Pro-Palestinian protests bring chaos on campus | WORLD
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Chaos on campus

IN THE NEWS | Pro-Palestinian protests favor popular political narrative over spiritual and historical realities

Protesters link arms outside Hamilton Hall at Columbia University. Caitlin Ochs / Reuters / Redux

Chaos on campus
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IN THE EARLY HOURS of April 30, shadows moved in the darkness of Columbia University’s New York City campus. Students, many wearing Columbia hoodies and covering their faces, stormed the school’s historic Hamilton Hall. They quickly grabbed furniture and used it to barricade themselves inside. As protesters outside cheered, they unfurled a banner from a balcony that read “Hind’s Hall,” named after Hind Rajab, a 6-year-old girl who died in a January attack in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamilton Hall takeover illustrated the tensions that have escalated since mid-April, when pro-Palestinian protesters set up tents on Columbia University’s campus for a “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.”

But while activists and journalists focus on a narrative that decries Israel as an occupation force, some observers say the resurgence of anti-Jewish harassment at Columbia and elsewhere is part of a long history of persecution that dates back to the ancient Amalekites.

Anglican priest and theologian Gerald McDermott said that’s in part due to a changing university pedagogy that emphasizes social justice and victimhood over reason and nature. Such teaching “has opened the door to a host of mythologies, among which is a completely false history of Israel and Palestine,” McDermott said in an email to WORLD.

“The irrationality of all this, even in the universities, is shocking,” he added. “But it helps to remember that even the most enthusiastic Nazis in the early 1930s were the German university students who had been taught a false history and false anthropology by their university professors.”

Students at dozens of colleges and universities across America set up encampments or other demonstrations and called for an end to Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They hope also to pressure school administrators to cut ties with Israel.

But while schools grapple with anti-­Semitic and free speech issues, some see a larger spiritual battle playing out.

Luke Moon, executive director of the Philos Project, said students’ lack of spiritual literacy is part of what’s driving the protests. Many seem comfortable combining liberal ideals and rainbow flags with “this very strong affirmation of … the violent side of Islam,” Moon said.

A man draped in an Israeli flag confronts protesters gathered outside of Columbia University.

A man draped in an Israeli flag confronts protesters gathered outside of Columbia University. Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via AP

Two pro-Palestinian groups, Students for Justice in Palestine and Within Our Lifetime, frame Hamas’ actions as a fight against an oppressive power—using social justice language that has won over college students. Both have called for resistance against Israel “by any means necessary.”

Some protesters seem ready to oblige. Jewish students reported being harassed as they tried to leave Columbia. Protesters pelted them with objects and shouted at them to “go back to Poland.” After Shai Davidai, a Jewish professor at Columbia Business School, tried to lead a counterprotest on campus, administrators barred him from entering the grounds, saying they could not guarantee his safety.

Outside Columbia’s gates, protesters chanted to the beat of drums: “We say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground. Ya Hamas, we love you. We support your rockets, too.”

Such chants persist though Columbia President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik told lawmakers in April that her school was taking a hard line against anti-Semitism and doling out discipline. Shafik “seemed to throw free speech under the bus in an effort to appease lawmakers,” said Zach Greenberg, a First Amend­ment attorney at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

Protesters chanted to the beat of drums: ‘We say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground.’

Greenberg suggested schools instead “crack down on violence and disruptive conduct that prevents others exercising their free speech rights, and uphold the right to peaceful political protests.”

Like students elsewhere, Columbia’s have called for the school to withdraw investment of its $13.6 billion endowment from companies linked to Israel or profiting from the Israel-Hamas war. Columbia has previously divested from fossil fuels and private prisons following student pressure. But the upside of divestment is debatable at best, according to Alison Taylor, an associate business professor at New York University. “Some people think it does work because it raises awareness, and it raises reputational risk, and litigation risk,” Taylor said. “Other people point out that if you sell your assets, someone else will buy them, and … that company or firm or investor may have less integrity than the original investors.”

As it stands, Columbia isn’t likely to trade current profits for better optics: As of April 29, Shafik insisted the school would not divest from Israel-linked companies.

Meanwhile, as the student body rages, many Christians on campus feel they are walking on eggshells, said Eric Lipscomb, a Columbia campus minister with Reformed University Fellowship. “They have friends who are Jewish, and they have friends who are maybe leaning pro-Palestinian.”

Lipscomb tries to encourage them: “We have the opportunity to seek to be agents of peace and a light for the gospel, maybe even ­especially when things around us are chaotic.”


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