Students gathered on the Newing College field on Thursday afternoon for an Israel Unity Rally organized by the Say No! to BDS coalition, a group of student-led organizations advocating against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The rally, held so community members could stand in solidarity with the state of Israel and hostages held by Hamas, began with a few participants leading the group in prayer. It featured two special guests — Israeli activist Rudy Rochman and rapper Kosha Dillz. Following speeches from community leaders and gathered participants, the Orthodox Union-Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (OU-JLIC) hosted a barbecue.

The organizers, Saul Hakim, the president of the Binghamton University Zionist Organization (BUZO) and a junior double-majoring in political science and Judaic studies, and Mia Raskin, a first-year graduate student studying business administration, said the rally allowed students to express solidarity with Israel after the recent passage of the Student Association (SA) Congress resolution expressing the SA’s support for implementing principles of BDS on campus.

“At a time when news cycles often focus solely on the reactive measures of pro-Israel and Jewish groups, our rally aimed to shift the narrative toward proactive action,” they wrote. “By coming together, we not only demonstrated our collective commitment to Israel’s right to exist and prosper, but also revitalized our mission and inspired our community to move forward united.”

Some participants held signs calling for the release of the hostages and many waved Israeli and American flags. Kaskeset, the University’s only Jewish a capella group, sang at the rally’s conclusion, performing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem which translates to “The Hope,” and “Acheniu,” a song about Jewish unity.

Organizers said prayers for the state of Israel, its soldiers and the hostages. They were led by Michal Levine, the president-elect of Chabad and a junior majoring in Judaic studies, Sarina Shields, a senior majoring in business administration, and Ellie Menora, OU-JLIC’s director.

During the rally, several counterprotesters drove by, yelling “free Palestine” from the car windows.

Rochman, who has over 400,000 followers across his social media platforms, founded the Columbia University chapter of Students Supporting Israel and now serves on the board of the Israel Innovation Fund. He described his experience on Oct. 7 when he was sent to fight on the frontlines and emphasized the importance of combatting antisemitism on college campuses.

“Now besides the physical war, all of us here now experience an ideological war,” Rochman said. “And we need to understand what that ideological war is because although the [Israel Defense Forces (IDF)] is on the frontlines there, you guys are on the frontlines here.”

Zoe Brusso, the outgoing diversity and inclusion chair of Alpha Epsilon Phi and a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said she can both support Israel’s right to exist and the Palestinian people. She said that Zionism is about giving Jewish people the right to a homeland after centuries of persecution, not about being pro-war or pro-genocide.

The rally follows a decision from the SA’s Judicial Board, released Wednesday evening, striking down three of the BDS resolution’s clauses. Hakim and Raskin described the decision as a “reassuring affirmation of justice and fairness on our campus.”

“It underscores the importance of maintaining a campus environment free from discrimination and hatred,” they wrote. “This decision not only supports the rights of Israeli and Jewish students but also preserves the integrity of our academic institution as a place for open and respectful discourse.”

Also on Wednesday night, pro-Palestinian protesters established an encampment on the Peace Quad to advocate for divestment from Israel and express solidarity with Gaza. Hakim and Raskin shared the sense of urgency that the encampment provided for the rally — despite it being planned in advance — inspiring a larger turnout among their supporters.

This rally marks the latest activist organizing from established Jewish groups on campus. They have also held vigils and organized a solidarity trip to Israel in October.

“This past year, which has perhaps been the most difficult for Jewish students on college campuses in decades, has seen our work at [BU] channel the raw emotions of our community into productive, tangible impacts,” BUZO wrote. “Through vigils, memorials and displays, we provided a space for our community to express their sorrow and grief.”