Columbia U 1968 – 2024: The Protests Are Different

It is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge that the takeover of the bucolic lawns of the Columbia University Campus to protest suffering in Gaza has its origins in the anti-Vietnam Columbia protests of 1968.

As a Columbia University 1968 graduate who joined the majority of our class in walking out on the formal graduation ceremonies taking place in front of Butler Library to participate in our own graduation ceremonies at the nearby Cathedral of St. John the Divine, I know what legitimate protest means. The Anti-Vietnam War, along with a proposed  Columbia gymnasium on the Morningside Heights Park, with a segregated, lower level entrance for limited use by “the community,” were our major concerns. Our protests were based on the University’s refusal to  acknowledge the injustice of America’s involvement in the killing of Vietnamese and other Asian civilians, as well as  American service personnel, in an unjust war.  The University’s complicity in that war, by its acceptance of US Defence related work, added to our outrage. History has proven the justice of our cause.

It is inconceivable to me that the same will be said about the actions on the Columbia University campus, and campuses across the USA today. Where are the voices against Gazan terrorism? Where are the student voices against Hamas’ avowed purpose to destroy Israel and eventually Western nations? Who among the protestors are  questioning why Hamas has refused to offer safety to Gazan civilians in the very tunnels which they have dug to hide their weapons and provide safety for their terrorist leaders? Who is objecting to Hamas placing missiles and armed units in schools, Mosques, UN facilities and hospitals? Where is the outrage at Hamas’ murder of innocent civilians in Israel on October 7, 2023 and the acknowledgement that, since Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, Hamas has used the territory as a terrorist base and diverting foreign aid from civilian to terrorist use? Where are the students’ voices calling for the release of innocent hostages?

2024 might have its origin in the anti-Vietnam Columbia protests of 1968 but the protests today are vapid. They deny political, military, historical reality and honest humanitarian concern.

 Richard Hammerman, Rabbi Emeritus, Cong. B’nai Israel
About the Author
Graduate, Columbia Univ., JTS ( BHL, MHL, Rabbinic Ordination, D.D.honorary, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation B'nai Israel, Toms River, NJ Retired former VP for North America, Masorti Olami- World Council for Conservative Judaism.
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