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Middle east conflict sparks campus protests

As Israel’s war in Gaza continues, recently entering and attacking Rafah–Joe Biden’s supposed “red line”–the calls of genocide across the United States are getting louder. Student “Encampments” have popped up on college campuses all across America. The encampments consist of tent cities set up in the outdoor areas of campus. The protests have mostly focused on getting their universities to boycott, divest and sanction companies associated with the state of Israel. The protests have been very controversial, further polarizing the already irreparable relationship between Israel and Palestine. Those on the pro-Israeli side of the issue claim the protests are motivated by hate and anti-semitism. Videos of Jewish students being denied access from their campuses have fueled those feelings. Many of the protests have turned violent, destructive and have spread outside of the campuses. While the protests may seem to be a purely grassroots movement of students, a substantial number of non-students are present at the encampments. During the protests, the non-students have been the people responsible for the most destructive and violent acts. This, along with a papertrail of money, have led some to believe that the protests have been infiltrated by “paid agitators” trying to bring the worst out of the protests to paint a narrative that the protests are violent, anti-semetic and/or inspire students to protest a cause they otherwise would not. The widespread chaos of the protests, and the prevailing mainstream narrative that these are motivated by hatred towards Jewish people, rather than a call to end the mass slaughter of innocent civilians and total destruction of infrastructure in Gaza, has resulted in the passing of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. This act essentially criminalizes the act of criticizing Israel on college campuses, setting a dangerous precedent for further government censorship of free speech. 

The first major encampment appeared on Columbia University’s campus. The protests were initially peaceful, but as the days went on chaos followed. On the night of Apr. 28, a group of protesters took over and blockaded Hamilton Hall. Some reports claimed that they had taken faculty workers as hostages, these reports were false; the protesters let them out once realizing they were inside. The building’s occupiers hung an “Intifada” banner from the roof, leading to accusations of the protests being pro-Hamas and associated with terrorism. While intifada technically means uprising, the term has been associated with armed terrorism in modern contexts. It is important to note that Hamilton Hall has been occupied in previous anti-war protests at the university. Occupying buildings is not an abnormal protest behavior for students, and has been done across the country for decades of anti-war protests. The encampments soon spread to hundreds of other schools, concerning the pro-zionist Americans.

Anti-war protests are not new, yet the response from police and important figures has been unique to those condemning the state of Israel as they continue to indiscriminately bomb the “Palestinian” territory they occupy. The police response to the protests was extraordinarily violent, leading to chaotic videos of protesters fighting riot police, being pepper sprayed and shot at with rubber bullets. Snipers have been spotted at some schools, increasing the eerie dystopian-esque scenes coming out of university campuses right now. Police violently arrested staff members who happened to be walking through protest areas. Counter-protesters have been present on many campuses, resulting in brawls between the two sides. Because of the chaos, likely instigated by law enforcement, the protests are no longer considered peaceful by those who oppose them. This coupled with the all too overused accusation of anti-semitism, has created a dangerous narrative that the protests are “pro-Hamas” or that the protestors are themselves Jew hating terrorists. The protests, rather than Israel, have been condemned by almost all politicians and media outlets. The anti-semetic label has been used for decades to suppress anti-zionist speech, which has become associated–by some–with Judaism as an entirety. It is important to separate the two terms, as all Jewish people are not Zionists and are not the same ideology whatsoever. For those who do not know, Zionism is a Jewish national movement, who believes the Jews have claims to Palestine where they lived during biblical times. While a small number of student protesters could be motivated by hate, the mass majority of students are standing up, risking their safety, enrollment and future job opportunities out of empathy for an oppressed people. Many leading student voices and organizers are themselves Jewish. Students embrace each other’s cultures, performing cultural dances and songs as a symbol of unity. 

As the chaos has intensified beyond what was once peaceful, many are asking how much of the violence and destruction of property is being done by actual students. When examining donations given to the groups organizing the protests, it has been revealed that George Soros, David Rockefeller Jr. and the Pritzkers have donated large sums of money over the last few years. The donations are only tracked through 2022, so anything after that is just speculation. We know these men have funded organizers in the past, making it likely that they may be funding these as well. The groups pay organizers and some protesters thousands of dollars a week for 8 hours of protesting. Due to the strong political affiliations and reputations of said donors, questions regarding the authenticity of the movement arise; Are these protests being organized by outside players? Are the protests being exploited for political gain? Is this just organized chaos and destruction? Is this just a distraction for something else? 

