On Wednesday, Oct. 25, second-year economics major Angelina Palumbo and other members of the Jewish Student Union at New Paltz posted fliers featuring faces of Israeli hostages. The posters were reportedly all ripped down within an hour. With intentions of featuring more Jewish voices and identities, the posters have raised concerns of severe political polarization on campus regarding the current conflict between Israel and Palestine.
In early October, direct conflict broke out between Israel and the militant Islamist political party Hamas, resulting in mass casualties in Israel and Gaza. The conflict has heightened political polarization, religious divides and the spread of mass misinformation throughout national sources and localized discussions.
As current Vice President of the Jewish Student Union at SUNY New Paltz, Palumbo found it important to display posters of Israeli hostages held captive by Hamas. Palumbo was motivated to put up the posters as she felt they would create a broader range of voices in the campus discourse of the conflict after feeling that there were only posters and events in support of Palestine.
Palumbo further stated how she wanted to “create as safe of a space” as she could by asserting the other side of the conflict. Around 60 posters were plastered around campus on boards that did not require the posters’ prior approval of the Student Association. But, by the time Palumbo had finished class, which lasted for roughly an hour, the posters had been ripped down. They were torn in a way that “the corners of the flier are still held up with tape and just the information and the person is ripped off,” according to Palumbo. This, to Palumbo, was taken personally.
In response to such negative responses to physical postings, Palumbo explained a shift to more Instagram-based activism. Explaining her logic that “Instagram can’t be ripped down,” being active and posting updates online has created a virtual space to share personal messages and concerns. While Instagram was a perceived forced adaptation, to Palumbo it has become the best mode of action in order to assert her position on an incredibly polarized and hate-filled discussion. Additionally, a bake sale of challah bread in order to raise funds for emergency services in Israel was held by the Jewish Student Union on Oct. 26. The sale was held in proximity to where some of the fliers once were posted and raised close to $200.
The tearing down of the posters has brought about a greater awareness of hatred and polarization both on campus and online. Palumbo asserted her concerns about the spread of rhetoric against Jewish students and the Jewish Student Union as a whole, with intentions of opening spaces for discussion instead of furthering perceived divides between students and organizations. Lily Diamond, student at SUNY New Paltz, explained that many students “have pretty strong opinions and don’t necessarily know enough about what’s going on to have those strong opinions and speak out about it and post things on social media that they really don’t know much about.”
A spokesperson for SUNY New Paltz has stated that the University does not condone the “intentional removal of fliers based on their content.” Since there was no formal complaint reported to the university, no action has been taken by the institution regarding the event.