Two student groups at Manhattan’s Hunter College are calling for the dismissal of Israeli-American artist Tamy Ben-Tor, a visiting adjunct professor at the school’s MFA Program in Studio Art, after she posted a video performance on her Instagram that activists say mocks Palestinian people and their supporters. The four-minute video shows Ben-Tor wearing a mask and speaking as a Western supporter of Hamas.
Ben-Tor posted the clip on October 19 to the Instagram account she runs with fellow Israeli artist and collaborator Miki Carmi. In the video, the artist delivers a sarcastic monologue while wearing a mask that many on social criticized as a “racist caricature” of Arabs or Palestinians. Some critics used the term “Arabface” in describing the artist’s performance.
“Dear Hamas freedom fighters, I’d like to start by acknowledging that I just had a cappuccino on the land of the Lenape people,” Ben-Tor starts. “I’m still on the fence about the massacre of the babies,” she says later in the video, an apparent reference to the widespread but unproven claim that Hamas beheaded 40 infants. “On the one hand, they were colonizing babies, they were Zionist babies,” the artist continues. In another part of the video, she says, “I wish there were some Lenape around that I could give a cake to … but there are no Lenape left for me to speak to unfortunately.”
On October 22, two student groups — Palestine Solidarity Alliance (PSA) of Hunter College and CUNY for Palestine — shared an edited version of the video to which they added written and visual context detailing the climbing death toll in Gaza. Israeli airstrikes have killed over 5,000 Palestinian people in Gaza since the October 7 Hamas attack that killed 1,400 Israeli people; Israel’s siege on Gaza has left the region’s 2.3 million residents without clean water and electricity and 1.4 million people without homes.
PSA for Hunter and CUNY for Palestine say that Ben-Tor’s performance “mocks Palestinians and students supporting Palestine” and further adds to “the onslaught of anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic violence around the United States and especially within New York City.”
The student groups called for Hunter to immediately terminate Ben-Tor’s employment and published an email template that supporters can send to the school’s leadership directly.
“‘Art’ or ‘satire’ does not exist in a non-political vacuum and has been weaponized throughout the centuries to dehumanize marginalized people and to popularize oppressive and bigoted rhetoric,” the email template reads.
In response to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, Ben-Tor said that the mask “does not depict an Arab” and that the work “aims to depict the Western academics who side with Hamas, pointing it to their own racism of not distinguishing Palestinian civilians from Hamas organization.” She also blamed the backlash on the student groups’ edited version of her original clip.
Ben-Tor emailed an apology to leadership and students in Hunter’s MFA Program in Studio Art but has not removed the video from her Instagram page. Hunter College and the City University of New York (CUNY) have not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s requests for comment.