Since the beginning of the U.S.-backed Israeli genocidal slaughter on Palestinians last fall, college campuses have been the site of broad outrage and protests. These protests have been met with repressive crackdowns including banning pro-Palestinian student organizations, threats to student activists, silencing of professors and scores of arrests. Presidents at two top universities were targeted and forced to resign for not cracking down enough by powerful national fascist politicians and wealthy Zion-Nazi donors.
The start of the 2024 school year is seeing even more extreme repression by campus administrators: instituting extreme restrictions; carrying out disciplinary hearings and punishments of student activists; and even pursuing criminal prosecution. While the stakes, and the risks, for those who continue to protest and resist have grown higher, many of those who have stood with the people of Gaza, and with humanity, are not backing down.
Columbia University, NYC: Ground Zero
A high-profile conference held at Columbia University February 9th, featuring Hillary Clinton, along with the current US Ambassador to the UN and other prominent panelists, was repeatedly disrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters. Clinton in particular was called out for her history of war crimes and her complicity with the US backed Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. The conference was titled “Preventing and Addressing Conflict-Related Sexual Violence,” and planned to focus on “gender-based violence ongoing in Ukraine, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” as well as what Hamas has been accused of doing on October 7. The protesters called the conference a propaganda ploy, “exploiting” women’s issues to justify Israeli crimes.
While it's very possible that sexual assaults on women took place on October 7, as part of the reactionary attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas, there also seems to be evidence that some of these claims have been fabricated. In any case, the attempt to focus people's attention on alleged sexual assaults coming in the midst of a towering genocide against Palestinians is an attempt to justify the atrocities and slaughter being perpetrated against Palestinian people. The disruption of Hilary Clinton's talk was righteous and justified.
Columbia University and Barnard College (part of the university) in NYC have been major epicenters of the emergency protests and campus upsurge exposing and opposing Israel-U.S. genocide in Gaza and the racist-apartheid state of Israel... and repression.
This repression has involved unprecedented censorship and restrictions directed at pro-Palestine actions and statements by students and faculty. It has meant the outright banning of student organizations and draconian new policies on “permissible political speech.”
– On November 10, Columbia University suspended two student groups—Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine. The reason the administration gave for this was because these groups held a so-called unauthorized event. The event was a walkout and art display in support of a cease-fire in Gaza. The University said these groups engaged in “intimidating and threatening and antisemitic rhetoric.” But they could cite no evidence of such conduct, and in private meetings acknowledged that demonstrations had proceeded peacefully. What was supposed to be a temporary ban remains in effect.
– In late October, the Barnard administration removed, without warning, a section of the website of the Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies that featured a statement in support of the Palestinian people. In November, the administration rewrote its policies on website governance and campus events without going through any kind of review process, giving to itself the authority to decide what kind of speech will be allowed. Any proposed changes or additions to a faculty website must now be cleared by a special administrative office. To drive home the new wave of censorship, Barnard professors were ordered to remove pro-Palestine signs from their office doors, an order that has been met with widespread refusal and non-compliance. Barnard students have been told they can no longer hang flags outside dorm windows—and some are now being retroactively punished for doing so. While this was a blanket ban, the timing made it seem like it was directed at students hanging Palestinian flags out of their windows.
– In late December, two dozen Barnard students who had attended a peaceful but “unauthorized” pro-Palestine protest were summoned to appear before a college disciplinary committee. The right to legal counsel at the hearings was denied. After the inquiry, the students were told that if they attended another unauthorized demonstration, they would be disciplined.
– Columbia, historically an open campus, has instituted a policy of “locking down” the campus to non-students/faculty when protests are anticipated.
This repression has not gone unanswered. Protests have defiantly continued. Faculty members have issued strong statements condemning the banning of the two student organizations and censorship. One statement supporting the right and responsibility of students to protest was signed by over 150 faculty, including prominent Columbia professors/scholars like Mahmood Mamdani, Gayatri Spivak, Jhumpa Lahiri, Rashid Khalidi, and many others.
