When Academic “Leaders” Direct Police to Put Down Student Demonstrations

When University Leaders Order Police to Crush Student Protests
When University Leaders Order Police to Crush Student Protests

As a professor, I find it offensive when academic officials use the justification of deploying law enforcement to forcibly remove students from university-owned land, including lawns.

Journalists at The Washington Post just confirmed what many people either knew or suspected. Donors from the wealthiest 1% of society exerted pressure on political figures and university officials to quell nonviolent student protests with the use of force, including the police. In order to achieve an instant truce in Gaza, the students demanded a shift in American and Israeli policy. More and more academics are participating in the student demonstrations. The same “authorities” have also unfairly prosecuted them.

Naturally, American police are expected to fulfil a quite distinct legal duty. As “peacekeepers,” police should take action to ensure that free expression on both sides of disagreements about US foreign or domestic policy is secure. Both university administrations and law enforcement abuse their authority when they work together to stifle free expression. Similar to how American students have in the past, kids worldwide have dealt with similar mistreatment. Now, our pupils are facing them once more.

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As a professor, I find it offensive when academic officials use the justification of deploying law enforcement to forcibly remove students from university-owned land, including lawns. They make the case that real estate interests are more important than the public education and awareness that nonviolent student protests on pressing, life-or-death problems of the day bring to the table. Justifications based on real estate can expose the ignorance of university officials. In the US, public funds are used to subsidise private institutions due to large tax exemptions. They receive costly governmental services at no cost to them. The taxes that pay for those public services are paid by the rest of the American population. Similar to this, large government grants fund both “private” and “public” universities for general university functions (in addition to funding for particular academic research programmes). All colleges and universities get substantial funding from the government. As a result, they are ideal venues for public opinion expression about significant public problems. When university officials use fictitious “private property” justifications to call the police on students, they are attempting to conceal their servile pandering to wealthy benefactors. Universities that penalise students who want peace in Gaza will always be deeply and permanently shamed by their actions.

The same goes for all the authorities that cover up their pandering with the age-old “violence” ruse. They pretend to be motivated to stop or prevent mainly imaginary acts of campus violence. These same authorities, however, mostly condone actual, far worse bloodshed in Gaza and the Ukraine. On the other hand, because it could discourage some other students from joining them, student activists seeking peace in Gaza have every incentive to abstain from on-campus violence. Opponents of the demonstration attempt to link it to violence in an effort to limit its expansion. Politicians, law enforcement, and university officials all greatly inflated the small amount of violence they blamed on anti-Vietnam War demonstrators years ago. These protestors, in contrast to those in authority, contributed to the cessation of that war and its horrifying carnage.

In order to provide time and space for public discourse and action on a pressing public problem, protests interrupt “business as usual.” For this reason, labourers go on strike, demonstrators swarm the streets in support of women’s and minorities’ rights, and peace vigils assemble at junctions. Millions of French citizens have shut down France in recent years to demand social reform while donning yellow vests. General Strikers in Argentina similarly stopped down in the spring of 2024. Why people desire change is explained by protestors. Through their protests, they invite people to discuss the issue of change.

Protests also testify to the social health of a society: their capacity to surmount the resignation, hesitancy, and fear that all too frequently obstruct or postpone the public recognition of social issues. Serious societal problems are frequently driven underground by a lack of outcry. There, they fester and finally manifest themselves in a more disruptive way than they would have in previous rallies. Allow demonstrators to state their cases. Let counterprotesters make their points in the same way, if they so want. That’s the definition of “free speech.” Almost any public demonstration soon becomes unbearably scary to the “authorities” in power because they dread the questions, demands, and criticisms of the people they rule. When their power is questioned, they respond in ways that undermine their vacuous claims to be “democratic.” It is our collective responsibility and right to support true free expression.

The wider world is evolving. Global shifts are responsible for the atrocities in Gaza, the emergence of a strong new student movement opposing American foreign policy, and undemocratic attempts to stifle free expression. The world we live in today is rapidly diverging from the one that most of our parents knew. The American empire rose, peaked, and is currently in decline, just as the British empire rose, peaked, and collapsed. The majority of Americans continue to deny it, therefore they are just now starting to understand this fact. Based on our own history, everyone of us must deal with the changes in the world. I must thus give a brief explanation of my background, my family’s history, and how it contextualises my interaction with a world that is always changing before making any judgements regarding Gaza and the student demonstrations.

