fear, anger, and horror at both Hamas’s October 7th murders and kidnappings, and the tens of thousands killed by the Israeli Defense Forces. She explained the history of the region in detail and that one of the painful ironies “under the tragedies we see today” is that the closest biological relatives of Israelis are Palestinians. “It's a fight among cousins.”

Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies Man Kaplan told the crowd “everyone and anyone” is being killed by Israel in Gaza. “Civilians. Protestors. Parents. Children. Health providers. Journalists. Doctors. Professors. Students.” They focused on the last two, citing Palestinian scholar Karma Nabulsi’s term “scholasticide.”

“To use the word scholasticide is not only then to describe the extent and kinds of

violence taking place in Gaza; it is also a recognition that this violence is part of a nearly

hundred-year colonialist siege on Palestinian lands that implicates not only Israel, but the United States, too.”

Professor of History Celeste Day Moore offered the crowd context to prior student protests and backlash in the 20th century. “There were debates, there were missteps.” She said the image of the Civil Rights Movement today – nonviolent and respectful – is “sanitized of the radicalism and applauded and vogued by political movements with no interest in Black liberation.” She said the movement, through a diversity of tactics often opposed by majorities of Americans, built “different kinds of intellectual commons.” She asserted that universities, increasingly seen as private property, have a lot of financial stake in demonstrating control over students now. 

Professor Celeste Day Moore speaks.

During public comment, when anyone could speak, Angel Sonnier ‘27, a member of the Black & Latine Student Union’s e-board, said that “Palestinians are human, human like you and I are human right?” Sonnier urged the audience to “keep humanity in our heads when we think about this genocide and just apartheid.”

Diego Inzunza ‘25, chair of the Feminists of Color Collective and SJP member, drew attention to the story of Hind Rajab, a 6-year-old child the IDF killed along with the paramedics who tried to save her. “I call that we reject normalcy,” they said. “I call that we raise our voices in support of the plight of the Palestinian people in solidarity with the Palestinian people, because guess what? Their lives – their lives – are just as valuable as ours.”

Following public comment, students read prose and poetry from Palestinian authors. Scott Levy ‘25 read pages from I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti, translated by Ahdaf Soueif. Another student read from The Butterfly’s Burden by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Fady Joudah.

Scott Levy '25 reads prose.

Before closing, Nawar Kazi ‘27 led a Muslim prayer followed by Hannah Jablons ‘24 and Maya Weil-Cooley ‘24 leading a Jewish prayer.

Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Jeff Landry told Monitor he was present because he was interested in hearing what event participants had to say. He said Campus Safety was present so that “there aren't opposing groups that kind of get into any kind of arguments” and that “it seems really peaceful and like it’s going really well.”

Asked about how pro-Palestinian advocates have engaged on campus so far, he said “They're doing peaceful protests, and they're putting their messages out really well. So so far, so good.” Asked about how administration is navigating both sides of the issue, Landry said it’s about “how we can just support all students, right? Both sides are struggling, and how do we support them individually?”

Jablons and Weil-Cooley told Monitor that they were “so proud” students pursued intentional strategies matching the unique environment at Hamilton rather than doing an encampment just for the sake of it.

Event organizers provided snacks for attendees.

Hamilton College Student Government & Voice

The Student Government Alliance (SGA, formerly Student Assembly) is set to consider Resolution 24-1: Call for Disclosure and Divestment of Investments during its last meeting on Monday, May 6th at 8:30pm in the Sadove Conference Room. Introduced by representatives Mohammed Sami ‘27 and Kazi with the support of H4D, the resolution calls “for Hamilton College to disclose its investments with the goal of divesting from unethical systems and entities.”

The resolution cites previous years’ student government resolutions calling for divestment from fossil fuels, the 1980s protests by H4D’s original namesake for Hamilton to divest from Apartheid South Africa, and Hamilton’s existing environmental, social, and governance policy (ESG) as reasons to honor students’ requests.

