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Students weigh impact of national focus on campus activism surrounding Israel and Palestine

A number of people hold up signs reading "Free Palestine Ceasefire Now" and "Ceasefire Now" holding Palestinian flags. A person holding an Israeli flag is visible in the background.
Students protest outside Nassau Hall.
Ammaar Alam / The Daily Princetonian

This November, a student involved with the University’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America woke up to an email from CNN. The email was from Rachel Bucchino, an associate editorial producer at the network, who works with Abby Philips, host of the popular show, NewsNight. In the email, Bucchino explains that CNN was looking to produce a segment that “includes two undergraduate college students — one who is pro-Palestine and one who is pro-Israel, to have a conversation about the war and what it’s like on college campuses right now.” 

The student, who has been granted anonymity, declined the offer. The national media has taken an outsized interest, following the Oct. 7 attack in Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza, in the debate on college campuses. Separate from coverage of the war, much of the coverage of colleges has focused on protests and controversial chants shouted at select elite colleges or university politics as administrators clash with donors. While some students have highlighted the positive effect of a focus on antisemitism on campus, other students have highlighted safety concerns and the detachment of these stories from the specifics of the war itself.


CNN did not respond to requests for comment from the ‘Prince.’

Coverage has continued since the first statements were released by student groups following the attack, coming to a head following the Dec. 5 Congressional hearings on antisemitism at American colleges. In the wake of the chaotic hearings, the leading stories at some of the biggest papers in the country focused on analyzing the goings on at these institutions, including the “chaotic struggle for power” at the University of Pennsylvania and a deep-dive into the debate on academic freedom at Harvard in The New York Times.

 At Princeton, while student demonstrations have been calm relative to those at peer institutions, media interest has not been completely absent. The first student walkout in support of Palestine, for instance, was picked up by The Daily Wire, which reported on it in an article with the headline, “Princeton Students Chant Call for Murdering Jews.”

Following the article and a subsequent walkout a few weeks later, representatives from institutions with national reach, including the Heritage Foundation and National Review, also tweeted videos of students chanting “long live the intifada” or “globalize the intifada,” which some have interpreted as a call for violence against Jewish people.

In addition to CNN, reporters from the Wall Street Journal have reached out to individual students with interview requests. 

One of them was Emanuelle Sippy ’25, the President of the Alliance of Jewish Progressives (AJP). Reflecting on CNN’s coverage of the conflict, Sippy told the ‘Prince’, “If you turned on CNN right now, you would think that the worst thing that was happening in the world right now was on the American college campus.”


The interest leading media outlets have taken in campus affairs has undoubtedly had a significant impact on public discourse. For Sippy, this effect has been detractive.

“Making this about what’s happening on college campuses represents a refusal to look in the eye what’s happening in Gaza, in the West Bank,” she said.

Aditi Rao GS, a graduate student in the Classics department who was one of the organizers of the first walkout, expressed frustration with the attention. “The front page of The New York Times is just ‘What’s happening at Yale? What’s happening at Princeton?’ and, to be quite honest, it really doesn’t matter,” she said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “Any student response is responding to a very real situation that requires our eyes and our constant attention. And so I find coverage on campuses to be a distraction.” 

However, Alexandra Orbuch ’25, who serves as the editor-in-chief of the Princeton Tory, the right-leaning campus publication, noted that broader media attention can have a positive impact, drawing attention in particular to chants extolling the intifada, which she says are “a call for violence.”

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“As far as campus coverage goes, though, I have been heartened to see that a lot of news organizations have been covering antisemitism on campus,” she told the ‘Prince.’

In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Miriam Elawady ’26, co-president of the Arab Society, argued that the national focus was based on misinterpreting chants, saying, “There’s been a lot of twisting of what pro-Palestine groups want on campuses, including our campus. I think a lot of campuses have been accused of calling for violence or being pro-Hamas, or calling for the deaths of other people. And I think that’s entirely untrue.”

A debate about recording protests

Off-campus attention has driven interest in sharing videos of  student protests on social media, which some see as raising concern surrounding student safety. Many protestors now wear face coverings at demonstrations in the wake of so-called “doxxing trucks” that have appeared, emblazoned with information related to students affiliated with groups in support of Palestine at Harvard, Columbia, and Yale. However, those on the right have criticized these students, accusing them of using anonymity to avoid accountability and conceal ignorance, including in an email on the University listservs.

