The Campus Protests Are Not Helping

The two most significant things that happened yesterday, IMO, were the arrests last night of the Columbia University students and Trump’s Time magazine interview, in which he pretty much explicitly promises to end democracy as we know it if he’s re-elected. For right now I want to address the students and the campus protests.

I confess I am very conflicted about the campus protests. As a veteran of a few Vietnam-era campus antiwar protests I can relate to how the students feel and am supportive of their rights to express themselves. On the other hand, since those long-ago days I have believed the antiwar movement was mostly counterproductive and did little to end the Vietnam War. Yes, there were protests, and the war eventually ended, but correlation is not causation.

I’ve said this before, but here it is again: The antiwar movement’s only real accomplishments, IMO, were the election of Richard Nixon and the re-election of Richard Nixon. The Vietnam War was never hugely popular in the U.S., I don’t believe, but for most of its duration the antiwar movement was even more unpopular than the war. And Richard Nixon made masterful use of the antiwar movement to deflect public criticism of his handling of the war. Without the excesses of the antiwar movement, it’s possible the bleeping war might have ended sooner.

And I think something similar is already beginning to happen with the campus demonstrations about Gaza. I hear people arguing about the demonstrations, not the cause. The cause is getting lost in the noise. And if the purpose of these demonstrations is to promote sympathy for the Palestinian people, they are failing badly.

There have been conflicting accounts about whether there really is raging antisemitism in the campus demonstrations, especially at Columbia. Columbia demonstrators have denied antisemitism and pointed out that they even had a Seder in their incampment a few days ago. It may be that most of the students who have been participating in the demonstrations on the Columbia campus sincerely do not hate Jews. But I’ve been in enough lefty demonstrations to know that there are always a few who, shall we say, don’t appreciate the importance of message discipline.

This is from a couple of days ago, but please do read A Few Thoughts on the Situation in Israel-Palestine and on the Campuses by Josh Marshall. I learned a lot from this.

To me it seems clear that non-students operating on the periphery of the campus have been responsible for the most egregious comments or incidents that almost no one would deny are anti-Semitic. There’s been some of that from students on campus, usually in heated instances when visibly Jewish students are in the proximity of protesters.

But to me these instances obscure a deeper issue. The groups which are spearheading most of these protests — specifically, Students for Justice in Palestine but also others — support the overthrow of the current Israeli state and the expulsion of at least some substantial percentage of the current Jewish Israeli population. This is sometimes talked about as though this is envisioned without people actually being killed at a mass scale or under the pretense that Jewish Israelis have other home countries they can relocate to. But that’s not how overthrowing a whole society works. These views are also embedded in the big chants and manifestos, which you can hear just by turning on your TV.

And a lot of the backstory the students embrace is clearly oversimplified and turned into a simple morality play about the innocent Palestinians and their oppression by the evil Israel. And as part of that, Hamas has been “valorized” as the champions of the Palestinians. But this is a gross misreading of recent history. It’s closer to the truth, IMO, to say that Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition and Hamas are just two sides of the same ugly coin. The black-and-white picture, if you insist on one, is not Israel versus Palestine but people who would allow peaceful co-existence versus people who won’t.

Oslo gets a bad name today. And perhaps that’s fair since it failed. And failure is a bad thing. But we shouldn’t ignore the irony that we have spent the last six months in the grip of Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu. And if you look back at the period from 1993 to 1996, there are two players who destroyed Oslo, as a matter of strategy and design. Netanyahu and Hamas. They both saw it as in their interests to kill it and they did kill it. You can question the good faith of the key actors of both sides of Oslo. But those two are the ones who set out to kill it and did kill it. They have always been, in effect, allies.

Exactly. And it’s also been pretty obvious to most of the world that what’s needed is a two-state solution, not the elimination of one state for the benefit of the other.

Michael Powell writes in The Atlantic that the Columbia students who tried to occupy Hamilton Hall, and were removed by NYPD, had backed themselves into a corner. They had no clear leader and no clear message, other than anti-zionism. When given opportunities to speak to news media, they did not.

Yesterday in front of Hamilton Hall—which protesters had renamed Hind’s Hall in honor of a 6-year-old girl who had been killed in Gaza—organizers of the Columbia demonstration called a press conference. But when reporters stepped forward to ask questions, they were met with stony stares and silence. At the liberated tent zone, minders—some of whom were sympathetic faculty members—kept out those seen as insufficiently sympathetic, and outright blocked reporters for Israeli outlets and Fox News.