In the late 1930s, both my mother and her sister were detained in concentration camps (my aunt in a German camp, my mother in a French one). My grandparents’ parents were murdered in a separate German death camp. Born and bred in Berlin, Germany, my mother attended the University of Berlin before leaving the country in 1936. After attending numerous German and Swiss institutions, my father—who was born in the contentious French/German city of Metz—became a lawyer and later a judge in Germany before relocating to France in 1933. In the late 1930s, his sister was abducted by the Gestapo in Paris and subsequently murdered in Auschwitz. All of the family members who “survived” endured significant traumas, many of which were exacerbated by prior traumas they had experienced. Many other family members perished in ways connected to fascism and/or World War II.

In addition to surviving, my parents experienced life as refugees in the United States. They knew very nothing about American culture or the English language. They lacked funds. In the US, their professional qualifications from Europe were not accepted. At the time of my birth, my mother was referred to as a “homemaker” while my father worked as a steel worker in a mill in Youngstown, Ohio. Being the first child of refugees who were “survivors” of several tragedies, I felt a lot of pressure to “succeed” in the new nation. My silent mission was to make up for all the hurts and losses my parents carried with them everywhere they went. I also paid great attention to the tidbits of knowledge that sprang from innumerable talks in and around my family about fascism, Europe, World War II, and modern history. This provides the context for how I “relate” to the events that have occurred in Israel, Gaza, and the US in recent years, particularly those that have occurred since last October. Here, “relate” means addressing the current student demonstrations, their attempted suppression, and this article’s composition.

Within my family, the prevailing assumption when discussing fascism, war, and similar topics was that they were all the latest in a long line of human catastrophes throughout history. They most likely occurred and might have happened anywhere. And they most likely would occur again in any location. It is possible that the most we might legitimately expect for would be a reduction in the likelihood, occurrence, or severity of disasters in the future by some kind of political action we could take right now.

That meant, to me, that I should try to learn how societies function, take action to alter them, and ultimately help to realise the greatest possible outcome. It was not taken seriously that any country or area was inherently more likely to become Nazis or that they couldn’t. Germany was not particularly prone to becoming Nazi. Similarly, no nation was shielded from partial or complete nazification by “denazification laws,” “civil liberties traditions,” or catchphrases like “never again.” Israel was a part of that.

As a student in Germany, my father battled fascism. Later, as a journalist travelling around Europe, as a labour lawyer in Germany, and eventually as a naturalised citizen of the United States, he opposed bigotry against Puerto Rican immigrants and African Americans in New York City. Though he personally avoided it, he respected Marxism as a political force and an intellectual heritage. From the time of his arrival in 1939 until the latter’s death in 1945, he was consistently a European left social democrat who felt at home in the United States under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After 1945, he started to feel more and more uneasy. The political movements to the right in Western Europe and the United States following 1945 were neither noticed nor disputed by him. He felt that the circumstances were becoming more favourable for the emergence of new nazisms. He openly expressed his concerns about these possibilities, particularly the possibility that fascism might spread and seize power not just in Israel but also in the US.

My mother, nine years younger than my father, was forced to leave the University of Berlin in 1936 after police identified her as a courier for the anti-Hitler underground. As she grew older, she often pondered that “the Jews learned nothing from the Holocaust” and “the Jewish Zionists learned nothing from the Holocaust beyond ‘Better to perpetrate one than to suffer it again’.” One of my dad would regularly remark, “Jews have very often been the opponents and victims of nationalisms,” especially after living and marrying for extended periods of time in areas where Jews and non-Jews coexisted harmoniously. The growing economic and social issues that both Jewish and non-Jewish communities were facing were what turned non-Jews against their Jewish neighbours. Few people in each community saw capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism as the root causes of their issues since these ideas were too strongly frowned upon.

Too few Marxists were available to instruct and clarify the consequences of capitalism. The Russian Revolution and the USSR’s particular version of Marxism greatly affected the methods and terminology used by the Marxists and their active supporters to analyse societal issues at that time. Because of the unparalleled reputation of the first and only victorious Marxist revolution in 1917 Russia, that view became to predominate over other, competing interpretations. Capitalism, according to Soviet Marxism, is an economic system that combines open markets (where businesses and labourers trade products and services) with private property (privately owned and run businesses). Soviet Marxists and others who adopted their ideas contended that the capitalism system was responsible for the income and wealth disparities, the “business cycle”‘s instability, and the financial corruption of politics, all of which had the potential to breed fascism and the Nazis. On the other hand, socialists suggested three ways to go beyond capitalism: (1) the working class seizing control of the state (by revolution or elections); (2) the state taking over businesses; and (3) the use of state planning rather than free markets. Such a kind of socialism was referred to as a logical economic structure that served the needs of the working class as a whole as opposed to the interests of the minority capitalist class. This kind of socialism was fascism’s opponent, antidote, and substitute.

In the meantime, the newly formed Nazis examined society through the lens of completely unrelated ideas like country and race. They saw the societal issue as having a national and racial basis: the Jewish nation and race were oppressing the German country and Aryan race. Engels, according to my father, said that antisemitism of this kind was the socialist ideology of the ignorant.

In reality, how had Germans been victimized—or suffered, to use Nazi terminology—? Following Germany’s defeat in World War I (1918), the country was hit with an enormous reparations bill, the highest inflation in modern European history (1923) decimated the savings of the middle class, and finally, in 1929, the Great Crash and the ensuing worldwide Depression. All those incidents were used politically by German capitalists and the right-wing parties they supported, who saw them as victimisations. They held foreigners responsible for them: the Bolsheviks, from whom German communists and socialists had borrowed their diabolical ideas. Nazis emphasised the existence of Jews on the German left as the foundation for their historical revisionism, portraying it as a plot to subjugate Germans and other people to Jewish worldwide financial dominance. The previous works in Europe that accompanied antisemitic uprisings there served as a major source of inspiration for that undertaking. By portraying Jews as a dangerous race or nation, the Nazis were able to incite Germans to defend themselves from the Jewish menace. Self-defense was and was used as an excuse for Jewish persecution, property confiscation, incarceration, and finally physical annihilation. In a similar vein, a growing number of Israelis today defend the war in Gaza as a measure against the Palestinians and the serious threat they are perceived to pose. The Department of Defence is another name for the military branch of the US government used in aggressive foreign policy.

The severity of Germany’s post-World War I issues, which culminated in the effects of the Great Depression worldwide in 1929, overtook its leaders. The majority of Germans were growing more and more desperate, and they could find no conventional way out. As a result, they adopted Hitler’s approach. His murderous impulses discovered a rich soil that resulted in scapegoating, particularly of Jews. With all of their scapegoats, the Nazis finally stocked Germany’s and many of its allies’ (Poland, Austria, Italy, Spain, and occupied France) prisons, concentration camps, and furnaces and graves.

Nazism has always been opposed. There were plenty of other opponents, particularly among socialists and communists, in addition to the Jewish ones. Though they experienced many painful losses, those oppositions also shown a remarkable capacity for heroic and fruitful breakthroughs in association, cognition, and action. After 1945, their discoveries impacted world history. They aided in shaping us into the critics of accepted practices of discrimination based on race, gender, and class. Specifically, they fortified and reshaped post-war opposition against imperialism and capitalism. The colonised overthrew most colonialisms.

The horrors suffered by my parents and their relatives left the survivors feeling a certain amount of pity and sympathy for the hope that Jews—as well as LGBTQ+ individuals, the Roma, and other victims of Nazi persecution—might, at last, find safety in the world. This included an idealised early perception of Israel, particularly its kibbutzim communities. However, my parents’ sentiments waned beginning in the 1950s as the kibbutzim disappeared and Israeli administrations came to accept progressively more deference to U.S. foreign policy.

Regarding religion, my parents had long since given up on Judaism, as had their parents. Holding on to religious symbols and rituals at a time when they seemed ever more inappropriate, absurd, or worse struck them as unwanted modes of separation from the progressive tendencies of the larger society, those generations were proud to be “free-thinkers,” or what my father once called “post-religion.” My children and I have also grown up and shared in that framework.

The preceding paragraphs provide some background on my perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the demonstrations by American students. There is no way out for the Palestinians and Israelis. Though the Palestine-Israel conflict differs from Germany in many aspects, it shares a common goal of pursuing more insane tactics and goals. In search of protection, some Jewish Zionists in Palestine in the 20th century emulated the settler colonialism of prior decades carried out by the British, French, German, and other European countries. In terms of the military, political, and ideological spheres, it was feasible to construct and benefit from such settler colonialisms for extended periods of time back then. Indigenous people were ethnically cleansed over generations, allowing invader colonists to herd them into places “reserved” for their destitution. Israel is an attempt to create and secure settler colonialism in drastically changed historical circumstances, much, much later. Nowadays, the majority of people on the planet struggle against and rejoice in the end of settler and other colonialisms. Their resistance counterbalances and now poses a danger to topple Israel’s substantial backing from the United States and its dwindling coalition of allies.

The colonised people have always fought back and opposed their colonisers. Repressed resistance moved and spread underground. Then, on occasion, it burst into view, shocking the colonists with its intensity, perseverance, and ever-deeper roots. Over time, resistance to colonialism gave rise to the awareness, ideologies, institutions, and tools necessary to defeat it, if not achieve official political independence. In my doctoral research, I attempted to pinpoint the origins of this process in Kenya’s settler colonialism by the British. There, the Mau Mau uprising was the culmination of growing opposition and repression. By removing Kenya’s colonial status, it set the people of Kenya free. The next stage, which is currently involving many formerly colonised areas, is gaining true political independence. China, India, and Brazil are currently cautiously pursuing a further step towards actual economic independence, which is a prerequisite for real freedom.

Therefore, the history of colonialism points to slim chances for Israeli settler colonialism to succeed over a colonised Palestine. The circumstances necessary for any such preponderance do not yet exist and are not anticipated to do so. Thus, the history of Israel shows a pattern of both Israeli persecution and Palestinian uprisings. Both get more vengeful and aggressive. Repressors and resistors, stuck at a dead end, turn to increasingly more drastic measures, like the attack by Hamas in October of last year and Israel’s subsequent destruction of Gaza. Israeli authorities openly discuss driving millions of Palestinians out of their homeland and call them “animals.” Palestinian authorities maintain that Israel is forcing them to undergo a genocide. Netanyahu’s supporters also engage in prohibiting and detaining his policy critics. How far will they travel along that road? In response, American students have sparked a fresh mass movement that is transforming the nation even as you read this.

When foreign forces entered the conflict and won World War II, Hitler’s genocide came to an end. However, internal forces like as anti-fascism, Jewish resistance, and resistance to German rule all played a significant role. Will external forces and those already present in Israel and Palestine step in to avert the tragedy between the two countries? Currently, there is a global movement among college and university faculty and students for these kinds of initiatives. Now, it is up to each of them to decide for themselves whether and how to join that movement. Every decision a person makes will have an impact on their whole life.

Related Article: Remembering Barbara May Cameron, Poet and Human Rights Advocate

Many educators and students are working hard to comprehend how Israeli and Palestinian civilizations developed independently and in connection to one another to get at the terrible state of affairs they find themselves in today. They critically examine ideas like “settler colonialism,” “apartheid,” “self-defense,” and “antisemitism/anti-Zionism” in their seminars, books, and libraries.

Several educators and students don’t hesitate to inquire about the possible ways in which capitalism contributed to the current dead end, both on the Israeli and Palestinian sides as well as among their supporters. The purpose of this inquiry is to learn more about a pressing matter: may fundamental social reforms offer a fresh start on a more promising economic basis than capitalism, thereby breaking the impasse between Israel and Palestine? Would the politics of the kibbutzim have been different if their prominence and quantity in the Israeli economy had been allowed to grow? Could the expansion of worker cooperatives in the Palestinian territories have happened in a similar way? How could the Middle East have changed if coops and kibbutzim had developed political coalitions based on their common economic structures?

Indeed, these are novel, audacious, and innovative perspectives on the current, horrifying impasse in Gaza. Universities and students have frequently set the standard for innovation in society. Yes, the events in Gaza have caused major problems for free speech and law enforcement in campuses all across the world. However, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not been resolved by the outdated, defensive, and aggressive methods of thinking and behaving. They exacerbated the situation. Traditional defensive, aggressive modes of thought also fail to recognise that the world has changed after World War II, and that American power has now peaked and is beginning to wane. A collapsing empire provides fresh insight and perspective for all that is going on in the world. We are living through that deterioration with our generation. Without being afraid to use anti-capitalist traditions of thinking, we need to think critically about historical dead ends.


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