As student camps in support of Gaza and divestment from Israel continue to spring up on campuses across north America, Europe and Australia, Tempest Collective member Joe Allen explains the impact they are having on American politics. 

NYPD storm New York University pro-Palestine protest. Image by Hany Osman.

This article first appeared on the Irish Rebel News website.

Radical writer Paul Street noticed a distinct difference to the April 15th call for a Coordinated Economic Blockade to Free Palestine in the United States. From blockading highways in major U.S. cities to targeting weapons and energy companies to manufacturing corporations, according to Street, ‘The movement beyond protest to resistance rose up down in Texas and up to Philadelphia and Connecticut.’ One pro-Palestine activist outside of Tesla’s complex in Fremont California told a local reporter, ‘This Tesla factory is one of the most productive factories in the state. And so in this area, we wanted to target a big center of production and really cause an impact.’

April 15th actions in the United States at the end of the day, while annoying, were easily contained and brushed aside by local authorities. They may be a harbinger of the future but right now, it has been the explosion of pro-Palestine protest on campuses that has shocked the American political establishment. So far, over one hundred campuses have witnessed protests, encampments, and occupations with many demanding the end of university complicity with the state of Israel and investments in weapons’ manufacturers. Campuses not known for their student activism, such as the University of Southern California (USC) have cancelled their graduation ceremonies for fear that large, militant protests would disrupt them.

The mass arrests of students, faculty, and other education workers — as well as the brutal police violence that they have been subjected to — is unprecedented in recent U.S. history. Many of these same campuses are some of the most elite educational institutions in the United States, where future corporate and political leaders are drawn from. Columbia University, the current epicenter of Palestine protests, has produced four U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, for example. Instead of these campuses producing U.S. foreign policy advocates, there is a fear  in Washington, D.C that they are producing foreign policy critics.

A large number of these same campuses are also located in Democratic Party controlled cities and states—Texas being the glaring exception here—that pride themselves on their diversity and sophisticated leadership. Michelle Wu, the first woman and person of color to be elected Mayor of Boston, for example revealed that she and Boston’s Police Commissioner jointly decided to remove the Palestine encampment at Emerson College arresting one hundred students in the process. She gratuitously added, ‘I am grateful to our police officers for their daily service.’

The widening gap between the Democratic Party’s liberal and pro-Israel leadership and a large minority of population and majority of Democratic Party voters is reaching Vietnam War—era  proportions. By late February, nearly two months ago, the Data for Progress polling site reported:

Around two-thirds of voters (67%) — including majorities of Democrats (77%), Independents (69%), and Republicans (56%) — support the U.S. calling for a permanent ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in Gaza.

The Democratic Party, however, is not budging. Popular political figures, like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a longtime supporter of Israel, began to describe Israel’s war in Gaza as ‘genocide.’ While speaking at the Islamic Center of Boston, Politico reported, ‘If you want to do it as an application of law, I believe that they’ll find that it is genocide, and they have ample evidence to do so,’ Warren said. Yet, she dutifully voted for Biden’s war funding bill covering Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine.

Liberalism in Crisis

Liberalism and Zionism are clearly in crisis  in the United States. For decades, the most reliable and sophisticated defenders of Israel were American Liberals and, to a much lesser extent, trade union officials with Social Democratic backgrounds. What implications this means for presidential politics is hard to predict right now given the threat of Trump and the Far Right in the upcoming November elections. Whether pro-Palestine activists and others horrified by the Biden administration’s support for Israel’s genocidal war reluctantly vote for Biden or don’t vote at all is still to be seen.

But, a line has been crossed, and it’s hard to see things going back to anything approaching a  widespread uncritical support for Israel and its Democratic Party supporters, again. As I previously wrote in Rebel:

A hairline fracture has appeared in the traditional ‘lesser evil’ Approach taken to U.S. elections by the U.S. left in support of the Democratic Party, that has derailed, corrupted, and repressed a broad spectrum of movements of the working class and oppressed for the past century. Marcie Pedraza, a UAW activist in Chicago, whose Local union passed one of the most politically significant resolutions in favor of Gaza, expressed this sentiment circulating around pro-Palestine activism: ‘One day, you’re calling for a ceasefire, the next, you endorse a candidate that’s funding the genocide. I don’t want another four years of Trump, but … there has to be another way.’

The better way for the moment has been the student protests and encampments across the United States, with solidarity actions on campuses spreading around the globe. Despite the mass arrests, the removal of encampments, and the continuous smearing of the movement as ‘anti-semitic’ have failed to slow or stop the movement. A spirit of commitment and solidarity is to be found across the country. Ian Berlin, a fourth year at Yale, wrote on CNN’s website:

When people see pro-Palestinian protesters arrested at the same time as President Joe Biden and others are warning about a surge of antisemitism on college campuses, they apply the same tired framework — supposedly antisemitic pro-Palestine activists pitted against Jewish pro-Israel activists — to Yale. As a fourth-year Yale student, I find this characterization to be deeply frustrating, as it could not be further from the truth. At every turn, I have encountered a community of activists and organizers that is eager to listen, ready to learn and committed to including Jewish voices and perspectives.

In fact, it has been the scale of Israeli violence in Gaza and on the West Bank, and police violence here that have propelled the Pro-Palestine movement forward. This has led writer and activist Naomi Klein to call for an exodus from the false idol of Zionism. She wrote recently:

Meanwhile, in this city (New York), the universities call in the NYPD and barricade themselves against the grave threat posed by their own students daring to ask them basic questions, such as: how can you claim to believe in anything at all, least of all us, while you enable, invest in and collaborate with this genocide? The false idol of Zionism has been allowed to grow unchecked for far too long. So tonight we say: it ends here.

The political and academic establishment appears to be hoping that the clock will run out, the campuses will close at the end of the school year, and students will go home.  But, I don’t know anyone who believes that to be true. Meanwhile, the repression on the campuses has not gone unnoticed by many trade unions. Four dozen unions signed a letter condemning the crackdown pro-Palestine protesters at Columbia University, while the National Nurses United (NNU) declared:

Nurses represented by National Nurses United (NNU), the country’s largest union of registered nurses, stand in solidarity with student and faculty protesters at campuses across the United States facing a violent crackdown for speaking out against the mass killings and public health catastrophe in Gaza.

Union nurses know the importance of collective action and protest, which have been fundamental to the trade union movement and to all struggles for justice throughout history. We condemn any efforts to criminalize or restrict these protests. Violent crackdowns to suppress protected free speech are at odds with nurses’ values to speak up and speak out when something is wrong and people are hurting or dying because of it.

There is a barely concealed panic emanating from the Democratic Party establishment about the potential size and political impact of pro-Palestine protest at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago scheduled for August. For example, Kim Foxx, the State’s Attorney for Cook County (that includes Chicago), recently told the Chicago Tribune that her office’s long standing policy of not prosecuting peaceful protestors for criminal violations would be revised in light of the upcoming DNC. The reactionary Chicago Tribune was relieved to hear this, but this should be a warning to the rest of us.

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