Campus Protests Deepen The Divide In The US

The clouds are beginning to break on what is otherwise a dark sky. A bit of sunlight is beginning to come through. The campus protests have awakened the moral conscience of the US

Campus Protests Deepen The Divide In The US

President Joe Biden broke his silence on the pro-Palestinian protests that are now underway at more than 122 universities. While conceding that dissent was essential for democracy to function, he reprimanded the protestors for engaging in lawless acts. Then came the clincher: he was not going to change his approach to Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, was not going to be outdone by a Democratic president. He said that the protestors were a bunch of lunatics who had created a bunch of “little Gazas” on university campuses that were “disgusting cesspools of antisemitic hate full of pro-Hamas sympathisers, fanatics and freaks.” Without providing any evidence, he accused the protestors of being “terrorist sympathisers… who aren’t peacefully protesting Israel’s conduct of war. They’re violently and illegally demand death for Israel just like their ideological twins, the ayatollahs in Iran.”

Meanwhile, Representative Mike Johnson, the Republican Speaker of the House, is busy drumming up support for federal legislation that would turn antisemitism into a crime and cut off funding for universities that do not curtail the student protests and remove the encampments.

Interestingly, Matt Gaetz, a Republican member of the House, called Johnson’s proposal a “ridiculous hate speech bill.” He argued that the bill would end up labelling the Bible an antisemitic document since it implied that Jesus was crucified by the Romans when the Jews turned him in. 

Eric Adams, New York’s mayor, accused “outside agitators” for instigating protests on university campuses, evoking memories of Kent State University in 1970 in Ohio. Back then, the governor sent in the National Guard to quell the protests, saying “external groups” were fomenting the protests, and that they were “the worst type of people we harbour in America.”

Still other politicians are claiming, again without evidence, that the protestors are being funded by money that is flowing in from outside the US. Buckling presumably to pressure from AIPAC, the majority leader in the Senate, Chuck Schummer, is planning to invite Netanyahu to speak to Congress. He had earlier lashed out at Netanyahu and called on Israel to remove him through electoral means.

Not to be left behind, Israel’s ambassador to the UN said that he always knew that Hamas hid in universities in Gaza. Now, it was clear that Hamas also hid at Harvard and Columbia. With that acerbic statement, he tarred all campus protestors with the label of terrorism.

But the clouds are beginning to break on what is otherwise a dark sky. A bit of sunlight is beginning to come through. The campus protests have awakened the moral conscience of the US. Appearing on CNN, Columbia University Professor Bruce Robbins, a Jew, repudiated the charge that students who were protesting Israel’s carnage in Gaza were antisemitic or Hamas supporters. Earlier, he wrote an article in the London Review of Books in which he accused the Israeli army of “committing atrocities on a massive scale,” and that was why the International Court of Justice was deliberating on whether Israel was guilty of genocide. Robbins said that House Republicans, instead of blaming Israel for its rampage in Gaza, were falsely asserting that the pro-Palestinian protestors were calling for the destruction of Israel. 

Robbins, along with more than 20 faculty members at Columbia University, wrote a letter to the president of Columbia objecting strenuously to “the weaponisation of antisemitism.” The professors advocated for a campus where all students, regardless of ethnicity, “can learn and thrive in a climate of open, honest inquiry and rigorous debate.”

Jill Stein, a Jewish presidential candidate, who had joined students at the University of Missouri in St Louis, was arrested and harassed. She appeared on social media and described how she and others were abused by police, exposing their brutality as well as their duplicity. 

Annelise Orleck, a professor at Dartmouth who heads the Jewish Studies programme, was thrown to the ground and arrested by police while demonstrating against Israel’s genocide in Gaza. On social media, Orleck related how she was zip-tied, placed in a van with other arrestees and held in a lockup in Lebanon, New Hampshire, for two and a half hours. She was charged with criminal trespass, and the terms of her bail stated she was not allowed to return to the campus where she’d been teaching for more than 30 years. Her post was widely read and caused deep consternation among large swaths of the US public.

Bernie Sanders, a Jewish senator from Vermont, gave a speech to the Senate and accused universities of falsely equating protests against Israel’s genocidal acts with antisemitism.

Even in Israel, divisions are beginning to emerge. Amos Goldberg, a professor of Jewish history and the holocaust at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has written that Israel is committing genocide, even though it differs from the holocaust that was imposed on Jews by Nazi Germany. 

Goldberg said that while this is a very painful admission for him to make, it is the truth and added that Jewish history will forever be stained by the mark of Cain, the most horrible of crimes. 

Mainstream cable TV is continuing to propagate the Israeli version of the events in Gaza. A new survey of public opinion toward the war shows that those who rely on cable TV believe that Israel is acting in self-defence while those who get their news through social media generally side with the Palestinians, are very opposed to what Israel’s war machine is doing to innocent civilians, and don’t doubt that Israel is committing war crimes.

With the passage of time, more and more people, especially the younger generation, are now turning to social media for their news. The dam of lies that has been carefully constructed by the Zionist lobby in the US over the past seven months is going to break at some point. Then the river of truths will come rushing through.

Dr. Faruqui is a history buff and the author of Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan, Routledge Revivals, 2020. He tweets at @ahmadfaruqui