The students’ chants were calling for the elimination of Israel and the restoration of all lands to the Palestinians. This goes even further than the position of the Palestinian Authority, which wants to work toward a two-state solution.

By 11 p.m., much of the work was done. The police had cleared Hamilton Hall and carted off protesters for booking. At 113th Street and Broadway, a mass of protesters, whose shouts echoed in the night, and a group of about 30 police officers peered at each other across metal barriers. One female protester harangued the cops—at least half of whom appeared to be Black, Asian American, or Latino—by likening them to the Ku Klux Klan. Then the chants fired up again. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” There was a pause, as if the protesters were searching for something more cutting. “Hey hey, ho ho, Zionism has got to go.”

These are clueless young people drunk on self-righteousness. I’m not saying that of all the student demonstrators around the nation, but the would-be Hamilton Hall occupiers are not helping anybody, especially not Palestinians. But nobody’s behaved well here. From a distance, it looks like Columbia University officials also have made one mistake after another. At least the NYPD didn’t kill or maim anybody, which they might have in earlier times.

I’m seeing that violence broke out on the UCLA campus overnight, also. As with other campus protests, the UCLA students want their university to stop doing business with Israel. In some cases they want the university to stop doing business with corporations that do business in Israel, and with organizations with any ties whatsoever to Israel. I don’t know how many degrees of separation it would take to condemn everyone on the planet, including the protesters, of association with zionism, but I doubt very many.

17 thoughts on “The Campus Protests Are Not Helping

  1. Another angle, from Paul Waldman, The "Chaos" Strategy, or Republicans want you to believe that society is collapsing –

    Around the nation, college students are protesting Israel’s war on Gaza, but if you don’t live within a few blocks of one of those campuses — especially the ones where the administration has been so impossibly dumb as to think the way to make protests go away is to call in the cops — this fact has almost certainly had no practical effect on your life. Your personal safety has not been threatened, your commute to work has not been disrupted, and your access to shopping, parks, or other life amenities has not been curtailed.

    Yet Republicans would have you believe that these protests are causing “chaos” from sea to shining sea, that the nation is on the verge of a complete breakdown of law and order that threatens every American…

    When I was in the gym yesterday, both MSNBC and CNN were tuned to the hush money trial, but Fox News was on the campus protests. As you'd expect.

    I do know that it's going to get quieter in a month, when spring quarter ends, and most of these kids will be going home. Just in time for the verdict on Trump's Stormy Weather.

  2. I seem to recall legislation proposed in Congress that would have made boycotts of Israel illegal. What that says to me is that though Israel is fine with international criticism, if/when it turns into sanctions that cut into the wealth of the fat cats in Israel, there's an exposed nerve. 

    Speaking of the top of my head, some citizens of Israel are comfortable with genocide, many are not. As a matter of political philosophy, the folks with money have more political clout than the regular serfs. So hitting Israeil in the pocketbook makes sense to me. It would have to be organized on a global scale, identifying the target companies, be they employers in Israel or foreign suppliers TO Israel. If there's a better way to apply pressure to the government of Israel, please speak up.

    IMO, Biden should pitch to the Senate that we need a new policy about Israel, that affirms our commitment to the existence and security of Israel. We should commit resources to the Iron Dome missile defense system that worked so well recently. BUT we need to demand both sides put together the framework for a two-state solution. If Israel does not make sincere overtures to Palestinians in that direction, the Congress should rethink military aid of the kind that's devastating civilians in Gaza. IMO, Biden should appoint Bernie Sanders as Biden's envoy to Congress.  My reasons are simple – Bernie has an "in" with young voters. Bernie might be listened to by students who despise Biden. Second, Bernie is Jewish – ya can't accuse him of anti-semitism.  He's been an outspoken critic of Netanyahu on the genocide in Gaza. There aren't many American Jewish politicians with credibility with Palistinians, but Bernie could be the exception. Maybe, just maybe, Bernie's people can get through to young people about protesting in ways that does not hurt the cause. 

    My daughter is a college student. To put it in the mildest terms, I'm disappointed in her. She's on the right side – she hates the death and destruction inflicted on Gaza but she seems to identify with Hamas and the religion of Islam. There's not many major religions on the planet more in opposition to her core beliefs than Islam. In its most moderate American form, Islam does not approve of same-sex marriage, gender fluid identification, and a bunch of issues related to gender equality. I'm not opposed to Islam – I despise what Netanyahu is doing to Palestinians but I strongly suspect that many of the Palestinians I would save from starvation would consider me a candidate for stoning for what I believe. Which does not change my support for them at all.