“Hamilton College students and staff deserve to know and have say in the investments and contributions of the institution they represent, attend, and contribute to financially, academically, and culturally” reads the final “Whereas” clause.

The resolution says Hamilton should “disclose all information regarding the endowment and how it is invested,” publicize information “about corporate partnerships with the school,” and urges it “to divest from all systems of oppression and harm; including but not limited to apartheid, war, prisons, and fossil fuels.” It calls for the Board of Trustees to hear from students and faculty about the requests at their next on-campus meeting, and that SGA “will establish a sub-committee on Ethical Investment.”

H4D had tried to introduce a version of the resolution the prior Monday, April 29th, but was told by SGA leaders that there was no time due to lengthy budget discussions for next year. Public comments from Inzunza, Soren Lera ‘27, Sara Schneidman ‘24, Syra Gutow ‘24, Victoria Falcon ‘27, and Henry Gooding ‘24 urged rapid action.

After comments, according to meeting minutes, Kazi, Sami, and representative Theodore Gercken ‘27 engaged in a back-and-forth with SGA President Quentin Messer ‘26, VP Anna Gnapp ‘26, and Director of Student Activities Ariel Adams about the logistics of introducing a resolution before the end of the semester. Messer and Gnapp announced that they had had conversations with H4D.

(L-R) AVP for Student Affairs Jeff Landry, SGA President Quentin Messer ‘26, and Interim Chaplain Trevor Beauford stand together on the outskirts of the event.

“I understand we are at the end of the year,” Inzunza told Monitor, “that budget requests must be passed and finals be completed, but our demands are time sensitive. We urge the SGA to take action on disclosure and divestment.”

President David Wippman leveraged the dissonance against activists in the May 1st meeting with H4D. According to a recording of the meeting obtained by Monitor, Wippman pressed them on whether the resolution was still happening and inquired about H4D’s ability to speak on behalf of the student body.

Messer previously declined to comment and has since not replied to Monitor’s comment requests about his position on SGA actions, H4D’s advocacies, or SJP’s event.

“In concurrence” with SGA Secretary Robert Neithart ‘26, Messer told Monitor that he could not share the April 29th meeting audio recording, only minutes, with Monitor because SGA hadn’t voted on distribution. At the start of the fall 2023 semester, the prior SGA administration of President Nicole Soret ‘25 unilaterally ended the years-long practice of hosting livestreams of SGA general meetings, without codifying it. Messer upheld it without a vote.

Unlike many other student governments across the country, SGA has largely avoided the topic of Israel-Palestine this year. SGA instead focused on developing infrastructure for project management and drafted a new constitution.

Dissonant Dispatch

The Utica Observer-Dispatch published an inaccuracy-riddled piece that they updated -- without correction notes -- at least four times in response to correction requests from both the Monitor and Hamilton College. A 4:37pm update on Saturday is not pictured here.

But that’s not the story the Utica Observer-Dispatch told, like many publications dropping into college campuses as of late.

The morning of Saturday, May 4th, “Inside the Hamilton College protests” by breaking news reporter Laura Sitterly hit the OD site. President David Whitman (spelled Wippman also) and VP for DEI Dean Bennett (who’s Sean?) had met with pro-Israel Jewish students; SJP invited Angela Davis to campus a year before they’d even been founded; and Williams College had moved from Massachusetts to New York overnight. Sunday morning, the most recent of at least four article updates corrected a misattributed speaker. But beneath the glaring inaccuracies and SJP reporting lifted from the Monitor without credit, Sitterly balanced the slim portion of the event she had actually attended with a majority of space used for covering what three individuals affiliated with Chabad House of Clinton and its overlapping Chabad Community on Campus characterized as escalating antisemitism and discomfort for Jewish students on campus.

She wrote that “many pro-Israel Jews on campus admitted to feeling slighted by the ‘unavoidable public displays of opinion’.” According to several SJP organizers, Sitterly never attempted to interview group members.

