A Cornell history professor, known for his radical left-wing beliefs, called the Hamas attacks in Israel as "exciting" and "invigorating" during a pro-Palestine rally this week in the latest instance of anti-Semitic language within academic circles. The comments were made by Russell Rickford, an associate professor of history at the prestigious Ithaca, New York school.
His comments were later shared online by a student who called the comments "shameful." Rickford discussed the attacks in a geopolitical context, expressing that they had "shifted the balance of politics and punctured the illusion of invincibility" of Israel. He also said that these events gave Palestinians hope when he made his most provocative remarks.
His Hate for Israel
The video of Rickford's impassioned speech was also with the New York Post by two sources, who did not disclose the specific date and location of the rally but emphasized their shock and concern regarding the outspoken comments made by Rickford.
The professor mentioned that the coordinated attack on October 7 involved militants breaking through concrete walls and using paragliders to enter Israel, where they indiscriminately targeted civilians.
"It was exhilarating. It was exhilarating, it was energizing. And if they weren't exhilarated by this challenge to the monopoly of violence, the shifting of the violence of power, then they would not be human. I was exhilarated," he told the crowd.
The professor delivered his speech during a pro-Palestine protest held in support of Palestine following the attacks that resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 people in Israel.
Rickford's comments were met with approval and applause from the crowd at the protest rally.
"That's what they've done. You don't have to be a Hamas supporter to recognize it," he said.
Following the brutal massacre, Rickford claimed that several Palestinians, born into a context of violence and oppression, felt a sense of relief and were "able to breathe for the first time in years" in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Cheered by the Crowd
The crowd responded by chanting, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," a well-known rallying cry among pro-Palestinian advocates, signaling a desire for the elimination of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state. The phrase is considered antisemitic by the American Jewish Committee.
Rickford has not posted on Twitter since June, and both he and Cornell University have not provided any responses to requests for comment regarding the incident.
In the past, Rickford was part of an effort aimed at reforming police forces on Ivy League campuses in response to the George Floyd protests in 2020.
He was against Ithaca's efforts to consider an ambitious plan to overhaul its police force, feeling it didn't go far enough in its proposed transformation.
The proposal aimed to replace the 63-officer Ithaca Police Department with a novel Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety. This new department would encompass both armed officers and unarmed "community solution officers" tasked with handling nonviolent incidents such as minor thefts.
However, some social justice activists saw this as a watered-down version of what they advocate for, which they term as "defunding the police."
Rickford, who specializes in the study of the Black radical tradition, expressed skepticism regarding the plan, aligning with the doubts of members from the Tompkins County Antiracist Coalition.
The professor's provocative speech comes after a Cornell University diversity and inclusion director who referred to the Hamas attack as an act of "resistance" was criticized.
"F–k your fake outrage at Palestine when you've literally been silent about the violence perpetrated by Israel against Palestine every day," Derron Borders, of the Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management, wrote on Instagram the day of the attack.
Borders later denounced the violence, claiming that it was comparable to what was described as Israel's "state-sanctioned violence" against the Palestinian population.
Harvard University gained attention recently after more than 30 student organizations endorsed a letter, circulated by Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups, placing full responsibility for the terror attack on Israel.
Harvard's president supported the students' right to free speech. However, some groups attempted to retract their support after facing potential blacklisting from Wall Street due to pressure from business figures.
A nonprofit news watchdog group, Accuracy in Media, used a billboard truck to publicize the identities of the students who allegedly signed the letter, branding them as "Harvard's Leading Antisemites."