    But from what I know, many students have elevated Palestinians to sainthood for thee suffering and persecution they endure. I'm convinced, especially after the August attack, that many Palestinians would exterminate all Jews with the same devotion as Netanyahu murders Palestinians. It's the height of foolishness to ignore this fact.

    If the world can get to first base by forcing both sides to accept and consider a two-state solution, there would have to be an international police force in place for decades to ensure both sides have security and political autonomy. It's early to discuss this – getting Israel and the Palestinians to commit to peaceful co-existence rather than mutual destruction has to happen first.

  3. It's late and I need to get to sleep for the night.  Earlier this evening I read Maha's post and found myself nodding a lot. (Kudos, Maha).  I have a LOT of thoughts to share but won't get to ti until tomorrow. A couple of teasers:

    Monday morning, before the extremists at Columbia broke into and occupied a University building, I was watching video of the protesters. And at a couple of moments, something caught my eye, unexpectedly.  Seeing so many chanters wearing face coverings, this popped into my head: "I smell provocateurs."  It was because so many of those protesters looked like alleged antifa agitators or going way back, reminiscent of the Black September terrorists at the '72 Munich Olympics. 

    News reporters said that many college students view the nationwide college protests as the present day version of the nationwide Viet Nam War protests in the late sixties and early seventies.  I was a college student in May of 1970.  I was against the war, but I wasn't so deep in it that it was the only thing I did. I feel like the students of today need to all take a course: History of the Viet Nam era anti-war Movement 101. Cuz the current thing is very different in many ways. It feels nice to have nationwide solidarity with your fellow youths, all well and good.  But for the US, Gaza is not Viet Nam, and the purpose, goals and effects of protests don't seem well thought out in 2024.

    I have a suspicion… can't prove it.  At the very start of college students wanting to protest the horrible genocide in Gaza, I think a huge majority of the students were not motivated by a desire to get into fights with other groups, ie. protesters vs counter-protesters, "Oh, yeah? Wanna fight?  Bring it on." Once the phenomenon gained traction and (more important) news coverage, then agitators seized the opportunity to sow discord.  Whether agitators are home grown or from outside our country, or recruited by bad actors outside our country, they are acting in a way to tear down our country.

    More on all of these thoughts tomorrow.

  4. At this point it certainly plays into the hands of the anti-Biden element, I'm expecting one of them to pop up with "he wiped out their student loans and look what happens!", assuming someone hasn't already said something like that.

  5. Going OT to the Trump trial:

    Keith Davidson with a recording in which he told Michael Cohen that Stormy Daniels wanted the money "more than you could ever imagine," and that he said: "If he loses this election, and he’s going to lose, we all lose all f**king leverage.”

    "'This case is worth zero.' Do you recall saying that to Mr. Cohen?" Trump attorney Emil Bove asked.

    Got that? Trump's attorney just established that in the negotiations between Stormy Daniels and Cohen, it was the ELECTION that Daniels thought would cause Trump to fork over the money. Not Melania or her hurt feelings. Cohen did fork over the money, presumably under Trump's direction before the election which confirms her theory. 

    But if the defense tries to say it was/is all about Trump trying to shield Melania, what the defense just introduced blows that narrative to hell.

  6. "…it’s possible the bleeping war might have ended sooner."

    On a complete tangent, I felt the same way about Sinead O'Connor's protest on SNL.

  7. What has bothered me about the current protests is that most of the protesters have no skin in the game. It is pure dilettantism for a huge portion of the demonstrators.

    I well remember the protests of the Vietnam era. Students had massive skin in the game. In my wallet was proof: a draft registration card. Every young man knew that he could be called up. We knew that if the war continued, our student deferments likely wouldn't save us.

    Today's protesters of course have every right to protest: The First Amendment guarantees that. But that doesn't mean I have to approve: There is a presidential campaign underway that might result in the return of a vengeful, sadistic buffoon to the White House.

    Let's take care of that, please.

    • Totally agree, but perhaps it relates back to the possibility of "provocateur" involvement WaryTale was alluding to above, perhaps they do have skin in the game but its just not obvious what that game actually is, plus the chaos strategy Moonbat mentioned.

    • I agree that there's a big element of dilettantism in the current demonstrations. I am also struck by the almost cartoonish version of history the protesters appear to have adopted. At least during the Vietnam era most of the protesters had a pretty good understanding of how the U.S. got itself into Vietnam and what was (and wasn't) at stake there. The current crew have no clue. 

