May, 2024

The Truth Behind the Gaza Protests Extremism and the American 20-year-old

By Frances Trelease

We’re in the thick of it. Encampments are popping up at a record pace at our colleges and universities. Starting with Columbia, they’re spreading like wildfire around the country. The scenes are strikingly similar. Students holding backpacks and Dunkin cups… wearing keffiyeh headscarves and raising protest signs. Many yell in outrage.

Most recently, windows were smashed in a classroom building on the Columbia campus. Commencement ceremonies are being cancelled to ensure community safety.

So let’s take a look at the rage – what it is, and where it stems from. On the surface, there’s a message we can all agree on. A humanitarian crisis exists in Gaza. To many, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s military response to a hostage siege and unprovoked massacre of Jewish innocents on Oct. 7, 2023 has been disproportionate. Thousands of civilians have lost their homes and shelter, and face daily food scarcity. Aid trickles in, but is met with gang behavior and thievery of food at gunpoint. It is tragedy layered over tragedy.

But let’s go one more layer down. Here’s where the messaging gets more complicated. Along with humanitarian pleas, we have begun to see pro-Hamas flags mixed in the crowds. And stories begin to emerge of Jewish students getting verbally taunted, pushed and shoved, told that after the Oct. 7 massacre that “they’re next.” 

But hold on. These young protestors are quick to say their protests aren’t about hating Jews. They point to a smattering of Jewish faculty who have joined their ranks. This is a political fight against what they see as the Israeli government oppressing the Palestinian people.  

Okay. But… 

Why, then, as final exam period arrives – the traditional time for cramming for tests and mainlining caffeine – are so many Jewish students fearful? Why did the Jewish leader Rabbi Elie Buechler at Columbia University urge Jewish students to leave campus immediately and take their final exams from the safety of their homes? Why is the chant ”From the River to the Sea” – widely associated with a desire to wipe Israel and its Jewish residents off the map – regularly chanted at these protests? And why did Jewish Columbia University business professor Shai Davidai have his swipe card cancelled, barring him from entering the campus building where he teaches?

Let’s not jump on the students. Because this didn’t start with them. And it won’t end with them.  When have our American college students, roughly 18-22 years old, not felt an urge to rebel against the established authority? And when has the desire to belong to something larger than themselves not been ubiquitous?  This is a “like me and subscribe to my channel” generation. Clearly the desire to be seen and heard is in play.

To add: A Reuters report from April 26 tells us that Hamas are cheering these college protests. There are reasons for that. On the surface, it seems clear enough – Hamas militants see American youth lining up behind them to hate Jews and Israel. But their role in the protests is not that simple. 

How did that fire get in students’ belly in the first place? Let’s look at the genesis of the social media posts spreading the idea to build encampments. And let’s look at who’s funding them. Indeed, the tents used at campus encampments are strikingly similar  coast to coast, right down to color and texture. Who coordinated the creation and shipment of these tents? Not the students who took over that Columbia building, and who asked the university to pay for their drinks and snacks.

It’s unlikely an idea popped into a Columbia student’s head one day to publicly praise a terrorist organization that has called for the destruction of not only Israel, but the USA.  Did a student decide one day to cheer the continued captivity of hostages from 17 countries beyond ours, including Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Thailand and Britain?

All 18 countries made a fresh appeal to Hamas on April 26 to return their captive citizens. Hamas refuses. Is that a cause for celebration on an American campus?

This is where a closer, fact-based review of the complicated history of the Middle East would be welcome. Education will trump hatred, or at least it should. Instead, college students are being indoctrinated through Tik Tok posts. As a college professor of 20+ years, I tell my students repeatedly that college is where they go to learn to think critically. Critically analyze messages coming at them. Recognize bias. Recognize spin. 

Sadly, that’s not what’s happening on our campuses. (However, numbers will reveal that the media attention of the protests vastly overrepresents actual numbers on campus. Millions of students are dutifully cramming for exams and ordering their graduation gowns and tassels; we hear little about them.)

Sadly, that’s not what’s happening on our campuses. (However, numbers will reveal that the media attention of the protests vastly overrepresents actual numbers on campus. Millions of students are dutifully cramming for exams and ordering their graduation gowns and tassels; we hear little about them.)

So let’s back up. Why the loud outcry? The military action of the Israeli army, in response to an unprovoked massacre of 1,200 at a music festival on Oct. 7, provided a modern day “hook” for those who would be anxious to dust off an ancient hatred of Jews. While there are still living Holocaust victims, now in their 90s, this hatred dates back thousands of years, well before the rise of Adolf Hitler.

The genesis of that hatred can be hotly debated. Few answers are clear. But even fewer people deny that is exists. 

In Europe we are witnessing the slaughter of innocent Ukrainians every day at the hands of Vladimir Putin. Children are being removed from their homes and transplanted into Russian homes, in an attempt to wipe out a culture and eliminate a next generation of Ukrainians.   

In Syria, the Assad regime has killed hundreds of thousands of innocents during the country’s civil war, using chemical attacks and bombs.

In Xinjiang, China, forced slave labor of an estimated one million people continues in hundreds of concentration camps, in an effort to its Uyghur population.  

Where are the groups chanting “Stop Putin’s Genocide?” How about “End chemical warfare in Syria?” or “Free the slaves?” Where are those college protest signs? Where are those brightly colored tents?

You won’t see them. Because Israel’s fight to exist, and the innocents who have died as a result of the nation’s response to being attacked, has reopened a doorway to an ancient, global hatred of Jews. And now that hatred is being IV dripped into the minds of our college students through a well-financed campaign of tents, protest signs, Tik Tok challenges and sledge hammers.   

As long as the ancient hatred of Jews lives on, there will never be world peace.  

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