The OD story included allegations by Jacob Shulman ‘26,  without evidence, that SJP had been distributing antisemitic material across campus claiming Jewish people weren’t indigenous to Israel and that “over 200 hate comments” were made on a “friend”’s pro-Israel social media post. He attributed these to “a few bad apples” with “inappropriate initiatives.” The article asserted that “national tension” had “infiltrated” Hamilton and ends with a quote from Lane Barsh ‘25 that students are “caught in the crossfire” of their professors’ divergent views. Unlike the teleporting peer institution and time-traveling activists, all these extraordinary statements and more remain in the article despite correction and substantiation requests from both Monitor and Hamilton College. The article paints a picture of antisemitism persisting for “months on end” with an administration that “takes a neutral stance.”

The OD, Shulman, and Chabad’s student group did not respond to Monitor’s requests for comment, including on the alleged antisemitic posts. Shulman, who came to the back of the event with Sitterly about an hour after it had begun, told the OD that social media is the “X factor” that “allows the rapid mobilization of groups without credible sources to spread disinformation.”

(L-R) Unknown, Jacob Shulman ‘26, and Utica Observer-Dispatch reporter Laura Sitterly safely stand at the back of the event.

Shulman’s “hate comments” claim is likely about an April 29th Chabad Community on Campus Instagram post of three students – including him – wearing “I Stand With Israel” shirts and holding an Israeli flag, saying it was highlighting “Just 3 of our many awesome Chabad students who competed in HAMTREK.” The comment section quickly filled with hundreds of pro-Palestine student comments.

Dani Bernstein ‘24, who previously attended Chabad, posted a story saying the post “makes me personally feel really gross.” He added, “If you are choosing to align yourself with Chabad or other pro-Israeli spaces I would think long and hard about your choice to do so. I encourage you to research in depth the history of this conflict.” Referencing both Palestinians’ indigeneity and the Oneida Indian Nation, he said “Erasure of indigenous voices has enough history on this campus.”

One pro-Israel commenter replied to an anti-Zionist Jewish student’s comment with “I’m ashamed of you being Jew!” Another pro-Israel commenter said the pictured students were on the “forefront of the fight against genocidal Arab Islamic hate.”

The flame war persisted for days, accumulating over 400 comments including an influx of accounts not visibly associated with Hamilton, some being prominent Zionist advocates. SGA 2024 Class President Jackson Strout ‘24 commented that keeping the post up was “irresponsible, nearsighted, and brutally negligent.” He questioned how “you could sit here and watch your own members get harassed in the first place without shutting it down for their sake” and “then seeing the blatant racism and other filth thrown back at their peers from randos while condoning it by keeping this open shows a great disregard for your existence here as a part of the Hamilton community and for it as a whole.”

Campus Safety officers, including Director of Campus Safety Frank Coots, attended the event to monitor the situation.

Sitterly’s piece used the word “Jew” or “Jewish” seven times, with no change between the five article versions. In each case, the word is about or quoted from Chabad affiliates Rabbi Didy Waks, Jacob Shulman ‘26, or Lane Barsh ‘25. It is not used to describe Professor Kaplan who introduced themself as “a proud anti-Zionist Jew” in their speech, which was quoted in the article. It did not quote Professor Keller, who explained the millennia-long history of Jewish people in Israel and Palestine, nor Jablons, who rose to speak (while Sitterly was present) only to express their feeling of not being represented or included in Jewish organizations on campus, particularly Chabad, because of their political support for Israel. A large portion of SJP’s members and supporters on campus are Jewish, and many of them say that their identity and set of values are intertwined with it. 

“I've never felt closer to the Jewish community at Hamilton since October 7,” Jablons told Monitor. “And I've never felt closer in the Jewish community at Hamilton since I joined SJP. At certain times SJP has been the Jewish community for me.”

