Cornell University’s top leaders are condemning an associate history professor’s statement at a rally that Hamas’s recent deadly attack on Israelis “exhilarated” him.
That comment from Russell Rickford has spawned multiple articles and social media condemnation, though a longer, but still incomplete, video of his remarks—uploaded Monday by the Cornell Daily Sun student newspaper—provides more context.
“Hamas has shifted the balance of power,” Rickford says. “Hamas has punctured the illusion of invincibility. That’s what they’ve done—you don’t have to be a Hamas supporter to recognize that.”
“And in those first few hours—even as horrific acts were being carried out, many of which we would not learn about until later—there are many Gazans of goodwill, many Palestinians of conscience, who abhor violence, as do you, as do I, who abhor the targeting of civilians, as do you, as do I, who were able to breathe!” he says. “They were able to breathe! For the first time in years! It was exhilarating, it was exhilarating, it was energizing! And if they weren’t exhilarated by this, this challenge to the monopoly of violence, by this shifting of the balance of power, then they would not be human. I was exhilarated!”
The two-minute video ends before Rickford finishes speaking. He didn’t return Inside Higher Ed’s request for comment late Tuesday.
The student newspaper reported that the pro-Palestinian rally was Sunday. In Tuesday’s joint statement, Martha E. Pollack, Cornell’s president, and Kraig H. Kayser, chair of its Board of Trustees, said they learned Monday of comments Rickford made “at an off-campus rally.”
“This is a reprehensible comment that demonstrates no regard whatsoever for humanity,” they wrote. “As we said in yesterday’s statement, endorsed by senior leadership of the Board of Trustees, any members of our community who have made such statements do not speak for Cornell; in fact, they speak in direct opposition to all we stand for at Cornell. The university is taking this incident seriously and is currently reviewing it consistent with our procedures.”
In Monday’s statement, signed by Pollack alone, the president wrote that Hamas’s attacks “shattered countless innocent lives, caused unimaginable pain and challenged our very understanding of humanity. The intentional targeting and killing of innocent civilians is the very definition of terrorism. I am sickened by statements glorifying the evilness of Hamas terrorism.”
Online petitions are calling for Rickford’s firing.