The political establishment in many imperialist Western countries is worried that young people are not buying into the narrative that Israel is the victim in the current wave of Middle East violence. Students are often on the frontlines of protest in many cities around the world. In recent days, they have taken to the streets and campuses to protest in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. This has been met with repression—from banning marches or campus meetings, disciplinary action against students who speak out, and moving to outlaw pro-Palestine groups.
A group of students who organised a solidarity action at the School of Oriental and African Studies in central London has been suspended by university management. Of course, the university denies taking action to silence the protest on political grounds; it instead cites “procedures” and “protocols” that it says the students did not follow.
British Home Secretary Suella Braverman is saying the quiet part out loud when it comes to voicing ruling class opinions on pro-Palestine protests. She has suggested that waving the Palestinian flag or using pro-Palestine chants at protests could be made criminal offences. Thousands defied her by marching in London and other cities. For now, the British ruling class hasn’t got the courage of its convictions. But if the protests intensify, Braverman may get her way.
The German government has banned on spurious grounds the local activities of the international Palestinian prisoner support group Samidoun. The German chancellor basically ruled that any expression of support for Gaza is a “celebration of Hamas”.
Writing in Rupert Murdoch’s trashy tabloid the New York Post, columnist Kirsten Fleming lambasted Gen Z college students for refusing to jump on the pro-Israeli bandwagon in the aftermath of the Hamas border incursions and attacks on settlements inside Israel. Instead, Fleming moaned that young adults view Hamas “through rose-colored glasses”.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Everybody with an ounce of compassion has condemned Hamas’ attacks on civilians. But people are also capable of recognising that Israeli war crimes are unfolding in real time as the ethnic cleansing of Gaza and pogroms against Palestinian settlements in the West Bank continue.
Gen Z students and workers are also smart enough to realise that their own governments are defending Israeli atrocities, offering them more deadly munitions, and doing absolutely nothing to rein in the genocidal rampage unleashed by the Netanyahu government on Palestinian men, women and children.
Kristen Fleming went on to complain about solidarity actions that continue to take place across the United States and the rest of the world. Not only, she writes, should Gen Z shut up and toe the line of their political leaders, they should not express contrary opinions or call for solidarity with the embattled people of Gaza and the West Bank.
There has been a backlash against many student groups that have come out in support of besieged Palestinians. The aim of columns like the one Kristen Fleming wrote is to portray pro-Palestinian protesters and organisers as anti-Semitic and/or in favour of terrorism. To that end, quite innocuous statements of support for the people of Gaza or criticising Israel’s long history of ethnic cleansing have been attacked as anti-Semitic or pro-terrorist.
For example, at Harvard University in the US, a statement from a Palestinian support group that merely pointed out the obvious—”We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence”—and that did not even mention Hamas was immediately condemned and signatory groups pressured into rescinding their support.
Signatories to the statement are being targeted and doxed. Some wealthy donors to the university have begun to withdraw their largesse and several prominent companies that regularly recruit Ivy League students are demanding that anybody who was involved with the support statement be blacklisted from future employment.
This campaign is being supported by other sections of the right-wing media, including the notorious Daily Mail. Students at Penn State University are also facing a backlash for holding pro-Palestine rallies on campus.
So much for free speech on campus, eh? The reality is that the Israeli government spends a small fortune on its Hasbara global propaganda efforts. In recent years, it has targeted campus-based groups around the world to counter the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign, which is working to isolate the Zionist regime. BDS has been particularly successful in isolating Israeli academics who support the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land.
In the current situation, Zionist efforts to build their own propaganda forces on university campuses are having results. In New York, pro-Palestine actions on the City University campus were met by counter-protesting pro-Israeli student groups.
The situation for pro-Palestine activists in France is also very difficult. There is no doubt that fascist and anti-Semitic elements are using the cover of the Gaza attacks to come out of the shadows. However, without any evidence, the French authorities have explicitly attempted to link Nazi graffiti on synagogues and Jewish schools to pro-Palestine groups. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told the French media: “Most of the incidents are graffiti of swastikas or slogans like death to the Jews and calls for [Palestinian uprising].”
The murder of a teacher at a school in the northern French city of Arras has also been tenuously linked to events in Gaza. The killer was a Chechen national known to police. President Emmanuel Macron was quick to call the incident “Islamist terrorism” despite police saying there is nothing linking it to the situation in Gaza.
All pro-Palestine demonstrations and rallies have been banned in France on the pretext that they might lead to anti-Semitic violence. When protesters defied the ban in Paris, they were attacked by the cops and dispersed with tear gas.
There has not been such a backlash yet on Australian campuses. But left-wing students at La Trobe University in Melbourne have been warned not to put pro-Palestinian posters up on the campus.
This attack on the right of students and workers to protest against ongoing Israeli war crimes should not come as a surprise. Western rulers rely on Israel to be its watchdog in the Middle East. When the beast slips the chain, as Israel has done now, the imperialist ruling class attempts to shut down opposition in its own population at the same time as it tries to justify mass murder by its client state. This is part of the ideological and political support that imperialism gives to Israel. By vilifying the Palestinian cause in the imperialist heartland, it makes any discussion of alternate viewpoints seem beyond the pale.
It’s important to say that we won’t be going quietly. In the UK, Labour leader Keir Starmer is facing a rank-and-file revolt of party members for his appalling endorsement of Israeli terror. The militant rail workers’ union has endorsed pro-Palestine protests and is raising humanitarian aid for Gaza. Across the world, tens of thousands are defying anti-protest orders to express their solidarity with Palestine. Our only choice is to continue raising our voices and taking action against our own ruling class to demand that it stop supporting Zionist atrocities in Palestine.
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