Asked if they felt represented by Jewish organizations on campus, Elliot Zamudio ‘24 said “No. I’m Sephardic Jewish, so Iberian, my family went to Spain then Puerto Rico instead of other parts of Europe. I often feel ‘not Jewish enough’. ” They’d previously attended Hillel “but there still feels like an unspoken ‘you aren’t one of us’ sometimes” because they are not white and didn’t “experience the Ashkenazi Jewish American life/culture.”

Hillel is the more moderate group. “I feel WILDLY uncomfortable around all Chabad students and Rabbi Didy,” Zamudio said, citing negative interactions with individuals who had attended contributing to the “not a ‘real Jew’” feeling, despite celebrating the feasts, following kosher, and keeping Shabbat.

Anthropology major Barsh, meanwhile, told the OD that she “didn’t put my glasses on when I walked past [the Popular University] because I didn’t want to see what was going on” and, reacting to the presence of some of her women’s and gender studies, history, and anthropology professors, questioned “pursing [sic] this discipline when I seem to be one of only [sic] pro-Israel Jews in the program.”

Commenting to the OD, Rabbi Waks accused SJP of “a troubled history, dabbling in many anti-Semitic tropes which deny basic Jewish history.” He condemned “The ‘you're either with me or against me’ mentality” that “has become pervasive on college campuses” including Hamilton.

Hillel and Chabad student groups issued an October 10th campuswide statement with the email subject “JEWISH STUDENT COMMUNITY STATEMENT” and entitled “Hamilton College Hillel and Chabad Student Group Statement of Support for Israel”  that was “written by leaders from both” and signed by their organizations. It denounced Hamas’s “attack on Israel and the Jewish people” and “violence perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike.” They said “We stand in solidarity with Israel” and predicted “an escalation in antisemitic sentiment around the world,” applauding “the Hamilton community for, largely, being respectful of each other when discussing the ongoing atrocities in Israel and Gaza.” The groups welcomed community members to join their activities “for open-minded and educational discussions.” Shortly after, they hosted a “Challah Bake for Israel” event.

“I feel really heartbroken at the loss of access to that Jewish community,” Weil-Cooley told Monitor. “Having the funds to put on a nice Seder would be great.” A number of anti-Zionist Jewish students recently gathered for an unaffiliated Passover Seder on campus. “I really would like there to be more chance for dialogue,” said Weil-Cooley. “And to recognize the Jewish students who are seeking out SJP looking for community.”

Jablons said they think Hillel as a student organization “should not be explicitly pro-Israel.”

Responding to criticisms, Hamilton Hillel student leadership told Monitor, “We would love to emphasize that our events are open to everyone regardless of their political beliefs. Additionally, as stated in our constitution, we ‘aim to provide a pluralistic community on campus for students interested in Judaism and Jewish Life’.”

“Chabad House of Clinton welcomed all students, regardless of their politics, opinions, worldview or any other factor. Come and try it out!” read a statement shared with Monitor by Rabbi Waks.

“The culture at Chabad has changed a lot as well,” said Jablons. “When I was a sophomore and I would go to Chabad, there were seniors who I was close to who would challenge Didy about Israel publicly and unabashedly. Now it is more of a conservative culture.”

Rabbi Waks said the idea that anti-Zionist Jewish people are not welcome in his organization is "Not true.” He added, “All Jews are welcome into Jewish spaces regardless of their views. Holding the minority position is hard. But I make an effort to welcome all."

Chabad House of Clinton’s site advertises a “Hamilton Chabad AIPAC Fellowship” that offers a “fully-subsidized” trip to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference. It includes a photo of Rabbi Waks and former students. AIPAC is an extremely well-funded lobbying group for Israel. Rabbi Waks told Monitor the program has not run since 2017 and that it was funded by a donor.

Chabad Community on Campus includes a signup link to birthright trips to Israel in its email signatures. On November 14th, 2023, the group posted Instagram stories of some members and Rabbi Waks attending the March for Israel in Washington, DC.

1,026 views0 comments


Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page