14 May 2024

Students at 120 American universities have organised protests against Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza and its unceasing repression in the Occupied West Bank. Opposition has come from the university administrations, rich alumni and other benefactors, politicians, law enforcement agencies and pro-Israel organisations. The students are nevertheless resisting in pursuit of their demands for a ceasefire, divestment and justice, as Richard Silverstein describes in this article from Tikun Olam.

The Campus as Nexus of Resistance

Violent pro-Israel backlash against student protesters seeks to discredit them

An unsavory alliance of US university administratorslaw enforcementMAGA Republicanspro-Israel billionaires and the Israel Lobby has collaborated to destroy the US national student movement protesting Israel’s Gaza War.

ImageEncampments and protests have spread to 120 campuses nationwide. Over 2,300 students have been arrested. Hundreds have been suspended and even expelled for their activism.

The backlash is led by university presidents who summon police to their campuses where they know their students will be violently assaulted.  The administrators are also pressured by wealthy members of boards of trustees and MAGA Congress members who self-righteously denounce so-called anti-Semitism and recycle false claims that activists are criminals or even terrorists.  A Republican-led House committee summoned two Ivy League presidents and grilled them about so-called “anti-Semitism” on their campuses.

Jewish communal leaders of Israel Lobby groups like the ADL and Aipac echo the same charges.  Jonathan Greenblatt even smeared Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace “campus proxies for Hezbollah.”  Of course, neither has had any affiliation with the Lebanese militia; nor did he offer any proof.

The hostile Congressional questioning undermined their standing with their own boards and they were forced to resign.  The committee later summoned Columbia University’s president, demanding answers to similar questions. Her craven responses, including essentially firing a professor during her testimony, saved her job.

As a result, she has twice summoned police to her campus to clear Gaza encampments.  The second time, last week, led to the arrest of hundreds of students and police storming a university building in which students had barricaded themselves.  It was the same building anti-war students seized in 1968.

Now, no faculty may enter the campus. Nor may students living off-campus.  Police will be occupy campus for three weeks until after graduation.  The president has also cancelled commencement because a “security concerns.” Students say she was frightened of the cool reception her graduation address would receive.

At UCLA, pro-Israel protesters mounted a riot against pro-Palestine students, during which they threw fireworks, tear-gas, and a scooter into the encampment.  Men wielding clubs assaulted the students.  The violent thugs were not students but outsiders who came to campus prepared for their violent attack.  They included Persian-Americans shouting expletives. Someone waved a flag proclaiming their deceased Hasidic rabbi as the messiah.  They also set up a massive video projection system outside the tent encampment blasting footage and audio of the Hamas attack on 10/7.  Overwhelmed campus police abandoned the site and chaos ensued. None of attackers have been arrested.

The following day the governor sent in state police and LAPD. They too assaulted the camp and arrested hundreds of student protesters.  The campus thereafter became an armed camp patrolled and controlled by police.

Their mass violence and racist chants recall similar tactics of Israeli settlers. They rampage through West Bank villages under the protection of the IDF.  They kill livestock, burn homes and attack inhabitants.  They expel them from their homes. Entire villages have been emptied with over 1,000 ethnically cleansed.  All under the watchful gaze of the army and police.  Thousands of Palestinians from scores of communities have been expelled.

Joint US-Israel Police & Law Enforcement Training
Joint US-Israel “training” program

These are similar tactics US police departments learn from their Israeli counterparts when they tour the country in what the Jewish Voice for Peace calls the Deadly Exchange.  It’s no accident that campuses have been militarized—occupied by police acting at the behest of university administrators.

The pro-Israel group which mounted the UCLA pogrom set up a GoFundMe account which raised nearly $100,000 to pay expenses for their operation.  The sponsoring group was called “Bruins for Israel.” That is a university-sponsored group advocating for Israel on campus.  Among the donors were billionaire hedge fund manager, Bill Ackman.  He is a major donor to Harvard University who announced he would stop his giving in protest of the anti-Semitism on campus.  His Twitter tirades against the African-American Pres. Claudine Gay, led to her ouster.

Ackman made a large donation to the UCLA pro-Israel fund, as did the spouse of TV comedy star, Jerry Seinfeld.

Riot police and over 2,000 arrests: A look at 2 weeks of campus protests - Washington PostHe and an entire network of pro-Israel billionaires launched a coordinated campaign announcing their refusal to hire students who supported the campus protests. They also threatened to withhold future donations. They had collectively donated hundreds of millions to their alma maters.

The police riots on college campuses aim to smear the student protest movement by associating it with violence and chaos. That is what happened at UCLA Columbia and scores of other schools. The Columbia administration declared that students arrested after seizing the campus building will be expelled.  This is another attempt to turn non-violent students into law-breakers in the eyes of the public.

This mayhem is what administrators want. It justifies summoning police to their campuses. They know violence will result.  If they don’t, then they are fools and haven’t been watching the mass violence perpetrated on Black communities throughout the US for years.

