The repression of pro-Palestinian students in the USA

Image: Beyzaa Yurtkuran


The protests reflect the growing polarization around the Israeli issue in the United States, especially among young college students

Freedom of expression and the right to protest are fundamental pillars of democracy, especially in academic spaces, where the exchange of ideas and debate are encouraged as an essential part of the educational process. However, the recent increase in repression of pro-Palestinian students at US universities raises serious questions about the extent to which these principles are being respected.

University protests intensified, triggering a wave of demonstrations on campuses across the country. From Los Angeles to New York, students have come together to express solidarity with the Palestinian people and demand concrete action from their educational institutions.

It all started when Columbia University took action to crack down on pro-Palestinian protesters who occupied a lawn on its campus on April 18, the occupation was a response to the war in Gaza and the educational institutions' support for Israel's interests. Since then, protests and encampments have erupted at numerous colleges and universities across the country, with police interventions resulting in more than 400 arrests to date.

Police interventions were recorded at several universities, including Columbia University in Manhattan, where 108 protesters were arrested, and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where 93 people were detained. At Emerson College in Boston, 108 people were arrested by police and the camp was evacuated. These actions had repercussions at other institutions, such as Princeton University in New Jersey, where two graduate students were arrested.

However, the response from university administrations has in many cases been draconian, ranging from canceling classes to disciplinary measures against protesters. At some institutions, such as the University of California, Los Angeles, campus police forced students to dismantle their tents, while at others, such as the University of Delaware at Newark, the presence of protesters and the possible setting up of camps sparked controversy.

These protests reflect the growing polarization around the Israeli issue in the United States, especially among young college students. As violence in Gaza continues and tensions intensify, more protests are likely to occur on university campuses, fueling an increasingly heated debate over the role of educational institutions in the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Restricting the right to protest has been justified under the pretext of ensuring security and order on university campuses. However, this argument raises questions about freedom of expression and students' autonomy to engage in causes they consider relevant and urgent. Police repression, instead of promoting dialogue and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, has exacerbated tensions and created an environment of hostility.

Furthermore, the narrative that such protests are anti-Semitic, as claimed by some lawmakers and university leaders, oversimplifies the complexity of the situation. Support for Palestinians is not equivalent to an anti-Semitic stance, and trying to label students in this way is not only unfair, but also harmful to healthy debate and mutual understanding.

It is important to recognize that pro-Palestine protests do not arise in a vacuum, but are a legitimate response to the injustices and human rights violations occurring in the region. Demanding divestment from companies linked to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza and defending the right to protest without punishment are legitimate demands that reflect ethical and moral concerns.

As with the student protests during the Vietnam War and the May 1968 student movement, current protests at universities across the United States reflect a generation of engaged and politically active students. In the 1960s, intellectuals such as Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) inspired young people to challenge the status quo, questioning authority and seeking significant social change. Likewise, today's students are standing up against injustice and violence, seeking to raise awareness and promote change on issues such as the war in Gaza and their institutions' ties to Israel. These historical parallels highlight the persistence of student activism as a driving force in the fight for a more just and equal world.

The role of government officials, such as House Speaker Mike Johnson, also deserves scrutiny. His threat to revoke federal funding from universities if they fail to control the protests is a clear attempt to curb freedom of expression and impose a one-dimensional narrative on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The pro-Palestine protests on university campuses represent not only a legitimate expression of solidarity, but also a powerful reminder of the vital role that youth play in the fight for justice and dignity. It's time to hear their voices, rather than silence them, and to work together to build a world where all people can live in peace and freedom.

The Israeli lobby

As conflicts in the Gaza region intensify, and the risk of an escalation into a regional war increases, there is an unwavering loyalty to Israel from the United States and its allies. However, this constant support has generated complex consequences and significant costs. Israel finds itself increasingly isolated in the international community, facing opposition from both global public opinion and most governments around the world.

The financial cost and damage to the US reputation are increasingly evident. American defense in relation to Israel has lost its centrality as a foreign policy project, as well as the moral position it once had. The outrages committed by the Israelis, often without criticism from American representatives, undermine the credibility of the United States on the international stage.

