The Protest Movement is Adrift

Political extremism is poisoning the pro-Palestinian movement

7 mins read
Political extremism is poisoning the pro-Palestinian movement

The slogans would seem to say it all. “Al Qassam (Hamas’s military wing) you make us proud, take another soldier out.” “We say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground.” “Ya Hamas we love you, we support your rockets too.” It’s not exactly “give peace a chance,” but that doesn’t seem to be what many of these protesters want. Rather, they want to “globalize the Intifida,” which might better be translated to mean bringing violence and terror to “Zionists,” or Jews, around the world. 

Sadly, these are some of the nihilistic slogans recently chanted by pro-Palestinian protesters, activists performatively draped in checkered kaffiyehs, but with little apparent ability to discern the larger meaning, or contradiction, behind their own rhetoric. They may have mastered the political signaling and rhetorical devices of the far-left, lacing their speech with a patois of academic catchphrases like intersectionality, antiracism, and anti-colonialism, but upon closer examination, there’s a hollow core of narcissism and baffling ignorance that’s difficult to understand. 

Indeed, many of these masked protesters seem to be unable to form any kind of coherent intellectual or political narrative about themselves or their movement, aside from screaming for the destruction of Israel. They seem to have abandoned universal ideals like non-violence, political freedom, and support for liberalist democracy, for this cosplaying of Islamic revolutionaries we’re seeing on America’s college campuses. 

This has led to the jarring spectacle of far-left protesters allegedly concerned with human rights and social justice openly celebrating proto-fascist Islamist terrorists like the Houthis, Iran, and Hamas, who call for the annihilation of Jews and the Israeli state in their founding documents, to say nothing of cheerleading their bloodcurdling butchery of October 7th. 

In a zero-sum calculation, many of these protesters are siding with brutal theocrats against Israel, who believe in the smothering of women’s rights, the efficacy of political violence and terror, the slaughter of gay people, and who despise electoral democracy as such. If nothing else, these new allies certainly make strange bedfellows for these liberal activists.

As I said, the slogans speak for themselves. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” is perhaps the most famous and omnipresent slogan to have emerged from the protests thus far, and it would seem to suggest widespread agreement among this movement that the only Jewish state in the world should simply be dismantled and destroyed, presumably in favor of yet another Arab theocracy. What happened to a two-state solution?

At the same time, these protesters accuse Israel of undertaking a campaign of genocide in Gaza. Simply put, this is a patently false claim, albeit one that’s found some real purchase in these protests and in places around the world, particularly after South Africa’s recent petition to the ICC. But as comedian Bill Maher recently observed regarding these empty accusations of genocide, “Hamas would do that to Israel, but can’t; Israel could do that to them, but doesn’t.” That’s exactly right.

Obviously, we’re witnessing a brutal war in Gaza, with all the attending horrors of urban combat in the Middle East, and I’ve certainly been critical of the IDF’s campaign and Netanyahu’s defunct leadership. But Israel was attacked by Hamas, savagely and without warning; they wantonly slaughtered 1200 civilians, raped scores of women, and kidnapped hundreds more, in what was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. 

In other words, this was not a voluntary war of aggression by Israel, and that fact can’t just conveniently be forgotten or edited out of the equation, particularly when you’re throwing around the word ‘genocide.’ Meanwhile, Hamas’s leaders have repeatedly gone on television and sworn to continue to attack Israel in the same way, over and over again. According to any conception of international law, nations have the right to defend themselves against such a threat.

Inevitably, wars produce civilian casualties, particularly combat in urban areas, with terrorists who specialize in embedding themselves among the civilian populace, as Hamas does. This war is no exception, and the death of tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza is a heartbreaking tragedy, but we need to ask ourselves how this nightmare started. 

The answer is clear. Instead of governing Gaza and working to improve the lives of Palestinians, Hamas deliberately planned for and started this terrible conflict to change their geo-strategic position and alter the status quo, coldly calculating that a massive conflagration could only benefit themselves, even if it ended in death and destruction for scores of Palestinians and Israelis, as it so predictably has. 

Israeli airstrikes and its ground invasion have certainly been punishing, but a deadly war is just not the same thing as genocide, not even close. Nor is the mere existence of the state of Israel somehow inherently genocidal, a fallacy you hear often from these misguided protesters. It’s just not true. The long conflict in the Middle East is many things, but it’s not a genocide.

As these anti-Israel protests have grown larger and more extreme, they’ve also become far more violent and destructive, as protesters have seized campus buildings, attacked Jewish students, and destroyed university property in their rage. Police have spent the last 48 hours clashing with, and arresting, protesters from coast to coast. They’ve arrested some 2000 protesters over the last two weeks, and there’s nothing to suggest the unrest is dying down. 