  8. It is good that the protesters sense the fact that ethical problems exist in this war.  Even in an "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" judgement system this war is beyond bounds.  

    So too is the war in Ukraine, where too many civilians are targets.  Terrorist tactics have fused to traditional warfare.

    These young people have much work to do.  The international rules of war are not adjusted to the times.

    No one knows if the Palestine citizens have any influence at all over Hamas.  No one even knows if the intellectual community has any influence even over its own University administration.  They are both learning how trickle- down works.  

    We all need to find ways to get moral judgement to trickle-up.


    • Terrorist tactics have fused to traditional warfare.

      True. There's an old saying that armies are always fighting the last war instead of the current one. In the early 21st century, asymmetric warfare is the name of the game, and an authoritarian leader that thinks nothing of committing genocide and scorched earth destruction can cause tremendous damage.

  9. Hamas-Israel War. This is gonna take a long post; don't know how well I can articulate my thoughts. There are several threads that interweave. 1) How did this war start and how has it proceeded?  2) What is the context of the whole middle east situation in which this has been unfolding? 3) It is difficult to do because of natural tendencies, but for every country, we need to understand that government actions do not typically reflect what 100% of the population wants. This applies to Israel, Gaza/Hamas  and the U.S.  4) When did protests start on college campuses in the US? And what have been the different grievances and how did they evolve over time? And when did the college "protests" become confrontations between protesters and counter-protesters with levels of violence?
    I don't profess and particular expertise, I just try to apply some critical thinking to what the news presents.

    On October 7, a Hamas-led invasion of Israel involved a barrage of several thousand rockets along with estimated 3000 fighters invading Israel to murder over 1,100 Israelis, as well as committing atrocities such as rapes, beheadings, and murdering parents in front of their children. In addition they took around 250 hostages.
    How this could have been possible is not clear at this time, but I doubt Bibi had a hand in tempting Hamas to try something that would justify a war. I wouldn't rule that out, but without evidence, I don't think it's reasonable to conclude that. For now, he or the various levels of intelligence force and IDF just screwed up. Bottom line, that invasion by Hamas could not go unanswered.

    Then there was a period of IDF bombing and missile/drone strikes in preparation for the IDF incursion. At the start of this period, there was very little US media allowed into Gaza.  The news channels got pictures and videos… from whom?  Hamas. When I saw those on the news, I took them with a grain of salt. I suspect there was considerable propaganda involved. I, along with many others, was concerned about civilian casualties, but I felt Israel should be given a little rope because: who am I to declare that they couldn't do any better at limiting civilian casualties. I had no knowledge of any intelligence they were using, and I know that there weren't going to be any images on TV news that showed buildings that hadn't been bombed.  There were reports from "civilians" coming out on social media, but I didn't know whether to trust those, nor did I think I should assume they were propaganda.
    I don't know for sure about the timing, but I think it was before the Israeli ground incursion that some of the international relief agencies got in and we were able to get some reliable information. It became confirmed that horrendous impacts on civilians were unfolding. And if I recall correctly, it was during this period that demonstrations on college campuses began. In that early stage of campus involvement, I believe the predominant theme was "stop killing civilians and stop massive scale destruction of facilities" (killing by bombing [including hospitals], starvation, and not allowing fuel in for desalination plants). In other words, "War is horrible; we're against that war" and implicitly there's an assumption that if the IDF called off it's mission completely that then there would be peace. [I have my doubts about that.] But my main point is that the protests began as mostly anti-war. 
    I'll have to come back later to talk about the remaining events of the war to date.  Next however, I want to talk about the regional situation. (another post)  

    • When did protests start on college campuses in the US? And what have been the different grievances and how did they evolve over time? And when did the college “protests” become confrontations between protesters and counter-protesters with levels of violence?

      That’s a great question. I couldn’t find any mention of college campus demonstrations before the Berkeley Free Speech movement, which began in 1964. In December 1964 police arrested nearly 800 students to break up a “sit in” in an administration building. There were counter protesters outside holding signs who appeared to be students also.

  10. The question now is: just what kinds of protests have a positive effect, and which do not?

    Here's a test case: roadside protests. One sort stays on the sidelines, dancing, playing music, and holding up "Honk if you love ***", with *** depending on the rally. Another sort spills out into the roadway to stop traffic. The second sort fails the "Greater Asshole" test.

    There may be positive uses of road blockade, but only to block targeted traffic; prisoners, say, or weapons systems. And targeting requires self-discipline.


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