The Unvarnished 1960s Re-Enactment on College Campuses教育阿特拉斯大學
The Unvarnished 1960s Re-Enactment on College Campuses

The Unvarnished 1960s Re-Enactment on College Campuses

June 18, 2024

This article was originally published in the Tracinski Letter and has been republished with the author's permission.

I’m sure they mean well.

The one big fact we have to keep in mind about the recent pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses is that many of the people turning out now to complain about a “genocide” supposedly being committed against the Palestinians were the same people cheering the indiscriminate rape and murder of Israelis (and others) by Hamas on October 7, well before any Israeli counterattack. For a refresher, see my observations from last October about this outpouring of support for terrorism and what it says about the priorities of the far left.

So don’t take too seriously their “humanitarian” concerns, which pointedly do not extend to Israeli civilians.

“Imperialism, Capitalism—Things Like That”

Moreover, a lot of the protests and protesters were what you might call the usual suspects, who care little about the Palestinians per se and view this as an excuse to promote a wider leftist cause.

When New York City police broke up protest encampments at Columbia University and the City College of New York, for example, they found that about half of the people they arrested were what we used to call “outside agitators” with no connection to either university. Some of these are your basic professional protestors and the kind of washed-up old lefties who used to shove copies of The Daily Worker into my hands outside the Hyde Park Co-Op in the 1980s.

The NYPD directed attention to 68-year-old Sami Al-Arian, an accused terrorist deported to Turkey in 2015, who posted a picture of his wife in the tent encampment at Columbia….
Another activist, 63-year-old Lisa Fithian, is one of the people that police say has been escalating student protests. For decades she has been pictured in protests all over the country.

Even among the students, you find a lot of evidence that the Palestinians have been absorbed into the Omnicause, a term that has been going around to describe the left’s tendency to subsume every particular grievance into one single, vague, free-floating sense of grievance against the modern world.

A New York Times reporter interviewed a number of students at the protests, and these are fairly typical responses.

“As an environmentalist, we [the woke version of the royal we, presumably] pride ourselves on viewing the world through intersectional lenses,” said Katie Rueff, a first-year student at Cornell University. “Climate justice is an everyone issue. It affects every dimension of identity, because it’s rooted in the same struggles of imperialism, capitalism—things like that. I think that’s very true of this conflict, of the genocide in Palestine.”…
Ari Quan, a 19-year-old Emory first-year student from Columbia, S.C., who uses the pronouns they and them, acknowledged not having followed the conflict in Gaza especially closely, but said there was considerable overlap between the movement for greater justice in policing and pro-Palestinian sentiment. They were moved to join the demonstrations on campus after seeing their friend pushed to the ground by the police.

As for the specifics of what’s happening in Gaza, “In interviews, many students declined to engage when asked about Hamas, the militant group that led the October 7 attacks in Israel that killed 1,200 people.” Like I said, don’t take the protesters’ “humanitarianism” very seriously.

Lawrence of Columbia

Among these foolish and superficial 19-year-olds, who can be counted on to pour out tired old slogans as if they are still fresh and exciting, there was an element of cosplay to this whole protest movement.

This was best captured in a Twitter rant by a young Iranian activist.

Elite students of Ivy League schools have glamorized oppression so much that they have now reached role play status to satisfy their fantasies. Here, the students have appropriated the suffering of Gazans and are cosplaying as living through humanitarian crisis. In their American make-believe story where Ivy League infrastructure sets the scene, the students play Gazans and the school administration plays Israel.

Israel (the school) is blocking their “basic humanitarian aid” in this play, and if they don’t receive it soon, they will “die of thirst and starvation” (appropriating exact experiences of Gazans). They also destroy upper class buildings and claim them as “liberated” while the students repeat chants in zombie-like chorus, playing the roll of “freedom fighters” destroying Israeli infrastructure and claiming them freed….
You don’t see this in lower tier schools from kids of lower socio-economic standing because they aren’t plagued with the guilt of privilege that they’re seeking to launder through Middle East role plays of feigned suffering.

