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The campus Left and the post-October 7th language of terror

Student protest on campus /  Free to use under Unsplash License.
Student protest on campus / Free to use under Unsplash License.

Of course, there is merit in protesting civilian casualties, calling for an end to hostilities, and advocating for Palestinian statehood. Legitimacy notwithstanding, in the recent wave of protests that swept the campuses of Western universities, under the pretense of free expression, many freely expressed hate – often viciously antisemitic. Instead of criticizing Israel’s policies, many reject Israel’s right to exist and openly advocate for its destruction and the death and ethnic cleansing of its citizens.

As faux hippie students played guitar on college lawns with Hezbollah flags spread out in front of them, as chants to “globalize the Intifada” blared across campuses and in the streets, it’s clear that ethical standards have gone out the window. And what was true in the immediate wake of the October 7th massacre is even more evident now: The Western progressive Left has absorbed and endorsed language and symbolisms that are explicitly pro-terror and mass murder. And at this point, there are simply too many data points to dismiss the phenomenon as isolated incidents.

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Much of the Left sees Israel as a settler-colonialist apartheid state, and they stand in solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement. As the activist Angela Davis put it, Israel is the “purveyor…of a settler-colonial project.” At a recent protest at Columbia, one demonstrator addressed a group of Israeli and Jewish students: “Go back to Europe. You have no culture. All you do is colonize.” One day after the October 7th massacre, Professor Joseph Massad of Columbia lauded the “Palestinian resistance’s takeover of several Israeli settler-colonies near the Gaza boundary…”

They frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an oppressor-oppressed dichotomy, in which Israel is the former. Palestinians are seen as the oppressed – and many on the Left thus absolve them of guilt and condemnation for immoral acts they may have committed, in the name of resistance. This is illustrated on placards in various protests around the world that read, “resistance by any means necessary.”

Like other national movements, including Zionism, the Palestinian liberation movement contains diverse ideologies. They range from the olive branches of coexistence to the extremes of expulsionism and eliminationism. Since October 7th, a minority of prominent Palestinians (such as John Aziz, Hamza Howidy, and Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, to name a few) have been outspokenly pro-reconciliation. On the other side of the spectrum, there is Hamas and its sympathizers, who call for Israel’s destruction. There are many ideologies within Israel and the Zionist world as well, from Itamar Ben Gvir and other ultra-nationalist zealots to the ill-fated peace activists of the Gaza border area, such as Vivian Silver, who spent years fostering Israeli-Palestinian relations, and on October 7th was murdered.

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But for the Palestinian liberation movement, more so than others, terror has always had a prominent presence within the movement. Palestinian resistance, in practice, has often taken the form of terrorism. Therefore, in expressing solidarity with Palestinian resistance without condemning the terrorism, elements of the Left convey an endorsement of terrorism, given the frequent manifestation of that resistance through acts of terror. Without condemnation where it belongs, this connection is inescapable. Some on the Left see Hamas terror acts as putting into practice the anti-colonial ideology, they cannot bring themselves to condemn the acts. As Suzie Linfield put it in a morally lucid essay after October 7th, the Left is unable to “look atrocity in the face.” This is the charitable reading, a sort of “best-case” scenario. In the worst cases, which are very common, maybe even definitional, rather than a failure to condemn, the glee and unabashed support for terror are direct and intentional.

The language is blatant. At a recent protest at Columbia, one woman held a sign in front of a group of Jewish and Israeli students that read, “Al Qasam’s next targets” and included an arrow pointing to the students. This pro-terror posture is evident in examples such as a speech of Professor Russel Rickford of Cornell, a week after the massacre, in which he said the attack by Hamas on southern Israel – the torture, rape, murder, mutilation, and kidnapping of men, women, children, and the elderly – was “exhilarating” and “energizing.” He referred to the slaughter as a “symbol of Palestinian resistance.” Or when Professor Joseph Massad described the massacre as “awesome” and “innovative.”

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In another case this year, a student organization at Columbia shared a post:

We call upon the people of al-Quds, the West Bank, and the ‘48 territories to rise on the first Friday of the month of Ramadan in urgent defense of the al-Aqsa Mosque.

It’s taken directly from a statement made by a Hamas spokesman who said:

In occupied Palestine, Hamas calls on Palestinians across al-Quds, the West Bank, and the Palestinian territories occupied since 1948 to urgently defend al-Aqsa Mosque on the first Friday of Ramadan.

Almost word for word. An ostensibly progressive organization is amplifying the language of one of the world’s most illiberal and violent terror groups. (In fact, this organization, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), is sponsored by the innocuously-named American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), which, according to a 2016 testimony from a hearing before the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, was “providing material support to Hamas.”)

A few days after October 7th, a Hamas official said, “We are called a nation of martyrs. And we are proud to sacrifice martyrs.” Again, resemblant language surfaced in the rhetoric used by a student organization at George Washington University, when they projected a statement onto a library that read, “Glory to our martyrs.” This continues at protests today, with young angry men screaming, “I wish I was a martyr.”

In the aftermath of October 7th and in protests today, through naiveté or ideological alignment, some on the progressive Left – some of the same people who for years have argued that “words are violence” – have absorbed the language of terror and mass murder. This broadcasts support for those acts of terror. Many don’t care, and many, it seems, have forgotten that true advocacy for justice and equality necessitates clear ethical standards. You cannot pretend to care about universal justice or human rights, let alone protest war, if you are explicitly advocating for the death of civilians.

About the Author
The writer is an independent journalist and researcher with a focus on extremism, misinformation, and Middle East history and politics and he is a professional technical writer in the high-tech industry.
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