Fueling these feelings is the fact that a large number of those arrested are not students. In fact, most of the protesters who broke into and barricaded Hamilton Hall were not students at Colombia. Some have pointed to the same tent being present in large quantities across the country, saying that this must prove widespread organization. While it could mean this, the tent in question is $30 on Amazon, with overnight shipping options, making it likely the cheapest and fastest available option. Are these “paid agitators”  trying to radicalize students, inspiring violence that would not otherwise happen as New York City Mayor Eric Adams suggests? Or is this just a narrative being used to discredit the message itself? These questions are valid and important, but do not, and may never, have a definitive answer. While it is undeniable that “outsiders” are present at the protests, and “outside” money is being used to fund them in some form, it is hard to tell what their goal is. Are they trying to legitimately protest for Palestine, or are they infiltrating them, inciting violence and saying hateful things to slant the student’s message? Or are they trying to radicalize students to protest for something they otherwise would not? 

In some known examples, it seems that both narratives have some truth to them. As mentioned earlier, many of the arrests on campus are of non-students, meaning that those committing the most criminal acts are not “student protesters.” On the other side, multiple instances of alleged anti-semitism have been proven to be hoaxes. While these few instances can not be generalized to all the protest(er)s it gives insight into the complicated narrative battle being waged around the news. After hearing somebody say “kill the Jews” at a campus protest in Boston, multiple protesters were arrested. It turned out, however, that the person who said this, was in fact a pro-Israeli counter protester. Video shows students booing what the man had said, and 100 of them were later arrested. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson claimed that a Jewish student was stabbed in the eye with a Palestinian flag during a protest in an attempt to denounce them by applying the anti-semetic label. The incident in question is undoubtedly an over exaggerated reaction to an accident in which a pro-palestinian protestor walking with a flag hit a  Jewish student. The student sustained no injuries and was completely fine, yet people continue to describe this incident as a hate crime in order to smear and discount the power the protests have. 

As a result of the protests and an alleged rise of anti-semitism in the United States, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act passed the house, and is likely to pass through the senate to be signed by Joe Biden. The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is one the most unconstitutional bills to be passed in the country since the Patriot Act. The act aims “to provide for the consideration of a definition of antisemitism set forth by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance for the enforcement of Federal antidiscrimination laws concerning education programs or activities, and for other purposes.” This means that anything that could potentially be considered: calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion, making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions, accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews, denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust), accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust, accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations, denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor, applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelism, drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, or holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel would be punishable. The act specifically aims to set the standard for the Department of Education to apply the IHRA’s definition when enforcing anti-discrimination laws in order to stop the protests and trample on their First Amendment right to free speech and protest. Regardless of personal feelings, this is such a clear violation of free speech, used specifically to protect Israel from criticism in the United States. The government should not be able to outlaw any speech, specifically speech criticizing a foreign government. This law violates both the right to free speech and protest and should not be adopted by any federal government agency. American governments have involved themselves in protecting Israel from criticism and/or boycotts before. The state of Texas requires government contractors to not support or participate in a boycott of the state of Israel.  

The world wide student protest movement, demanding their institutions cut all ties with Israel and Israel affiliated companies, has become a subject of immense controversy. Some have claimed the protests are motivated by the students’–including Jewish participants–hatred of Jews, while others claim they are an organic movement of young people trying to stand up against an occupying oppressive force. Some people have called the outside agitator narrative a myth, while others claim it to be true; some say the agitators are the ones organizing and inspiring the protests, while others think they are counter protesters trying to twist the message and change the narrative. Since the protests are so wide spread, everyone could likely be correct. The protests have been met with strong and uncharacteristic police responses, creating very unsettling scenes of riot police harming innocent protesters and staff. These protests have helped to continue the exposing of Israel’s longtime occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people, and has made  the control that the Israeli state may have over the United State’s political class quite clear. 

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