Someone else, I can’t remember where, summed this up as “Lawrence of Columbia.”

Mona Charen offers a similar description.

These campus Gaza protests are a weird amalgam of Portlandia and Reds. Columbia’s “Gaza Solidarity Encampment”featured expensive REI tents, body oils for sale, gluten-free bread, a counseling tent, an art corner, and a “People’s Library for Liberated Learning.” Completing the Portlandia vibe, during the siege of Hamilton [Hall at Columbia], a student speaking on behalf of the protesters demanded that those occupying the building be provided with food and water. “I guess it’s a question of what kind of community and what kind of obligation Columbia has to its students.... Do you want students to die of dehydration and starvation?”
[Editor’s Note: Yes, this is real, a moment of self-parody that has to be seen to be believed. Apparently, the revolution will be catered.]
The Reds side of the ledger is less amusing. The protesters are disciplined to the point of seeming robotic…. As theAtlantic reported, dozens of the protesters repeat what the leader says word for word….
These tactics reveal a disturbing authoritarian mindset that is antithetical to American principles and, one would have thought, utterly incompatible with the mission of a university. At UCLA, protesters attempted to block access to Royce Quad, Royce Hall, and Powell Library. Students were asked to identify themselves with wrist bracelets declaring that they were “anti-Zionist” before being permitted past a barricade.

This should all be just a little bit familiar. An interesting profile of blue-collar university workers who were physically shoved aside by the student protesters’ occupation of a university building contains this revealing description.

On April 30, at about 12:30 AM, a crowd of students had surrounded Hamilton Hall, cheering, as dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators entered. The building, on Columbia’s central Morningside Heights campus, has symbolic significance as a place of student protest and had been occupied five times by student protesters since 1968.

This is a historical re-enactment of the counterculture protests of the 1960s—but not our hazy, glamorized cultural recollection of those protests. This is a smaller-scale re-enactment of the real counterculture, with all its ugliness, its outside agitators, its insane far-left agenda, its authoritarian conformity masquerading as rebellion—and its admiration for truly evil, mass-murdering foreign dictatorships.

Patrick Mullins reminded me that the “police crackdown during the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention began when protesters pulled down an American flag in a park and tried to run up the North Vietnamese flag in its place.” The parallel today is pro-Palestinian protesters at the University of North Carolina taking down the American flag and running up a Palestinian flag.

How Not to Do Counterinsurgency

I should pause here to point out that these protesters are generally much more positive towards Hamas, Gaza’s terrorist overlords, than the Palestinian people on whose behalf they claim to speak.

Here is a Washington Post report:

[W]hile the majority of Palestinians in Gaza blame Israel for their suffering, according to polling conducted in March, they also appear to be turning their ire toward the militants. In interviews with more than a dozen residents of Gaza, people said they resent Hamas for the attacks in Israel and—war-weary and desperate to fulfill their basic needs—just want to see peace as soon as possible.
If Hamas wanted to start a war, “they should have secured people first—secured a place of refuge for them, not thrown them into suffering that no one can bear,” said Salma El-Qadomi, 33, a freelance journalist who has been displaced 11 times since the conflict started.
Palestinians want leaders “who won’t drag people into a war like this,” she said. “Almost everyone around me shares the same thoughts: We want this waterfall of blood to stop. Seventeen years of destruction and wars are enough.”…
“We can’t live like this anymore,” said a 29-year-old displaced lawyer and mother of three, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Hours before the interview, she said, Israeli drones fired at her and her children on the street in central Gaza.

To be sure, I’m quoting the best parts. These people seem ideologically muddled and more upset at Hamas for failing to have an effective war plan than for starting the conflict by committing war crimes. They also don’t yet seem to grasp that the suffering and martyrdom of Palestinian civilians is Hamas’s goal.

But notice also the mention of fear of retaliation. The New York Times has a good report on the extent to which Hamas runs a police state that one expert likens to the old East German Stasi.

The Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has for years overseen a secret police force in Gaza that conducted surveillance on everyday Palestinians and built files on young people, journalists and those who questioned the government, according to intelligence officials and a trove of internal documents reviewed by The New York Times.
The unit, known as the General Security Service, relied on a network of Gaza informants, some of whom reported their own neighbors to the police. People landed in security files for attending protests or publicly criticizing Hamas. In some cases, the records suggest that the authorities followed people to determine if they were carrying on romantic relationships outside marriage….
Hamas leaders, despite claiming to represent the people of Gaza, would not tolerate even a whiff of dissent. Security officials trailed journalists and people they suspected of immoral behavior. Agents got criticism removed from social media and discussed ways to defame political adversaries. Political protests were viewed as threats to be undermined….
“This General Security Service is just like the Stasi of East Germany,” said Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli military intelligence officer specializing in Palestinian affairs. “You always have an eye on the street.”

This, by the way, is why I don’t dismiss humanitarian concerns for the people of Gaza, who have not had much choice in the kind of leaders they suffer under. I think the Israeli government should throw the book at a faction of religious zealots in Israel who have been attacking convoys carrying aid to Palestinian civilians. Those people aren’t opponents of Hamas, they’re just rivals from a different sect.

But of course Binyamin Netanyahu has long courted these religious nationalist supporters and has relied on them recently as a key part of his coalition. (See a very brief overview of the internal Israeli politics, and how they have led Netanyahu to a policy of paralysis.) That brings me to what I think is the legitimate criticism of Israeli policy, articulated by David Petraeus by way of Max Boot.

Israel has been determined to destroy Hamas at all costs, while US officials have worried that Israel was inflicting too many civilian casualties, was not doing enough to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and lacked a “day after” plan to stabilize Gaza after Hamas’s defeat. As one US official told me, “The Israelis are showing how not to do counterinsurgency.”…
The US list of counterinsurgency failures over the decades is long and galling—but there is at least one US military force that has enjoyed impressive counterinsurgency success. That would be the US troops, led by Gen. David H. Petraeus (now retired), who implemented “the surge” in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
Petraeus acknowledged in an email that Gaza is “vastly more challenging than Fallujah, Ramadi, Baqubah and Mosul combined,” referring to cities in Iraq where U.S. forces fought under his command. But, he argued, “the correct approach is a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign that features the traditional tasks of Clear (areas of Hamas terrorists), Hold (keep the civilians secure from Hamas reinfiltration), and Build (provide ample humanitarian assistance, restore the basic services to the people, and then rebuild the many damaged and destroyed areas so that the population can return).”
The problem, in Petraeus’s view, is that “the Israelis are not performing the ‘hold’ and ‘build’ elements” of a counterinsurgency campaign. “They are just clearing and leaving to fight in other areas. And that inevitably means that they will have to go back and reclear endlessly.” Recent experience confirms his warning: On Nov. 15, Israeli troops stormed al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which they described as a Hamas stronghold. Then they left. After reports that the complex was once again being used a terrorist base, the IDF returned on March 18 for another two-week operation.

Since there is a history among Objectivists of insisting on what this article calls an “iron fist” strategy—strike hard and then leave; clear, but don’t hold or build—I should highlight that Boot cites a RAND study (not the same Rand) which found: “The ‘iron fist’ strategy worked only 32 percent of the time…, compared with a 73 percent success rate for population-centric counterinsurgency.” But much of the current Western approach to war can be understood by realizing that hardly anybody wants to understand and implement a counterinsurgency strategy. Petraeus is the only one who has managed to do it.

One Israeli leader is now proposing something along these lines.

It’s time for Israel to begin building a Palestinian security force in Gaza that can provide stability there after the political power of Hamas is broken, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a blunt briefing this week.
“The idea is simple,” Gallant told me. “We will not allow Hamas to control Gaza. We don’t want Israel to control it, either. What is the solution? Local Palestinian actors backed by international actors.”
Gallant’s frank comments mark a turn in the Israeli government’s debate about governance and security issues in Gaza, known by the shorthand phrase “the day after.” His views are widely shared by the defense and security establishment but opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition.