Orbuch herself became the subject of fervent social media attention following the second pro-Palestine walkout. She posted a series of videos of herself recording some of the student chants, but being met with protesters who would obstruct her camera with a Palestinian flag or posters. Another video shows her altercation with one protester in particular, who Orbuch wrote in the accompanying tweet, “pushed me and stepped on my foot. Free speech is one thing. Assault is another.”

The tweet received 1.3 million views and was picked up and posted by a variety of activist accounts, including @IsraelWarRoom which has 277 thousand followers and tweeted the video alongside a caption that names the protester in the altercation.

The incident prompted a response from the @princeton4palestine instagram account, which posted a multi-slide statement.

“If you watch the video she herself uploaded, the claim [accusing the student of ‘stalking,’ ‘harassment,’ and ‘assault’] is baseless. As another video makes clear and many witnesses (including University officials) can confirm, he didn’t say a single word to her and kept a respectful distance,” read the statement.

Orbuch spoke about her motivations to film the protest.

“I want to make sure that information gets out there and people are aware of what’s going on college campuses,” she said.

Sippy told the ‘Prince’ that in her experience, students publicly demonstrating in support of Palestine are concerned about being publicly named, which she said can have “psychological, physical and emotional effects.”

“And of course, it affects people’s job prospects, and again, especially for people who are low income or trying to work in certain fields,” she said. Some students affiliated with pro-Palestine organizations at Harvard and Columbia have had job offers rescinded

While the ‘Prince’ could not confirm that the private information of students has been disseminated widely, an Instagram account with roughly 15 thousand followers recently posted a picture of a Princeton junior with the words “Princeton Hamas Apologist.” 

A longtime focus on Princeton

Even though Princeton students have not been politically active compared to activists at other institutions during the conflict, the Princeton name ensures national interest in anything that does occur.

“No matter what happens on this campus, we are always going to be Princeton University. Correctly or not, that name is going to make a lot of things that happen here seem to matter more in the national eye,”  said Center for Jewish Life (CJL) Student President Julie Levey ’24 in an interview with the ‘Prince.’

On the topic of the effect of national coverage, Rabbi Gil Steinlauf ’91 added, “College campuses — and Princeton is no exception — are under a microscope right now for people all over the world, watching us wanting to hear how we’re going to react to everything. What a college campus is supposed to be is young people just figuring out what they think and what they feel and how they know what they stand for in life. And the way you figure it out is you take a stand and you see what happens — and you get backlash, or you get support. And that’s how you learn.”

When asked about the influence of national coverage, Steinlauf shared, “Students will also write op-eds and articles that appear in national news media outlets, so it goes both ways. Students are also interested in having the discourse on campus deliberately appear on the national media.”

He said that although he understands why national outlets cover campus conversation, publicizing students’ positions on contentious issues can inhibit learning. “[Princeton] is a natural environment for these ideas to play out in our society because college campuses are our repositories of higher learning and discourse. And at the same time, I want there to be room for students to learn and grow here as well, without getting hemmed in by ideas that get broadcast all over the world,” he said.

Different groups still have different debates about the venue of discussion. Rao told the ‘Prince’ that there is space for productive dialogue at Princeton, drawing a distinction between classroom discussions and protests.

“A protest is not the sort of [space] that fosters discussion, and it’s not meant to be. A protest is meant to be there to demonstrate solidarity, to show others how large support is in numbers, to disrupt, to bring attention,” Rao said 

“There’s space within the university that can be constructed to discuss what is in essence an intellectual issue,” Rao added. “If the courses are offered, I doubt that you will see under-enrollment.”

Rao noted Princeton’s reputation for political apathy, as well as its smaller size, as factors contributing to the tenor of campus protests. 

“We have to plan walkouts differently because like, it’s not the case that naturally 500 or 600 students will come out in support,” she said. 

The coverage of the protests, which has fallen primarily on a few students, has perhaps mirrored broader trends. At the same time, politically active students have highlighted campus discord and invited the coverage of national media.

“The funny thing writing about ‘campus culture’ is it’s an incredibly small minority of students who protest anything with any regularity; most people are trying to figure out the optimal balance of studying and drinking,” tweeted Cornell's Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow Jacob Anbinder, who was an undergraduate at Yale and a graduate student at Harvard. He continued, “When I was in college, there was definitely a distinct subset of people who protested stuff, and it’s easy to create a feedback loop where journalists go to campuses and see members of that group, who are very willing to give quotes, and then that group becomes ‘the student body.’”

Julian Hartman-Sigall is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’

Kyler Zhou is a News contributor for the ‘Prince.’

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