Students go about their day on the Farmingdale State College...

Students go about their day on the Farmingdale State College campus last month. College President John Nader said he understands why some students may be quiet on the war, whether concerned about retaliation or that making their stance public could come back to harm them when applying for a job. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The presence of the Israel-Hamas war is being felt on Long Island college campuses — with rallies, peace vigils and some fundraising by students — but unlike at some colleges elsewhere, much of the tension remains under the surface, students and faculty say.

Stony Brook University has seen three pro-Palestinian rallies and a peace vigil, Hofstra had a peace vigil and faculty forum, and Jewish and Muslim students placed fundraising tables at Molloy University.

A pro-Palestinian rally at Stony Brook on Thursday drew about 150 students, who marched without incident for about 45 minutes around the campus, chanting and toting signs.

A lone counterprotester, campus worker Joe Cesaria, carried a sign and stood silently near the protesters outside the student activities center.

Cesaria said of the marchers, "I think they're misinformed. Hamas is doing the injustice."

Strong and opposing positions have roiled numerous campuses across the country following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. More than 1,200 people in Israel died, most of them in the Hamas attack, and about 240 hostages were taken from Israel into Gaza by Palestinian militants. Israel's retaliation and airstrikes have resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths in Gaza.

Some campuses have seen violence and intimidation. A Cornell University student is accused of posting online threats against Jewish students. An Arab Muslim student at Stanford was hit by a car and the case is being investigated as a hate crime.

Columbia University on Friday suspended two pro-Palestinian student organizations — Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace — that have led protests calling for a cease-fire in the war. The two groups repeatedly violated university policies related to holding campus events, including an unauthorized event Thursday that had threatening rhetoric and intimidation, officials said. 

Much of the tension on Island campuses comes in what is not being said.

Numerous students said they were afraid to identify themselves and their views, fearing reprisal. Students said they've avoided the topic because they didn't know much of the history and didn't want to cause offense. Several said they see little discussion on campus and in their classes on the war.

"People are avoiding it. Professors are only mentioning it in passing," said Lilly Barber, 18, a Stony Brook freshman psychology major. "Some people don't want to start anything."

More than a dozen SUNY campuses have held protests, vigils and similar gatherings since the war began, though few incidents of antisemitism or Islamophobia have been reported, SUNY officials said.

SUNY Chancellor John King issued a statement directly after the Hamas attack, condemning it, and sent a recent message to campus presidents.

"I want to reiterate there is no place at SUNY for hatred, for antisemitism, for bias of any kind, or for actions that jeopardize the safety of campus community members," King said.

Aden Kosoi, 18, is a Hofstra freshman accounting major who lives on campus. He said he has not heard of any instances of violence or harassment against Jewish students, though when he posted a pro-Israel message on social media, someone messaged him back calling him a white supremacist. 

"My economics teacher talked about [the war] a little and kept it neutral. No one chimed in," said Kosoi, who noted that he recently placed a mezuzah — a holy object that contains Hebrew verses — on his dorm room door for spiritual protection.

Aajmayeen Haque is the treasurer of the Muslim Student Association at Hofstra. He said he is friendly with Jewish leaders on campus. He also said he has heard of no violence or harassment toward Muslim students, and that he feels safe on campus.

Haque said his support for the Palestinians in Gaza is not based on antisemitism.

College teachers, for their part, said they are struggling to teach about the topic.

"When I asked students what's going on, I see an unwillingness to engage about it," Hofstra political science Professor Richard Himelfarb said. "Students know this is fraught with emotion, and they're unwilling for the most part to say anything for fear that they will be attacked."

Nationally, Jewish leaders have criticized the pro-Palestinian rallies as being antisemitic, while Muslim leaders say their rallies have been expressions of free speech. Leaders on both sides have condemned the violence to civilians.

Long Island college officials said they are trying to keep the temperature low on the issue, but some attempts at evenhanded statements have been met by criticism. When Hofstra President Susan Poser issued statements mourning the loss of life in Israel and Gaza, and announcing a peace vigil on campus, Himelfarb responded with a letter criticizing her. 

"Anyone reading them and not knowing better would likely conclude that both sides of the conflict are equally culpable, an assertion that is nonsensical and, to me, offensive," Himelfarb wrote. 

During Thursday's pro-Palestinian march at Stony Brook, students chanted that they felt university President Maurie McInnis was biased in favor of Israel.

Stony Brook administrators said in a statement, "Stony Brook emphatically supports the right of all members of our campus community to express their opinions peacefully and safely."

McInnis, in a separate statement, said: "Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and a general tendency to demonize those with whom we disagree all pose a threat to our core values of learning, respect, and dialogue. … Additionally, it is wrong to hold Jewish members of our community responsible for the actions of the State of Israel. It is equally wrong to equate Muslims with terrorism, or to characterize all opposition to Israeli policies as antisemitic."

Stony Brook's security chief, Lawrence Zacarese, said there have been no reported instances of violence or harassment on campus, and that groups holding the rallies have worked with campus police to ensure student safety.

"We've had demonstrations. We've had rallies, but nothing like other campuses where it devolved into violence and harassment," Zacarese said.

Stony Brook Hillel, a Jewish campus life group, hosted a "community support space" and a campus vigil on Oct. 11, school officials said.

Hofstra officials said they've received five reports of antisemitism by faculty and students since the beginning of the 2022 fall semester. The college has increased student counseling services for those who need mental health support, officials said.

Hofstra barred a reporter from a faculty forum Tuesday on human rights in Israel and Palestine, with college officials saying the event was only for the campus community.

Island colleges that largely cater to commuter students say they've seen little to nothing in the way of rallies or other student activities regarding the war. At SUNY Old Westbury, Molloy University and Suffolk and Nassau community colleges, which are mostly attended by commuters, officials report no rallies and no incidents of antisemitism or Islamophobia.

The situation is more muted at those campuses, since those students often have family and job obligations that limit their engagement, college officials said.

At Molloy, student groups for Hillel and the Muslim Student Association have put out tables in the public square building to raise money and share information, said Janine Biscari, vice president for student affairs.

Farmingdale State College President John Nader said he understands why some students may be quiet on the war, whether concerned about retaliation or that making their stance public could come back to harm them when applying for a job.

Nader said he has decided not to issue any statement on behalf of the college.

"I don't see any benefits, and there is a potential downside," Nader said. "It's a very tough needle to thread."

He said he understands students and faculty having difficulty airing out the topic but hopes they do.

"Classrooms are one of the best places to discuss sensitive topics in thoughtful ways," he said.

The presence of the Israel-Hamas war is being felt on Long Island college campuses — with rallies, peace vigils and some fundraising by students — but unlike at some colleges elsewhere, much of the tension remains under the surface, students and faculty say.

Stony Brook University has seen three pro-Palestinian rallies and a peace vigil, Hofstra had a peace vigil and faculty forum, and Jewish and Muslim students placed fundraising tables at Molloy University.

A pro-Palestinian rally at Stony Brook on Thursday drew about 150 students, who marched without incident for about 45 minutes around the campus, chanting and toting signs.

A lone counterprotester, campus worker Joe Cesaria, carried a sign and stood silently near the protesters outside the student activities center.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The presence of the Israel-Hamas war is being felt on Long Island college campuses, but unlike some colleges elsewhere, much of the tension remains under the surface, say students and faculty.
  • Students and faculty say they are struggling with how to discuss the war, with some saying they fear reprisals.
  • The situation is more muted at Island colleges that have high percentage of commuter students. Historically, they often have family and job obligations that keep them from engaging in some campus activities, college officials said.

Cesaria said of the marchers, "I think they're misinformed. Hamas is doing the injustice."

Strong and opposing positions have roiled numerous campuses across the country following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. More than 1,200 people in Israel died, most of them in the Hamas attack, and about 240 hostages were taken from Israel into Gaza by Palestinian militants. Israel's retaliation and airstrikes have resulted in thousands of Palestinian deaths in Gaza.

Some campuses have seen violence and intimidation. A Cornell University student is accused of posting online threats against Jewish students. An Arab Muslim student at Stanford was hit by a car and the case is being investigated as a hate crime.

Columbia University on Friday suspended two pro-Palestinian student organizations — Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace — that have led protests calling for a cease-fire in the war. The two groups repeatedly violated university policies related to holding campus events, including an unauthorized event Thursday that had threatening rhetoric and intimidation, officials said. 

'People are avoiding it'

Much of the tension on Island campuses comes in what is not being said.

Numerous students said they were afraid to identify themselves and their views, fearing reprisal. Students said they've avoided the topic because they didn't know much of the history and didn't want to cause offense. Several said they see little discussion on campus and in their classes on the war.

"People are avoiding it. Professors are only mentioning it in passing," said Lilly Barber, 18, a Stony Brook freshman psychology major. "Some people don't want to start anything."

More than a dozen SUNY campuses have held protests, vigils and similar gatherings since the war began, though few incidents of antisemitism or Islamophobia have been reported, SUNY officials said.

SUNY Chancellor John King issued a statement directly after the Hamas attack, condemning it, and sent a recent message to campus presidents.

"I want to reiterate there is no place at SUNY for hatred, for antisemitism, for bias of any kind, or for actions that jeopardize the safety of campus community members," King said.