The idea may be simple, but the implementation is not. We’ll see if anything comes of it.

So there are legitimate criticisms of Israel’s war. Their current strategy will cause massive civilian casualties—unavoidable against such an entrenched enemy—yet it is likely to do so without achieving its strategic objectives. It is not a war crime to kill people and achieve nothing, if you do it because you didn’t know any better. But it’s still not a good thing, especially when many credible people are warning you.

But this is not what the campus protests in the United States are about.

Free Turtle Island!

The core of the American protests is pro-Hamas and pro-terrorist. Protesters at these university encampments have been leading literal pro-Hamas chants.

“We say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!,” protesters shouted Saturday night, according to footage posted by Israel War Room.
“Al-Qassam you make us proud! Take another soldier out!,” was also heard at the demonstration. The al-Qassam Brigades is Hamas’s military wing that perpetrated the brutal attacks against Israel on October 7.
Protesters screamed, “Hamas, we love you! We support your rockets, too!” and “Red, black, green, and white, we support Hamas’ fight!”

Then there’s the leftist leader at a pro-Palestinian rally in Vancouver who roused the crowd with these words.

We stand with the Palestinian resistance and their heroic and brave actions on October 7. As they said, long live October 7th! And we say today: Long live October 7th!"

Max Boot, who has been very active on this, read some of the manifestos put out by Columbia’s student protesters so we don’t have to.

Note how one-sided all of this is: While denouncing alleged Israeli atrocities, the manifesto has not one word of censure for Hamas or its brutal tactics, which include seizing hostages and perpetrating sexual violence, in addition to committing wholesale murder. Indeed, even though the protesters claim to care about Palestinian lives, they do not denounce Hamas for stealing international aid to build its tunnels and missiles or for using civilians as human shields. They call for Israel to stop fighting but not for Hamas to release its hostages or surrender….
The protesters’ agenda does not end in the Middle East; indeed, the movement’s ideologues see Israel as merely an “imperial outpost in the Arab world,” even though Jews have lived in the area since antiquity. The Columbia University Apartheid Divest manifesto proclaims: “We believe in liberation. All systems of oppression are interlinked: The fates of the peoples of Palestine, Kurdistan, Sudan, Congo, Armenia, Ireland, Puerto Rico, Korea, Guam, Haiti, Hawai’i, Kashmir, Cuba, Turtle Island, and other colonized bodies are interconnected.”

“Turtle Island,” by the way, turns out to be North America, which is “colonized” by—among other people—the demonstrators themselves.

The National Students for Justice in Palestine website is even more radical. It approvingly quotes Mao Zedong and Vladimir Lenin, denounces “bourgeois democracy” and showers praise on the fundamentalist Houthis (“Yemeni comrades stopping commerce in the Red Sea”). It feels like something that could have been written by a propaganda ministry in Pyongyang or Caracas.

Boot also points out what I said above: This is a full, unvarnished re-enactment of the 1960s counterculture, which play-acted “rebellion” while actually being fascinated with totalitarianism.

Dissent and Disorder

A while back, in a different context, I did a Clubhouse discussion offering an overview of the ethics of protest. The context at the time was the Canadian trucker protests, and it would be interesting to tally how many people supported the trucker’s occupation of downtown Ottawa but now want to call out the National Guard against college protesters.

Precisely for that reason, I may write this up more formally soon. The universally held implicit view of protests is that they are good and should be tolerated when I agree with them, and they should be suppressed and everybody involved should be put in jail when I don’t. It is possible, obviously, to come up with somewhat more universal rules.

The main reason we need an ethics of protest is that in a free society, where the government answers to the people, the right to protest and to influence policy cannot turn into the right of a militant minority to bully everyone else.

In that regard, mainstream leaders have been doing surprisingly well this time around—better than they did in the 1960s.

