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What should we expect from the US intifada for Gaza?

April 30, 2024 at 12:10 pm

Students at George Washington University remove the barricades previously erected by the police that cut off the university as they gather to protest against the attacks in Gaza and show support for Palestinians in Washington, D.C., United States on 29 April, 2024 [Celal Güneş/Anadolu Agency]

The mass protests at dozens of US universities cannot be reduced to a stifling and misleading conversation about anti-Semitism. Thousands of American students across the country are not protesting, risking their own futures and safety because of some pathological hatred of the Jewish people. They are doing so because they reject and are justifiably outraged by the mass killing of defenceless Palestinians in Gaza the state of Israel. They are angry because the bloodbath in the Gaza Strip since 7 October is fully funded and backed by the US government.

The protests began at the University of Columbia on 17 April before spreading across the country, from New York to Texas and from North Carolina to California. They are being compared, in terms of their nature and intensity, to the anti-war protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s.

While the comparison is apt, it is critical to note the ethnic diversity and social inclusiveness in the current protests. On many campuses, Arab, Muslim, Jewish, Black, Native American and White students are standing shoulder to shoulder with their Palestinian peers in a unified stance against the Israeli war.

None of them is motivated by fear that they could be drafted to fight in Gaza, as was, indeed, the case for many American students during the Vietnam War era. Instead, they are united around a clear set of priorities: an end to the war; an end to US support for Israel; an end to their universities’ direct investment in Israel; and an acknowledgement and recognition of their right to protest.

This is not idealism, but humanity at its finest.

Despite mass arrests, starting in Columbia, and violence against peaceful protesters everywhere, the movement has only grown stronger.

On the other side, US politicians, starting with President Joe Biden, have accused the protesters of anti-Semitism, without engaging with any of their reasonable and globally-supported demands. Once again, the Democratic and Republican establishments have stood together in blind support of Israel.

READ: Jewish Council of Australia: Pro-Palestine college protests are not threat to Jewish students, staff

Biden condemned the “anti-Semitic protests” and described them as “reprehensible and dangerous”. A few days later, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, visited the university under tight security, using language that is hardly suitable for a country which claims to embrace democracy, respect freedom of expression and protect the right of assembly.

“We just can’t allow this kind of hatred and anti-Semitism to flourish on our campuses,” he said, adding. “I am here today joining my colleagues, and calling on [university] President [Minouche] Shafik to resign if she cannot immediately bring order to this chaos.”

Shafik, however, was already on board. She was the one who called for the New York Police Department to crack down on the protesters, and also accused them — falsely — of anti-Semitism.

US mainstream media have helped contribute to the confusion and misinformation regarding the reasons for the protests. The Wall Street Journal, once again, allowed writers such as Steven Stalinsky to smear young justice activists for daring to criticise Israel’s horrendous genocide in Gaza.

“Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and others are grooming activists in the US and across the West,” he alleged. He took a critical conversation about US support for genocide into bizarre and unsubstantiated directions.

READ: Norway accuses West of double standards on Gaza

US establishment writers may wish to continue to fool themselves and their readers, but the truth is that neither Hezbollah or Hamas “recruiters” are active in Ivy League US universities, where young people are often groomed to become leaders in government and large corporations. All such distractions are meant to avoid the undeniable shift in American society, one that promises a long-term paradigm shift in popular views of Israel and Palestine.

For years prior to the current war, Americans have been changing their opinions on Israel, and their country’s so-called “special relationship” with Tel Aviv. Young Democrats have led the trend, which can also be observed among independents and, to some extent, young Republicans.

A statement that asserts that “sympathies in the Middle East now lie more with the Palestinians than the Israelis”, would have been unthinkable in the past. But it is the new norm, and latest opinion polls regarding the subject, along with Biden’s dwindling approval ratings, continue to attest to this fact.

The older generations of US politicians, who have built and sustained careers based on their unconditional support for Israel, are overwhelmed by the new reality. Their language is confused and riddled with falsehoods, and yet they are willing to defame a whole generation of their own people — the future leaders of America — in order to satisfy the demands of the Israeli government.

In a televised statement on 24 April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather predictably described the protesters as “anti-Semitic mobs” who “have taken over leading universities”, alleging that the peaceful protesters are calling “for the annihilation of Israel”. His words should have outraged all Americans, regardless of their politics and ideology.

Instead, US politicians began parroting Netanyahu’s words.

However, such political opportunism will generate some blowback, not just in the distant future, but also in the coming weeks and months, especially in the run-up to the presidential election in November. Millions of Americans are clearly fed up with war, with their government’s blind allegiance to a foreign country, to militarism, to police violence, to the unprecedented restrictions on freedom of speech in the US, and more.

Young Americans, who are not beholden to the self-interests or historical and spiritual illusions of previous generations, are declaring that enough is enough. They are doing more than chanting and rising up in unison; they are demanding answers, moral and legal accountability and an immediate end to the war.

Now that the US government has taken no action — and, in fact, continues to feed the Israeli war machine in its onslaught against millions of Palestinians — these brave students are taking the initiative and acting themselves. This intifada is, without doubt, an awe-inspiring, watershed moment in the history of the United States.

OPINION: Global outrage is growing against Netanyahu’s genocide in Gaza

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.