Hofstra freshman Aden Kosoi, left, with Rabbi Shmuel Lieberman of Chabad at...

Hofstra freshman Aden Kosoi, left, with Rabbi Shmuel Lieberman of Chabad at Hofstra.  Credit: Aden Kosoi

Aden Kosoi, 18, is a Hofstra freshman accounting major who lives on campus. He said he has not heard of any instances of violence or harassment against Jewish students, though when he posted a pro-Israel message on social media, someone messaged him back calling him a white supremacist. 

"My economics teacher talked about [the war] a little and kept it neutral. No one chimed in," said Kosoi, who noted that he recently placed a mezuzah — a holy object that contains Hebrew verses — on his dorm room door for spiritual protection.

Hofstra University student Aajmayeen Haque is the treasurer of the university's...

Hofstra University student Aajmayeen Haque is the treasurer of the university's Muslim Student Association. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Aajmayeen Haque is the treasurer of the Muslim Student Association at Hofstra. He said he is friendly with Jewish leaders on campus. He also said he has heard of no violence or harassment toward Muslim students, and that he feels safe on campus.

Haque said his support for the Palestinians in Gaza is not based on antisemitism.

College teachers, for their part, said they are struggling to teach about the topic.

"When I asked students what's going on, I see an unwillingness to engage about it," Hofstra political science Professor Richard Himelfarb said. "Students know this is fraught with emotion, and they're unwilling for the most part to say anything for fear that they will be attacked."

Nationally, Jewish leaders have criticized the pro-Palestinian rallies as being antisemitic, while Muslim leaders say their rallies have been expressions of free speech. Leaders on both sides have condemned the violence to civilians.

"When I asked students what's going on, I see an...

"When I asked students what's going on, I see an unwillingness to engage about it," said Hofstra political science Professor Richard Himelfarb.

Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Long Island college officials said they are trying to keep the temperature low on the issue, but some attempts at evenhanded statements have been met by criticism. When Hofstra President Susan Poser issued statements mourning the loss of life in Israel and Gaza, and announcing a peace vigil on campus, Himelfarb responded with a letter criticizing her. 

"Anyone reading them and not knowing better would likely conclude that both sides of the conflict are equally culpable, an assertion that is nonsensical and, to me, offensive," Himelfarb wrote. 

During Thursday's pro-Palestinian march at Stony Brook, students chanted that they felt university President Maurie McInnis was biased in favor of Israel.

Stony Brook administrators said in a statement, "Stony Brook emphatically supports the right of all members of our campus community to express their opinions peacefully and safely."

McInnis, in a separate statement, said: "Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and a general tendency to demonize those with whom we disagree all pose a threat to our core values of learning, respect, and dialogue. … Additionally, it is wrong to hold Jewish members of our community responsible for the actions of the State of Israel. It is equally wrong to equate Muslims with terrorism, or to characterize all opposition to Israeli policies as antisemitic."

Stony Brook's security chief, Lawrence Zacarese, said there have been no reported instances of violence or harassment on campus, and that groups holding the rallies have worked with campus police to ensure student safety.

"We've had demonstrations. We've had rallies, but nothing like other campuses where it devolved into violence and harassment," Zacarese said.

Stony Brook Hillel, a Jewish campus life group, hosted a "community support space" and a campus vigil on Oct. 11, school officials said.

Hofstra officials said they've received five reports of antisemitism by faculty and students since the beginning of the 2022 fall semester. The college has increased student counseling services for those who need mental health support, officials said.

Hofstra barred a reporter from a faculty forum Tuesday on human rights in Israel and Palestine, with college officials saying the event was only for the campus community.

Quieter at commuter schools

Island colleges that largely cater to commuter students say they've seen little to nothing in the way of rallies or other student activities regarding the war. At SUNY Old Westbury, Molloy University and Suffolk and Nassau community colleges, which are mostly attended by commuters, officials report no rallies and no incidents of antisemitism or Islamophobia.

The situation is more muted at those campuses, since those students often have family and job obligations that limit their engagement, college officials said.

At Molloy, student groups for Hillel and the Muslim Student Association have put out tables in the public square building to raise money and share information, said Janine Biscari, vice president for student affairs.

Farmingdale State College President John Nader said he understands why some students may be quiet on the war, whether concerned about retaliation or that making their stance public could come back to harm them when applying for a job.

Nader said he has decided not to issue any statement on behalf of the college.

"I don't see any benefits, and there is a potential downside," Nader said. "It's a very tough needle to thread."

He said he understands students and faculty having difficulty airing out the topic but hopes they do.

"Classrooms are one of the best places to discuss sensitive topics in thoughtful ways," he said.

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