So why do the US and its allies continue to offer uncritical support to Israel? A common view is that this support is the result of the activities of the pro-Israel lobby, pressure groups capable of exerting considerable political and financial influence. This theory gained prominence from an article written by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, entitled “The Israel lobby“, published in 2006. In this essay, the authors set out their view on the influence of pro-Israel pressure groups on US foreign policy, highlighting the power of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as one of the main influencers.

However, it is important to contextualize this narrative and consider other perspectives. First, Mearsheimer and Walt point out that the Israel lobby does not necessarily represent the views of all American Jews, many of whom do not strongly identify with Israel. Furthermore, the Israel lobby is not unique; There are several pressure groups operating in the United States, and the Israel lobby is just one of them. Its effectiveness is also not unanimous, as other lobby groups surpass AIPAC in terms of financial and political influence.

It is critical to recognize that support for Israel goes beyond lobbying activities and is rooted in strategic and economic issues. Historically, US interests in the Middle East region are complex and involve a variety of actors and factors. Israel's presence in the region is seen as a strategic asset for the United States, especially in a context of instability and regional rivalries.

Analysis of the 2003 Iraq War exemplifies this complexity. While some argue that the Israel lobby played a significant role in this conflict, it is important to recognize the broader geopolitical and economic interests at play. The United States sought to reinforce its influence in the Middle East and guarantee access to the region's natural resources, such as oil. In this sense, the war in Iraq cannot be attributed exclusively to pressure from the pro-Israel lobby.

Furthermore, it is crucial to avoid oversimplifications when analyzing international relations and the role of pressure groups. While the pro-Israel lobby plays a role in promoting policies favorable to Israel, it is only one component of a complex network of interests and influences. It is important to consider the broader geopolitical dynamics and strategic objectives of the United States when evaluating support for Israel.

American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

In the corridors of power in Washington, few lobbying groups have wielded as much power and influence as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Better known as AIPAC. For decades, AIPAC has been a prominent figure in American politics, working to advance Israel's interests in the United States. However, in recent years the group has faced significant challenges as political dynamics and international events shape the debate around Israel and Palestine.

AIPAC has long been a bastion of bipartisan support for Israel, supported by members of both the Democratic and Republican Parties. However, as internal divisions over the Israeli issue intensified in the United States, AIPAC found itself increasingly involved in aggressive political strategies that alienated some sectors of the Democrats. This scenario has worsened with the recent escalation of conflicts in the region.

AIPAC's identity crisis was evidenced by its efforts to fund electoral challengers to Democrats deemed insufficiently supportive of Israel. Traditionally, the group avoided facing incumbents, but this stance has changed in recent years. The tension was further intensified due to internal differences in the Democratic Party over Israel, in a context of increased criticism of Israeli policy towards civilians in Gaza and barriers to humanitarian aid.

Furthermore, the complex foreign aid policy in Congress has presented significant challenges for AIPAC. The dispute over funding for Israel, amid debates over assistance to Ukraine, has created an impasse that the group has not yet managed to overcome. Former President Donald Trump's influence in opposing additional funds for Ukraine further complicated the situation, creating a dilemma for AIPAC regarding its interests.

AIPAC's increasingly aggressive approach and the challenges it faces did not go unnoticed, especially during the recent meeting with donors and lawmakers in Washington. The group has gathered support among members of both parties, but has also faced criticism for its political tactics. The airing of videos that highlighted Democrats criticizing Israel sparked controversy and raised questions about the direction AIPAC is taking.

AIPAC's efforts to undermine Democratic candidates who do not align with its agenda have been challenged by progressive groups, who have launched initiatives to counter AIPAC's financial impact on elections. These tensions reflect a changing political landscape in the United States, where the stance toward Israel has become a decisive issue.

Despite the challenges, AIPAC continues to be one of the LOBBY most powerful in Washington, with a formidable ability to raise money and influence US foreign policy. However, growing criticism and changing political dynamics pose significant challenges to the group's future and the debate over U.S.-Israel relations.

*Bruno Fabricio Alcebino da Silva He is majoring in International Relations and Economic Sciences at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC).

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