It is also what the Israel Lobby wants. To discredit the protest movement by making it appear to be a violent mob; when the real violence is the genocide is perpetrated by Israel.

All this must not distract from the righteousness of the cause. If the student protest movement continues and enlarges, as it has so far, the US will have to acknowledge the justice of the cause.  It will focus the country’s gaze on Gaza and Israel’s genocide.

Pres. Biden, who remained silent during the weeks of protests on over 100 campuses, finally did speak last week.  His performance was insulting to students who spent weeks in their encampments and braved suspension, expulsion, arrest, and even physical assault. He accused them of instigating chaos, forcing cancellation of classes, and violent takeovers of campuses.

While the president affirmed the right to express dissent, he essentially discredited every aspect of the protests including student demands for divestment from Israeli companies and amnesty for all students disciplined for their involvement in the movement.

He continually invoked “anti-Semitism,” endorsing the false claims of opponents that the campaign espoused hatred of Israel and by extension hatred of Jews.  The two issues should never be conflated as they are not by students.  Their sole focus is on Gaza genocide and denouncing its perpetrators.

Biden also discredited the students claiming outside agitators were inciting such misbehavior; and that they prevented students were attending classes.  Rather, protesters have deliberately maintained a non-violent stance, even in the face of police and counter-demonstrator assaults.  They have never prevented anyone from accessing campus. In fact, the administration cancelled classes, in large part due to complaints from pro-Israel students who felt
“unsafe.”  The only outside agitators engaged in violence are the police who violently attacked students at UCLA, Columbia, University of Texas and in multiple other campuses.

One bright side is that students and administrators at Portland State University, University of Minnesota, and Brown University achieved a compromise that offered a path to discuss divestment, along with providing full scholarships to Palestinian students whose universities have been destroyed by Israel.  Evergreen State College and Ireland’s Trinity College agreed to divest.  As a result, the protests on all these campuses ended.

This gives the lie to the claim that the protesters are radical, terrorists, or criminals.  They are eager to find common ground with their universities as long as they meet them half-way.  Too many schools have escalated conflict by summoning police, expelling students, etc., sometimes deliberately so.

Heroic resistance to Gaza genocide and Nazi Holocaust

American Jews rally against Nazi genocide (AP)

Students are leading a global movement against genocide.  They are playing the same role Rabbi Stephen Wise played as the leader of American Jewish resistance against Nazi Germany.  Wise fought valiantly against US officials who sabotaged the rescue of Jews escaping the imminent Holocaust. He organized an international boycott of Germany which effectively, but temporarily suffocated the German economy.

He faced the same resistance and skepticism from American isolationists and xenophobes as the Gaza campaign faces today.  At the height of the Holocaust, there were still officials and journalists declaring that the “rumors” were exaggerated “war propaganda.”

The same phenomenon afflicts us today.  Presidents, secretaries of state, Jewish communal leaders deny the enormity of Gazan suffering.  Somehow, Hamas’ attack on Israel justifies mass murder.  Because they killed 1,100, Israel is justified in killing 30 times that.  They debunk and deny “rumors” of IDF atrocities.  Israel’s defenders even physically assault the activists as they did in the UCLA riot.

During the Holocaust there were brave heroes who stood up to the Nazis and made enormous risks to help Jews escape.  One of the most famous was Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews.  John Pehle, a mid-level State Department employee, faced down his recalcitrant superiors and persuaded Pres. Roosevelt the create the War Refugee Board, which smuggled tens of thousands of Jews to safety.

A Nation 1943 editorial denounced the US for its refusal to act against German crimes:

“You and I and the President and the Congress and the State Department are accessories to the crime and share Hitler’s guilt. If we had behaved like humane and generous people instead of complacent, cowardly ones, the two million Jews lying today in the earth of Poland and Hitler’s other crowded graveyards would be alive and safe. And other millions yet to die would have found sanctuary. We had it in our power to rescue this doomed people and we did not lift a hand to do it—or perhaps it would be fairer to say that we lifted just one cautious hand, encased in a tight-fitting glove of quotas and visas and affidavits, and a thick layer of prejudice.”

These words echo today’s complacency in the face of mass murder in Gaza.  There are 40,000 dead and the Biden administration hasn’t “lifted a hand.” In fact, the Biden administration supplied the weapons to enable the genocide.  Imagine if during WWII the US had been arming Germany in addition to ignoring its crimes.  That is happening today, right before our eyes.

Today’s student activists are similarly bearing witness to Israeli evil, despite the price they pay in terms of  academic suspension, expulsion, damage to career prospects, and even major injuries at the hands of the police. They are living out the rousing words of Frederick Douglass:

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

Students feel the suffering inflicted on Gazans and choose resistance by words and acts.  They stand against the tyrants on behalf of those whom they oppress. They are heroes of the 21st century.