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Student Protests Over Gaza

It warms my heart and stirs my sense of righteous rebellion to see the proliferation of student protests on college campuses and in city streets, in opposition to the Israeli genocidal war on Gaza. It’s also dejá vu. Many folks my age took part in the campus protests of the 1960s and ‘70s over civil rights and the Viet Nam War. At that time the politicians and the Pentagon and the corporations and the college administrations and the major media condemned the protests. Preaching the rule of law, they called in the police with tear gas and billy clubs to “restore order.” They condemned the style of the protests–the long hair, the irreverence, the stubbornness, the refusal to abide by middle-class norms, and the unwillingness to give up. They condemned the lack of patriotism of the students. And they hated that students were doing what students are supposed to do: study the history of U.S. involvement in Viet Nam, finding out the real reasons for that war.

Today, as students opposing the war on Gaza are being arrested and jailed, suspended from school and expelled, comparisons are being drawn between these protests and the ones of the 60s. What’s not being mentioned is that the students were right. The Viet Nam War was an atrocity. It was criminal. Our government had lied about the war and its execution was obscenely immoral. The U.S. government was responsible for murdering millions of Vietnamese, Cambodians and Lao. It was drafting young men to commit murder–not to protect the U.S., but for imperialism and geopolitical power. The students should have been protesting. What would have been one more unforgivable atrocity: the failure to protest. That would have meant that the students accepted our government’s lies and didn’t care. It would also have meant that the students were ignoring the fact that their college and university endowments were invested in militarism. Even if students weren’t called to fight, they were being made complicit in murder simply by being students and citizens.

One should cast a very cold eye on governments and institutions that demand adherence to the rule of law and restoration of order when they are lying and participating in violent chaos. The right and decent thing to do is resist compliance. The massacre of civilians in Gaza, the failure of the U.S. to demand the delivery of food and medical aid, the continued outrageous profits of U.S. weapon makers from that massacre, the failure of U.S. schools and media to teach the truth about the past seventy-five years of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians–all of this makes resistance not just admirable but morally necessary.

It should be expected that students will be arrested. They are resisting the power, the vested interests, and the duplicity of the state. The state will come down hard. There’s a price for telling truth to power. But there will also be redemption and gratitude. These protests are proving that truth lives, that conscience will not be intimidated. As students helped to save the soul of this country in the 1960s, they are doing so again today. Condemning the genocidal policy of Israel in Gaza is not anti-Semitic. Judaism is a religion rooted in justice. Israeli policy is anti-Semitic because it is so horribly unjust.

I have been opposed for a long time to Israel’s apartheid behavior toward Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Once again the U.S. government has chosen to support a government that represses human rights and dignity and sovereignty. I bless the courage of the student protestors.

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