Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

Princeton and the massacre in Palestine: the danger of selective empathy

City with buildings and rubble, with smoke rising.
“Damage in Gaza Strip during the October 2023” by Naaman Omar, apaimages / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Israel “better rid itself of the territories and their Arab populations as soon as possible.” If it does not, Israel will “soon become an Apartheid State.” These are the words that journalist Hirsh Goodman recalled in 2009 from a radio speech from the founding father and first prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, after the Six-Day War in 1967. Thirty-five years later, Israel’s former attorney general Michael Ben-Yair described Israel as an “apartheid regime,” a sentiment echoed by the former education minister in 2007, the former environment minister in 2008, the UN, Amnesty International, and a myriad of independent human rights organizations. Yet, many Princeton administrators and students continue to “stand with Israel.”

The Princeton community continues to mirror the international community’s complicity in only selectively upholding human rights, which has resulted in countless lives lost and contributed to Israel’s ever-growing brazenness in their oppression of Palestinians. This hypocrisy has been occurring for decades and is now being pushed to an egregious extent as the Israel Defense Force murders thousands of Palestinians while many Princetonians refuse to admit that a grave injustice is unfolding before them.


Recent campus discourse such as a recent guest contribution in The Daily Princetonian, a statement from the Whig-Clio Party Chairs, and the pledge circulated on Residential College listservs by a computer science student demonstrates this complacency well by focusing solely on condemning Hamas. These statements exemplify selective empathy through proud claims that “under no circumstances should we rationalize and justify the depraved killings of innocent civilians in broad daylight” when talking about Hamas while failing to mention Israel’s blatant violation of international law in blockading and massacring thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. I urge the wider campus community to acknowledge the Israeli government’s extermination of Palestinians as a reprehensible violation of human rights and hold the administration accountable for failing to do so. Selectively condemning the crimes against Israeli citizens degrades the innocent Palestinian lives being lost by implying that their rights are not worth defending.

The sacred human rights that President Christopher Eisgruber rightfully mourned at the onset of the war in Ukraine do not seem to apply to Palestine, as his recent statement denounces Hamas’s actions but fails to condemn Israel’s as well. This suggests that there are either no human rights violations being perpetrated by the Israeli government — an assertion that UN experts and Amnesty International demonstrate to be false — or that Eisgruber does not see Palestinians as having rights worth defending, let alone acknowledging. I implore the rest of the campus community to not make the same mistake, as this failure to acknowledge the Israeli government’s genocide in Palestine contributes to the ongoing dehumanization of Palestinians as “collateral damage” and “human shields.”

Blatant disregard for Palestinians is also made clear by the dehumanizing rhetoric of the Israeli government. On Oct. 16, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed, “This is a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness.” In their efforts to combat “darkness,” the “children of light” have dropped thousands of bombs on the densely populated Gaza Strip, murdering thousands of Palestinians. On Oct. 9, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant stated that “[w]e are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly” during his announcement of the siege which cut off supplies indiscriminately to all 2.2 million residents of the Gaza Strip, of which 47 percent are children. When framed as a conflict between good and evil, it gives the impression that the good can do no wrong and the evil deserve no mercy, but the wrongdoing is clear; overwhelmingly, the people being treated without mercy are the Palestinians. 

The label of “evil” is extended not just to Palestinians, but to Arabs, Muslims, and Black and brown individuals around the world, creating an atmosphere of fear around attempts to acknowledge the suffering of Palestinians. Rallies, protests, and vigils on behalf of the Palestinian people are framed as “sympathizing with terrorist organizations,” feeding into stereotypes against Muslims and brown people. This climate of demonization of Muslims and Arabs has been deadly: in recent weeks, Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy, was stabbed to death in Illinois by his landlord who also attacked his mother, yelling “you Muslims must die.”

The malicious rhetoric being espoused has real effects on the people around you — the “Princeton bubble” does not shield us from the situation in Gaza. Many of the Muslims and Arabs you see around you on campus feel less safe in public. Levels of precaution have become reminiscent of the months following the Sept. 11 attacks. Our friends and neighbors look to us specifically to condemn Hamas’ actions — actions that we would never condone to begin with. These requests for condemnation dehumanize Muslims and Arabs, forcing us to qualify our humanity or be shunned by society. 

This past Wednesday, a truck sponsored by Alums For Campus Fairness was spotted on Nassau Street calling out Dean Amaney Jamal, a Palestinian-American Muslim woman and the Dean of the School of Public and International Affairs. Written on the truck was, “WHY WON’T DEAN JAMAL CONDEMN TERRORISM?” In fact, Dean Jamal had already issued a statement condemning Hamas on Oct. 12, six days before the truck was spotted near campus. Though the group privately issued an apology later, the lack of effort to determine Dean Jamal’s actual stance suggests that such fear-mongering tactics are not engaging in any meaningful protest, rather, they push forward a hateful narrative against Arabs and Muslims.


Hateful rhetoric and misinformation surrounding the conflict have also incited fear within the Jewish community in recent weeks. Any action that spews similar falsehoods about the Jewish community is equally worthy of condemnation. Some Jewish organizations in the U.S. have organized protests in support of the Palestinians, including a large demonstration on Capitol Hill this past Wednesday, a hopeful symbol as this should not be painted as a conflict between Muslims and Jews. 

I encourage everyone reading to sign the open letter drafted by Princeton professors calling on Eisgruber and the wider Princeton community to bring an end to the targeting of civilians by all parties and provide the much-needed support they have failed to provide for Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims but have already offered to Israeli and Jewish members of our community. My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones, and I pray that we see an era of peace in the Levant during our lifetime.

Sameer Riaz is a senior from Long Island, NY. He is concentrating in Mechanical Engineering with a certificate in Urban Studies. He can be reached at

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »