College protests further highlight odd political divisions on Gaza

by Will Tubbs

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

For the first time since the height of the Vietnam War, U.S. college campuses are the collective focal point of the media because of mass protests that are leading to arrests, closures, and a further fracturing of the American political space. 

However, whereas most issues are comfortably divided between left and right, the Gaza issue is dividing both the left and the right. 

Nowhere has that been more evident than in responses to numerous campus protests. As outlined by the Associated Press, protestors have gathered on dozens of campuses. In recent days, no fewer than 15 campuses have made national headlines for especially heated gatherings. 

In broadest terms,  students at numerous campuses are demanding that their colleges and universities do more to end the hostilities in Gaza – ostensibly by divesting in relationships with Israeli and pro-Israel business interests, demanding a ceasefire and, one presumes, pressuring politicians. But, in many locations, counterprotesters and pro-Israel individuals are accusing pro-Palestine protesters of antisemitism, creating an intolerable atmosphere for Jewish students and faculty, and violating the law.

Prior to Thursday, Columbia University was the most visible campus dealing with protests – highlighted by more than 100 arrests and the school switching to online classes to, school officials said, protect their Jewish students and faculty. 

Wednesday, however, the University of Texas, and the State of Texas on a grander scale, claimed public attention after Gov. Greg Abbott okayed police in riot gear arresting dozens of protestors, including at least one journalist, over their alleged actions at a pro-Palestine demonstration. 

“Arrests being made right now & will continue until the crowd disperses,” Abbott tweeted. “These protesters belong in jail. Antisemitism will not be tolerated in Texas. Period. Students joining in hate-filled, antisemitic protests at any public college or university in Texas should be expelled.”

Unsurprisingly, Abbott’s move was met with critique from the left. 

Texas Democrats issued what was perhaps the most tone-deaf statement of the week, criticizing Abbott with a remark that read, “Today, Greg Abbott’s [Department of Public Safety] has more courage to arrest peaceful student protesters than when an active shooter entered an elementary school in Uvalde.”

But, in keeping with the theme of the Gaza war splitting the U.S. in novel ways, Abbott’s loudest critics were on the right. 

Conservative commentator Matt Walsh – notably employed by The Daily Wire, which publicly parted company with Candace Owens over her stance on the Gaza war – proved willing to test the limits of his bosses’ commitment to free expression by coming out solidly against Abbott. 

“If you’re arresting them for an illegal encampment or for making threats then say that,” Walsh posted on X. “But arresting people for ‘antisemitism’ is obviously a clear violation of the First Amendment. I can’t stand these protesters but you can’t arrest people simply for having ‘hateful’ views.”

Walsh’s remarks carried weight in political circles. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) retweeted Walsh’s post. 

Other notable conservatives, among them Chris Rufo and the publication The Federalist, were critical of Abbott as well, in their case along the lines that Abbott was creating “safe spaces” for Jewish students rather than allowing a free flow of ideas. 

But Abbott was not without his supporters. 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) sided with Abbott, especially after his opponent in this year’s election, Colin Allred, called Abbott’s response “overly aggressive”.

“@ColinAllredTX is explicitly attacking TX law enforcement for protecting Jewish students at UT,” Cruz posted on X. “He prefers Columbia’s & Yale’s approach. With vicious antisemitic protestors on college campuses, Allred is sadly siding with the pro-Hamas radicals.”

Coincidentally, Columbia University is proving the most profound fracture point for Democrats. In the Northeast, perhaps more than anywhere in the nation, Democrats are outspoken in their support of Israel and often electorally dependent upon votes from within Jewish communities.  

But that hasn’t stopped more progressive Democrats from siding with the pro-Palestine students. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has been vocal and incessant in her criticism of the Columbia administration and New York law enforcement.

“Not only did Columbia make the horrific decision to mobilize NYPD on their own students, but the units called in have some of the most violent reputations on the force,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Wednesday. “NYPD had promised the city they wouldn’t deploy SRG to protests. So why are these counterterror units here?”

Ocasio-Cortez’s post was met with a lengthy, strongly worded response from NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell. 

“Truly amazing! Columbia decided to hold its students accountable to the laws of the school, Chell wrote. “They are seeing the consequences of their actions. Something these kids were most likely never taught. Good SAT scores and self-entitlement do not supersede the law. I am sure you would agree that we have to teach them these valuable life skills.”

He later added, “You should rethink your comments to a simple thank you to the NYPD and hate has no place in our society. Maybe you should walk around Columbia and NYU and listen to their remarks of pure hatred. I will ensure those “units” will protect you as they do for all NYers 24/7/365.”

Ocasio-Cortez responded with a tweet that read, “Laws of the school?’ That’s not a thing. The inaccuracy of what constitutes a law in your statement is highly concerning, considering it is law enforcement putting their hands on kids. NYPD promised to not call counterterror SRG units on protests. It’s time to keep your word.”

ROOT OF THE SPLIT

Ocasio-Cortez’s thoughts on campus laws are misguided. The laws of the city, state, and nation apply on any campus.

The question then isn’t if it’s possible for a university to request the arrest of a party or a law enforcement agency to affect those arrests. Rather, and this is the primary faultline on both the left and the right, is whether the arrests are warranted. 

America is currently dividing itself into two distinct camps – those who believe at least some pro-Palestne protestors have violated the law and those who do not. There is also a connected divide over what constitutes a violation of the law and/or Constitution. 

“They’re not shouting anything antisemitic, they’re not harassing anyone, they’re standing on the green lawn, expressing themselves,” Jeremi Suri, a UT-Austin history professor, told The Texas Tribune. “The appropriate response would be to ask them to be contained in an area, let them stay on the grass and let them shout until they have no voices left.”

The issue, critics of the pro-Palestine protests say, is that the protests involve the harassment of Jewish students and the disruption of normal campus business, both of which could rise to the level of a crime.

Importantly, the situation is still new and evolving. Therefore, it’s likely that what we think we know today will change as more video evidence emerges and trials are held to confirm or defeat the notion of violence in the pro-Palesine protests. 

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