US campus protests, establishment’s automatic suppression

May 2, 2024
New York, USA. 30th Apr, 2024. Student protesters camp on the campus of Columbia University, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York. Early Tuesday, dozens of protesters took over Hamilton Hall, locking arms and carrying furniture and metal barricades to the building. Columbia responded by restricting access to campus. Image: Alamy/Photo by Mary Altaffer/Pool/Sipa USA /Sipa USA/Alamy Live News

From Columbia University in New York to the University of Texas at Austin, from Emory University in Atlanta to the University of California at Berkeley, American students are protesting the genocide in Gaza. They are scorning the moral bankruptcy of governments which supply arms to Israel which simultaneously pretend support for humanitarian aid.

These significant developments are supported in Australia by students’ protest camps and teach-ins at Sydney and Melbourne universities.

In response to being asked to remain passive by merely watching the latest carnage in Gaza and to wait for the promised slaughter in Rafah, students have declared they will no longer tolerate Israel being given a blank cheque to commit as much death and destruction as it likes, and to lie brazenly about policies to bomb, starve and massacre.

US establishment responses to students’ demands to ‘Free Palestine’ have shown not respect for a right to protest but a robot-like resort to threats, control and punishment. At Columbia, the university President, goaded by the US Congress, decided that the students’ peaceful encampment was ‘a clear and present danger’. She gave permission to the New York Police Department’s Strategic Response Group, a notoriously violent force, to crush the protest. Hundreds of students were arrested, their tents dismantled.

At respectable Princeton, the Vice President of Campus Life sent messages to students that if they camped in support of Palestine they would be arrested, thrown off campus and disqualified from attending classes.

In Texas the right-wing bully boy Governor Greg Abbot declared that student protesters ‘belong in jail.’ He ordered state troopers on horseback to crush the protests. Although witness to friends being handcuffed and hog tied, students chanted ‘You don’t scare us’, ‘Get off our campus.’

In a might is right authoritarian culture, violent repressions of student support for Palestine are sanctioned by the White House, by members of Congress, by city governments and by the management of universities. Attention to the slaughter in Gaza is avoided by the deceit that student protests reflect anti-Semitism, hence the political priority to guarantee the safety of Jewish students.

Protesters for Palestine include significant numbers of Jewish students, but this did not discourage the Speaker of the US Congress Mike Johnson from claiming that protesters are anti-Semites and that university campuses are hostile to Jewish populations.

As with Islamophobia, anti-Semitism remains a prejudice to be outlawed. But it looks as though protesting students are demanding that the policies of successive Israeli governments to kill as many Palestinians as possible should also be outlawed. In spite of that, support for Israel’s barbarism is bolstered by a knee jerk accusation that anti-Semitism is the issue, that Jewish students are in danger.

It suits supporters of the Netanyahu war to lie that employees of UNRWA engaged in the Hamas slaughter of October 2023 and to claim that campus protesters threaten Jewish students.

That story is a concoction say members of New York city council. On April 23, they visited the Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University and told the public, ‘Here’s what it’s really like.’ They said they witnessed students who were peaceful, tolerant and non-violent. ‘What we saw could not be more different from the dire warnings of anti-Semitic threats and pervasive danger coning from City Hall and the White House.’

In US political circles, in university administration and in mainstream media, thoughtless personnel behave as though students’ protests against the slaughter in Gaza are worse than the actual slaughter. Students’ alleged threat to social order and their alleged anti-Semitism prompt the arrival of heavyweight uniformed men and horses to teach young people a lesson.

In mindless abuse of power which too often passes for government, the worst offenders are adults preoccupied with throwing their weight around, a practice not confined to the Governor of Texas but likely to find enthusiastic imitators in Australia. Liberal leader Peter Dutton has compared a pro Palestine protest at the Sydney Opera House to the 1996 mass slaughter of 35 people at Port Arthur; and not content with that absurdity, he has blamed the police and the Labor party for a rise in anti-Semitism.

To encourage a Gaza ceasefire plus the return of hostages, and to encourage deliberations about a permanent peace, the students’ non-violent protests give hope because they display the benefits of civil disobedience and courage in public life. The alternative is more thuggery from uniformed and plain clothes men, who in principle appear unable to think beyond the use of force, their actions in effect an imitation of decades of Israeli brutality towards Palestinians.

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