In fact, it’s just the opposite, and the temperature continues to rise. In the last few days, enraged pro-Israel counter-protesters attacked protesters at the encampment at UCLA, apparently after a young Jewish girl was knocked unconscious by pro-Palestinian protesters. The violence continued for hours, before police finally stepped in.

So, as these protests continue engulfing some of America’s most elite universities, I decided to take a look at the ideology and the larger political dynamics behind these protests. I was somewhat hesitant to write this brief critique, as I’m primarily concerned with preventing Donald Trump’s looming destruction of our democracy. Unfortunately, this campus unrest is now a crucial part of that equation.

Thus, I felt it would be worthwhile to turn a critical eye to these protests, regardless of the criticism I’m sure I’ll generate. I’m a centrist, a small-d democrat, and an analyst, concerned with facts, nuance, and reality, even as I’ve found these protesters drifting in the opposite direction.

A mess of contradictions

Following the violent takeover of Hamilton Hall at Columbia University, and the NYPD’s response, entering the barricaded building and arresting around 100 protesters, police discovered several Maoist slogans scrawled on the walls. Predictably, these included the old gem, beloved by leftist terrorists everywhere: “Political power flows from the barrel of a gun.” 

It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of electoral democracy.

Of course, Mao Zedong slaughtered some 45–80 million people in China, through engineered famine, torture, and mass murder. His reign was so vicious, chaotic, and lethal that to this day, it remains impossible to document precisely how many people perished, even approximately. However, it’s clear that we’re talking about the biggest mass murderer in human history, and yet these protesters are adopting his slogans.

Unfortunately, these protesters wouldn’t seem to know that history, illustrating a central problem with this protest movement: political incoherence and historical ignorance. It’s incredible watching these young protesters openly celebrating Islamic terrorism, while simultaneously promoting LGBTQ issues, as if Hamas doesn’t murder gay people for sport.

It’s just baffling. At best, it suggests some real confusion.

Obviously, there’s also been rabid antisemitism flourishing throughout this movement, despite claims of antiracism being central to its confused politics. This ideological incoherence is perhaps the defining trait of these protests thus far, in my view, along with mounting political extremism. 

At this point, it’s all a far cry from merely calling for a ceasefire or peace.

1968/2024

It might be wise to consider the larger political dynamic in the United States right now, something about which many of these protesters would seem to be utterly oblivious. Then again, many of them apparently loathe Western electoral democracy, so perhaps they’ll revel in assisting in its destruction, something that’s a very real possibility.

It’s all quite reminiscent of 1968, when violent antiwar protests rocked the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, events that helped place Richard Nixon in the White House, and ushered in more than a decade of conservative government in America. But in this case, the stakes are far higher, at least where American democracy is concerned.

These protests are threatening to help Trump win reelection, in what would be the final death throe of our ailing electoral system. This is probably something worth thinking about, with an election in 6 months that may well place the most openly authoritarian candidate ever to win a nomination back in the Oval Office, someone at the head of a violent neofascist movement who has already spelled out his plans for establishing a right-wing dictatorship atop the ruins of our democracy.

As if to illustrate how much MAGA Republicans are loving these protests, Lauren Boebert, Byron Donalds, James Comer, and Speaker Mike Johnson recently took a tour of a “liberation encampment” at George Washington University. Clearly, Republicans are gleefully preparing to use these protests against “Genocide Joe” Biden in the upcoming presidential election, something that should concern anyone who doesn’t want to see a Trump dictatorship.

Now, I want to be clear: I believe in the 1st Amendment, and these students absolutely should be able to peacefully protest. I myself have been extremely critical of Israel’s military campaign and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and I absolutely support a ceasefire in Gaza, elections in Israel, and a new government in Jerusalem. Moreover, I believe there needs to be a political settlement to the Palestinian question, a path to a viable two-state solution, for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians alike. 

I’m also not historically and politically illiterate. I’m not hyperbolizing and simplifying a tragic and brutal conflict that I don’t really understand. Nor am I allowing myself to become the mouthpiece for murderous Islamic terrorists who stand for violence, extremism, intolerance, and hatred.

The most extreme protesters are doing all of that, even as they simultaneously aid Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. It’s time they wake up, open their eyes, and try to glimpse the bigger political picture. At the very least, they might take the time to better understand these complex issues, beyond the buzzwords and propaganda. If they did, they’d find that these are issues that can’t be reduced to simple slogans.

Alexander Ziperovich

Alexander Ziperovich is a Political analyst and Opinion columnist. He writes about politics, justice, foreign affairs, and culture, dissecting the larger historical and social context behind important events.

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