Israel-Palestine war: 'Dear Hamas' parody video from college professor draws outrage
Students at the City University of New York (CUNY) are demanding the immediate termination of an adjunct faculty professor after she produced a parody video they say belittles and mocks Palestinians at a moment when tens of thousands of Gaza residents face annihilation at the hands of relentless Israeli aerial bombardment.
In their letter to the university, students with CUNY for Palestine, said the offensive video was not just racist, but that it had left Palestinian, Muslim and other Indigenous students feeling unsafe and unwelcome at a university that they say has been conspicuously silent about Israel's brutality in Gaza over the past 17 days.
As of Monday morning, more than 5,000 Palestinians have been killed, of which 2,000 have been children. At least 1,400 Israelis were killed during Hamas' attack on Israel on 7 October.
An estimated 15,273 Palestinians have been wounded in Israel's assault, with an additional 1,500 others, including 830 children, still unaccounted for, presumably trapped under rubble.
In the untitled video set to a relaxing piano score, Professor Tamy Ben-Tor, an Israeli performance artist and adjunct professor at Hunter College's MFA programme in CUNY, dresses up as what appears to be a brown, bearded academic mockingly showering praise on Hamas for their attacks on Israel.
"Dear Hamas, freedom fighters, hello. I'd like to start off by acknowledging I just had a cappuccino on the land of the Lenape people," Ben-Tor says, referring to the Native American group who lived on the northeastern coast of the US before European settlers arrived.
"I'd like to utter support for your freedom fight... I am still on the fence about the massacre of the babies," Ben-Tor continues.
"You are aware of the slaughter of innocent animals," the artist adds as she pretends to cry. "I am sorry. Cows can feel. You are a freedom fighter, we are freedom fighters. I am sure you will support our LGBTQ library with the women's rights movement," the artist added.
A Palestinian student at CUNY, speaking on condition of anonymity due to fears of reprisals, told Middle East Eye that Ben-Tor's entire effort - from the mask to the make-up - is designed to vilify and discredit support for Palestinian resistance as detached from reality.
"The whole video uses racism in the name of art. She fully disrespects the Gazan kids murdered. It dehumanises Palestinians as a whole, mocks them in every way both physically and through words," the student said.
'The video was my emotional response to the odd affiliation of several intellectuals in our society, with a patriarchy of terrorists who wish to destroy everything we all stand for'
- Tamy Ben-Tor
"She says Hamas killed 'innocent babies' and raped the 'innocent women' referencing Palestinians who she believes stand by Hamas' doings. But as we all know, these doings have been rebutted by many fact-checkers that state Hamas has never beheaded babies nor raped women," the student added.
A professor at CUNY, also speaking to MEE on condition of anonymity, said the fact that an artist can casually put out a hateful and racist video like this shows how deep the dehumanisation of Palestinians and Indigenous peoples runs in Israeli society.
"From the hideous figure itself to the sheer glee with which it spews its vile racism, places this video within the genre of psychological horror. It is an open celebration of genocide," the professor said.
According to CUNY for Palestine's letter, the university's failure to speak plainly about Israel's bombardment of Gaza has "cultivated an environment where Zionists, like Tamy Ben-Tor, feel comfortable posting videos that contribute to the onslaught of anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and Islamophobic violence around the United States and especially within New York City".
The letter adds that the issue is not limited to Ben-Tor alone. They say there have been concerns about other professors at Hunter College who express support for Israel's occupation "without acknowledging the tragic loss of 1,873 [now more than 2,000] Palestinian children".
"'Art' or 'satire' does not exist in a non-political vacuum and has been weaponized throughout the centuries to dehumanise marginalised people and to popularise oppressive and bigoted rhetoric."
The student from CUNY added that they expect the university to use "freedom of expression" as a means to defend the professor but say that's just an extension of double standards at both the university and American academia in general.
"Even a simple thing as pro-Israel flyers get to stay on university noticeboards but when Palestinians put up our own flyers, they are immediately removed. If we refuse, the 'safety officer' takes photos of our IDs and threatens us. And then they get to hide behind free speech when they attack us?"
A Hunter College spokesperson told MEE they were "aware of the post and it is under review.”
A question of art and satire
Following the publication of the video on 19 October on Ben-Tor's personal Instagram page, students say they have found other "outrageous" material from Ben-Tor.
In one exhibit, Ben-Tor is seen donning a blonde wig and a Hitleresque moustache with a keffiyah around her neck.
In another performance art video, she is dressed up as "Dr. Hamman, Middle East expert and a human rights activist", whose character just casually spreads lies about Jews and denies the Holocaust.
"The Holocaust - what they call Shoah - is also photoshopped," Ben-Tor says, as the avatar Dr. Hammam to the camera, with a keffiyah hanging behind her.
"We are neither excited nor attracted by war. But the Jew craves war. He loves war and he needs war. This is why everything always happens to him," Ben-Tor adds.
Reacting to the criticism, Ben-Tor told MEE that 24 hours after the video was posted, she sent an apology to the university and student body.
In her letter, seen by MEE, Ben-Tor wrote that she "would like apologise to anyone who feels hurt or offended by this video".
"The video wasn't meant as a provocation. I am Israeli. However, I do not live in Israel, nor do I affiliate with its government's policies."
"The video was my emotional response to the odd affiliation of several intellectuals in our society, with a patriarchy of terrorists who wish to destroy everything we all stand for," Ben-Tor wrote.
Ben-Tor's video comes as several Israelis post videos on social media, in particular TikTok, where they can be seen ridiculing and mocking Palestinians narrating their experiences and struggles in Gaza.
Ben-Tor said that the outrage directed at her was driven by an edited version of the video which includes photos of the death and destruction in Gaza when her intention was to comment on the response to the attack on Israel.
"The video depicts a western academic who is too ignorant to know that Hamas is also against her," Ben-Tor said.
The 48-year-old from Jerusalem is an award-winning artist who describes her consciousness "as a sponge absorbing all of contemporary filth".
"The artistic process for me, in the form of a performance, is to solidify this sponge into a hard stamp tool and press it back onto the audience's consciousness for the duration of the performance," her bio on CUNY, reads.
"At the end, I hope they come out of it stained, impressed, as I am, by the ailments of this time which we live in."
Students said that her work wasn't merely reactionary; it encapsulated Zionist talking points and anti-Arab tropes.
Within the several hundred comments criticising her video on Instagram, Ben-Tor could be seen 'liking' comments saying things like "Do Arab countries even think freely?" and "Exposes the justifying of the biggest massacre of Jews after [the] holocaust", the students noted.
"We want to make it clear that we will not remain silent if accountability is not upheld, and we expect the college to adhere to its policies to protect its students," the student at CUNY added.