After some initial waffling and attempts to negotiate a settlement with the protesters, Columbia University President Minoche Shafik issued a statement that gets the basic issue right.

[J]ust as everyone at Columbia has the right to express their views, they also must respect the rights of others to do the same. As a result, protests must comply with time, place, and manner restrictions which, for example, prevent loud protests at night when other students are trying to sleep or prepare for exams. One group’s rights to express their views cannot come at the expense of another group’s right to speak, teach, and learn.

She also points out a particularly poignant aspect of these protests, which threatened to cancel this year’s graduation ceremonies: “Please recall that many in this graduating class did not get a celebration when graduating from high school because of the pandemic.”

There has been a loud conservative media attempt to blame these protests on President Biden, the same way they tried to blame him for the Black Lives Matter riots in 2020. Each time, Biden’s own statements have been essentially correct. That includes his statement on the campus protests. The full version is here, but this is the essential passage: “Dissent is essential to democracy. But dissent must never lead to disorder or to denying the rights of others.”

This transcript also includes what were apparently the only two press questions asked of Biden afterward, along with his delightfully brief answers.

Q: Mr. President, have the protests forced you to reconsider any of the policies with regard to the region?
Thank you.
Q: Mr. President, do you think the National Guard should intervene?

These answers are 100% correct—both in substance and in form.

In the past few weeks, the protesters have been systematically cleared out, indicating that maybe, just maybe, university administrators learned a few lessons from the 1960s. I have a feeling if the protests were about something different, the response from the big institutions would be a little more deferential. But this protest movement contains toxic doses of outright antisemitism.

See a moving open letter from Jewish students at Columbia, which starts with this trenchant observation about the endless shape-shifting of antisemitism.

In every generation, the Jewish People are blamed and scapegoated as responsible for the societal evil of the time. In Iran and in the Arab world, we were ethnically cleansed for our presumed ties to the “Zionist entity.” In Russia, we endured state-sponsored violence and were ultimately massacred for being capitalists. In Europe, we were the victims of genocide because we were communists and not European enough. And today, we face the accusation of being too European, painted as society’s worst evils—colonizers and oppressors.

It then recounts what being a Jew on campus has been like for the past half a year.

We sounded the alarm on October 12 when many protested against Israel while our friends’ and families’ dead bodies were still warm.
We recoiled when people screamed “resist by any means necessary,” telling us we are “all inbred” and that we “have no culture.”
We shuddered when an “activist” held up a sign telling Jewish students they were Hamas’s next targets, and we shook our heads in disbelief when Sidechat users told us we were lying.
We ultimately were not surprised when a leader of the CUAD encampment said publicly and proudly that “Zionists don’t deserve to live” and that we’re lucky they are “not just going out and murdering Zionists.”
We felt helpless when we watched students and faculty physically block Jewish students from entering parts of the campus we share, or even when they turned their faces away in silence. This silence is familiar. We will never forget.

This, more than anything, has bled the protest movement of its pretended moral authority, particularly given the extent to which Jews are a vital part of this nation’s intellectual life, in the universities, in the media, among donors, and in politics. No, this is not a conspiracy theory about how the Jews “control” everything. It’s an observation that they contribute to everything. An antisemitic movement is going to lose a lot of public sympathy before it even begins, and rightly so.

This leads us back to the big lesson I have been pointing to all along. The surge in campus antisemitism obviously and openly contradicts the “progressive” posturing of the far left and reveals it as a profoundly regressive movement that stands, not for “liberation,” but for blood-and-soil nationalism, religious fanaticism, and rule by murder.

About the author:

Rob Tracinski在芝加哥大學學習哲學,擔任作家,講師和評論員超過25年。他是政治自由主義雜誌《研討會》的編輯,是《話語》雜誌的專欄作家,並撰寫了《特拉辛斯基信》。他是《 約翰·高爾特到底是誰?安·蘭德地圖集的讀者指南聳了聳肩