Katherine Franke, a signatory and a legal scholar who directs the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, has described what is happening as the “militarization” of the campus. In a recent interview (1/24/24), she noted: “Students and faculty have used the campus as a palette for learning about difficult issues—that's what we do at universities—for protesting and showing up for communities that are persecuted around the world.” And as two other faculty members at Columbia/Barnard put it, “the trust is absolutely broken” between students and faculty on the one hand, and the administration on the other.
Nazification Takes a Leap—Chemical Attack on Protesters
On January 19, several student protesters at Columbia were sprayed with a chemical agent by Zionist students at a pro-Palestine demonstration. At least eight students sought medical treatment. But the University administration, so vocal in its unsubstantiated allegations of “violence” and “threat” by students acting in solidarity with the people of Palestine, remained silent for days about this attack.
It turns out the spray, called “skunk,” has been used on demonstrating Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. And it turns out that these were not just any Zionist students. They were former members of the Israel Defense Force (more accurately, Israeli Occupation Force) who after their military service have come to study at Columbia.
Repression, and Resistance, at Campuses Across the Country
** Brown University, Rhode Island: Sit-ins in group of 19 students began a nine-day pro-Palestinian hunger strike February 2, demanding the school divest from companies they say profit from Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. It was led by both Palestinian and Jewish students; and among them was a classmate recovering from being shot in the spine over Thanksgiving, along with two other Palestinian-American students near the University of Vermont. NPR reports that hundreds of others have held rallies and other events in support of the hunger strikers.
** Harvard University, Boston: More than 150 Harvard students and others marched through the Science Center Plaza on February 8 to demand Havard “disclose and divest its ties to the Israeli occupation.”
This protest comes as students face disciplinary hearings for organizing a student walkout in late November as part of a week of action. Their crime? Asking students to walk out of the last 15 minutes of their class “for the nearly 15,000 [at the time] Palestinians who were dead or under the rubble.” Eight other students were brought before the board for participating in a 24-hour sit-in at University Hall.
February 12, 2024, nearly 200 Harvard students stage a die-in on the steps of Widener Library to protest Israeli air strikes on Rafah, Gaza. They recited Refaat Al Areer's poem "If I must die".
** Meanwhile, at Northwestern University, two African-American students were arrested for a very creative parody version of the campus Daily Northwestern—which attacked Northwestern's refusal to condemn Israel's war on Gaza. Calling theirs The Northwestern Daily, the mock headline on October 25 read “Northwestern complicit in genocide of Palestinians.” Copies were pinned to campus bulletin boards, and hundreds of copies of the original paper had the mock front page wrapped around it. Zionists were horrified!
Prosecutors threatened the students with a year in jail and a $2,500 fine, based on an obscure law aimed to target the Ku Klux Klan. The charges were just recently dropped.
** Other campuses nationally—including Stanford, University of Texas-Austin, American University in DC and many more—are suddenly seeing new rules instituted to crack down further on campus protests—bans on overnight sit-in camping; bans on indoor protests and more.
All this repression speaks volumes about the true character of democracy under capitalism-imperialism. When speech and action call into question and challenge the fundamental and strategic interests of the American empire... the hammer comes down, the dictatorship is revealed.
Sunsara Taylor's recent Open Letter to Students, Faculty, Administrators, and Everyone with a Conscience poses the challenge of this moment very sharply:
As the genocide in Palestine continues and the system strikes back, will you come back stronger, defending those under attack, inspiring and challenging others throughout society to join you in putting it on the line until the blockade and slaughter STOP!?
Or, now that the stakes have been raised, will you fall (or stay) silent, swallow your conscience and turn back on what so many of you—Jewish, Palestinian, and others—so righteously started?
Will you fight to transform campuses into hotbeds of resistance, into assemblies of intellectual and political ferment, debating decisive questions like “Reform or Revolution”? Or will you allow the NAZI-fication of the American academy—and the terrifying chill this would send across society?