Skip to content

COMMENTARY: Discussions about war should not mimic sports teams

Political discussions on campus surrounding the Israel-Hamas war foster a culture of polarizing view points and stunt open communication.  – Photo by Olivia Thiel

Over the past few months, I have noticed a disturbing trend in the campus discourse surrounding both the Israel-Hamas war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generally.

Instead of trying to learn from and appreciate a multitude of perspectives, many students have opted for what can only be described as a "sports team mentality."

Under this worldview, all students must be sorted into "supporting" either Israel or Palestine, and anyone who disagrees must be shunned.

University President Jonathan Holloway's recent town hall was a perfect demonstration of this. The town hall was meant to be a forum for student concerns to be heard and addressed. Instead, the sports team mentality took over.

According to media reports about the event, "Team Palestine" shouted over Holloway until he canceled the town hall, as "Team Israel" was surrounded and ushered out the emergency exit. What could have been an opportunity for students to connect and converse across ethnic and religious lines became a platform for division.

But this was not just a problem at the town hall. As Jewish, Muslim, Israeli and Palestinian students know too well, the campus has been a hostile environment since Oct. 7, 2023. Over the past month, the mood on campus has become even more angry and students have become uninterested in conversation.

This recent uptick was ignited by the Rutgers University Student Assembly's divestment referendum. The referendum was a performative display without the power to change the University's investments, which was needlessly rushed through by a suspension of the Assembly's rules.

Some faculty members warned that this referendum would do nothing but exacerbate the tensions on campus, but they were unfortunately ignored.

The Assembly's referendum was a gift to the sports team mentality. It forced every student who wanted to vote in student assembly elections to adopt a "yes-or-no" opinion on the war and left no room for any sort of nuance.

For the students lucky enough to not be personally impacted by the conflict, the referendum required adopting an uncomplicated, binary mode of thinking.

Anyone who walked on the College Avenue campus during the week of the referendum saw how this manifested. Tables were set up along the street by students invested in the issue.

Did they try to talk to their classmates, facilitate disagreements and work to reach a conclusion that respects all students' experiences? Of course not. They bought votes for their "team" with food and energy drinks.

The results of the referendum were exactly as predicted. Sports team politics won, and Jewish and Muslim students lost.

Jewish students report being harassed in person and online. One student stated they were personally targeted and followed to their dorm. These actions, among others, were clearly intended to silence Jewish students who support the existence of Israel.

Muslim students were attacked on Eid al-Fitr, one of the holiest days of the Muslim calendar, with the vandalism of the Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University. This hate crime, which included the theft of a Palestinian flag, was not just Islamophobic. It was meant to silence Muslim and Palestinian voices on campus.

Hateful behaviors like these are direct consequences of the sports team mentality. If you see Israel and Palestine as a game, it makes sense to try to win as much as possible. It makes sense to vilify the opposing team and destroy their merchandise. Ultimately, it makes sense to not view the other team as real people.

Unfortunately, the current war in the Middle East is not a sports game. It is the modern manifestation of a century-old conflict with deeply entrenched narratives on either side.

It is an international tragedy with immediate and personal consequences for many Rutgers students. It is a source of division that has been co-opted and aggravated by actors on campus who do not want the student body to communicate with one another.

Now that the referendum saga has finally concluded, we need to move toward having actual conversations with each other. We do not have to live in an environment of anger, hatred and isolation.

As students, we have the power to change the campus culture in a way that is better for everyone. Students who are not directly involved should reach out to all of those affected by this war and do their best to stabilize our grieving campus.

Those of us who are directly impacted must find a way to come together if only to ensure that the hate of this past month does not continue.

I hope that the last few weeks of this semester will give rise to a new Rutgers, one where Jews, Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians are all safe and respected. Our campus is not a sports stadium, and it does not have to be a battlefield.

Yosef Fruhman is a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

YOUR VOICE | The Daily Targum welcomes submissions from all readers. Guest columns and commentaries must be between 600 and 900 words. All authors must include their name, phone number, class year and college affiliation or department to be considered for publication. Please submit via email to by 4 p.m. to be considered for the following day's publication. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

Related Articles

Join our newsletterSubscribe