Contact Me By Email

Contact Me By Email

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Opinion | The backlash against campus protests is almost entirely wrongheaded - The Washington Post

The backlash has been intense, aggressive and almost entirely wrongheaded.

Law enforcement and University of Virginia students on campus in Charlottesville on Saturday. (Justin Ide for The Washington Post) 

"Students being evicted from university housing, at times with less than 24 hours to find new places to live. Professors barred from going to certain areas on university grounds. Campuses closed off from the news media and the public. Police officers shoving and injuring protesters, as well as using tear gas and rubber bullets against them. Entirely peaceful encampments taken down. Universities making last-minute changes to rules to limit protests. Television anchors comparing pro-Palestinian campus activists to Nazis. Claims of “outside agitators” trying to improperly “radicalize” students. Graduation ceremonies canceled based on vague claims of security threats.

The crackdown and demonization of the campus protests against Israel’s military actions in Gaza has been intense and aggressive. It has unified Democratic and Republican officials; commentators on MSNBC and Fox News; and college presidents and activists who usually bash universities.

Those moves have also been almost entirely wrongheaded — the latest negative fallout from the U.S. government’s disastrous decision to fully align with Israel as it destroys Gaza.

I’ve been leery of focusing on what’s happening on campuses because the events that really matter are in Gaza and Washington. The students wouldn’t be protesting at all if Israel stopped its attacks. And Americans who are skeptical of the Israeli government would be less motivated to protest if Congress and the Biden administration stopped providing Israel such strong military and diplomatic support. Those of us who want to see fewer Palestinian civilians killed need to be pressing Israeli and American officials, not U.S. college presidents.

But I can’t ignore the over-the-top and at times antidemocratic reaction to the pro-Palestinian activism on campus. The students are making the same case as many Black pastors, Jewish activists, the majority of Democratic voters, most countries around the world and numerous international aid organizations: Israel’s retribution for the terrible Hamas attack on Oct. 7 has gone on too long and killed far too many civilians.

And what happens at universities matters. Colleges are in theory the rare place where people with views (on the left or the right) not held by the political establishment can congregate and coordinate. We think of Vietnam protests and civil rights activism as being on campuses, but the conservative Federalist Society grew from college-based chapters to become one of the most important organizations in American politics.

We can debate some of the tactics of these pro-Palestinian protests. Occupying a building on campus is clearly an act of civil disobedience, and those taking that approach likely expected arrests and suspensions. I am deeply disappointed by the instances of activists harassing Jewish people on campus and using antisemitic language. There is no right to put up a tent on a campus lawn, so restrictions on encampments are not automatically verboten.

But the images across the country of heavily armed police officers confronting young college students and elderly professors holding signs show we have gone too far. The counter-mobilization to the protests is far worse than the excesses of protests themselves.

Relatively powerless college students, faculty and non-university activists may be breaking rules or even laws. But many police chiefs, mayors, university administrators and other powerful officials, while at times following the letter of the law, are violating principles of free discourse and protest and turning college campuses into police states. And they don’t have to act this way — universities across the country have reached agreements with students that have lead to end of the encampments.

President Biden is setting a terrible tone on this issue. Both in the first weeks after Oct. 7 and again recently, the president and his aides have gone way too far in implying that campus protests are antisemitic and dangerous, as opposed to the reality that they are largely peaceful and focused on the Israeli government’s policies and actions. It’s easier for universities to quickly bring cops on campus and hand out overly harsh punishments when the president has all but blessed such behavior.

I am disappointed and dismayed that the government that represents me and a president I voted for have continued for seven months on a policy course that is obviously flawed and leading to the killing of so many innocent people. That’s the big problem. We should all focus on the people of Gaza as much as possible. But we should never forget that when college students and professors decided to strongly oppose the mass killing of civilians, so many of America’s leaders and major institutions decided the problem was the students and professors, not the killings."

Opinion | The backlash against campus protests is almost entirely wrongheaded - The Washington Post

No comments:

Post a Comment