Mona Charen
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Gaza protests are mirror image of MAGA

Within the past few days, student protesters occupied Hamilton Hall at Columbia University and then were forcibly removed by New York police. I knew that building well when I was an undergrad there in the 1970s.

Columbia, like most colleges, tended left. The campus had become notorious in 1968 for its protests. By the time I arrived in 1975, things were quiet, but one could still detect a certain nostalgia for the ’60s — a sense that the students who turned the campus upside down were righteous and brave, whereas we, their successors, were careerist drudges.

That sentiment matters. Columbia’s current crop of revolutionaries were nurtured in warm, supportive environments that extend beyond the university. The lionization of activism and revolution has been like a fault line, quiet most of the time but always there and capable of grave harm.

Consider the response from Columbia’s faculty: The university senate met — not to admonish the students but to condemn the university president’s decision to call in the police. Worse, a number of faculty members rallied alongside the students.

These campus Gaza protests are a weird amalgam of “Portlandia” and “Reds.” Columbia’s “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” featured expensive REI tents, body oils for sale, gluten-free bread, a counseling tent, an art corner and a “People’s Library for Liberated Learning.” One student demanded that the protesters occupying the building be provided with food and water.

Protesting students usually love to spout off to reporters. But when journalists attempt to interview these students, they decline to speak and refer questions to the lone spokesperson.

As the Atlantic reported, when three Jewish Columbia students approached the enclosure, the leader announced, “Attention, everyone! We have Zionists who have entered the camp! We are going to create a human chain where I’m standing so that they do not pass this point and infringe on our privacy.”

By what logic does a public protest on an open space in the middle of campus require privacy? And by what standard are three Jewish students adjudged to be Zionists?

These tactics reveal a disturbing authoritarian mindset. At UCLA, protesters asked other students to identify themselves as “anti-Zionist” before being permitted past a barricade. One student posted a video in which he asks the protesters: “So you won’t let me in because I’m Jewish?” The protester replies, “Ummm, no … we have a couple Jewish students here. … Are you a Zionist?” The student affirms that he is. “Well, yeah, we’re not gonna let Zionists in.”

Leaving aside the arrogance of students who imagine they can violate university time, place and manner restrictions on their protests, there is the disturbing confusion about individual rights. A little refresher: It is wrong to make assumptions about people based on group identity. That’s why it was so offensive in 2016 when Donald Trump impugned the integrity of a judge by saying, “He’s a Mexican.” Most student protesters would have little difficulty identifying that as racist. Yet they don’t see that making assumptions about Jewish students’ beliefs is just as offensive.

An equally disturbing aspect of these student protests is their uncritical embrace of extremism. Some students may be attending these protests because they’re upset by the images coming out of Gaza. But the organizers and many of their enablers oppose violence only against certain victims. At an Oct. 8, 2023, rally in Times Square, some rallygoers carried signs saying, “Decolonization is not a metaphor” and, “By any means necessary.” A Columbia protest leader, Khymani James, told a disciplinary hearing that “Zionists don’t deserve to live.”

Back in October, before Israel had fired the first bullet in retaliation, a Barnard student recalled that she received a notice from the president of a campus lesbian organization announcing that “white Jewish people are today and always have been the oppressors of all brown people.”

These students are supposedly the cream of the crop in higher education, yet they demonstrate no appreciation of the complexities of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and a shocking willingness to mouth the Hamas slogans.

There are no calls at these protests for Hamas to accept a ceasefire or to release the hostages. There are no calls condemning Hezbollah or the Houthis in Yemen. No, these students are certain that they are taking a valiant stand against an apartheid regime committing genocide.

That is a lie. It is fair to criticize Israel for not doing more to provide humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, but the cries of genocide are simply unhinged — even if they are echoed by South Africa before the International Court of Justice.

If students are upset by what is happening to the Palestinian people, where is their anger toward Hamas? Does having supposedly brown skin obliterate everything else in these kids’ moral imaginations? And speaking of skin color, more than 50% of Israelis are not of European extraction. Does that complicate the moral calculus?

Students at American universities ought to show some humility about what they don’t know and some fairness in the way they evaluate complex conflicts. They ought to prize democratic systems, freedom, the rule of law, human rights and human dignity. Something has gone very wrong when they think in absolutist categories instead of the equal worth of every person. They are more like the MAGA crowd than they know.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her new book, “Hard Right: The GOP’s Drift Toward Extremism,” is available now.

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David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

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