These Are Not the Student Protests of 1968

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik wrote in a public statement dated May 1, 2024: “Columbia has a long and proud tradition of protest and activism on many important issues such as the Vietnam War, civil rights, and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Today’s protesters are also fighting for an important cause, for the rights of Palestinians and against the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.” 

To President Shafik, I say: My father went to Columbia. I went to Columbia. My son went to Columbia. I am heartbroken to see it today – encamped by student protestors who heartily shout call-and-response chants they don’t fully understand while they intimidate and dehumanize peers, steered by professors and outside funders.

Columbia has indeed a proud history of social action and even unrest. In 1968, anti-war protestors climbed flag poles, occupied buildings, staged sit-ins. In 1985, students marched in protest against Columbia’s investment in South Africa, blockaded Hamilton Hall, shouted on the quad. As a society, we look back and agree that the protestors were right, that the nation needed to hear their voices, that the change they championed was just.  NOT SO IN THIS CASE.  

That proud Columbia history is being co-opted by zealot professors and non-Columbia-affiliated entities who would convince us that they too will be judged on the right side of history. But 1968 protestors stood against a war in which American soldiers were dying in an effort to halt Communism in a land far from U.S. shores. 1985 protestors stood against a racist regime by asking the University to use economic levers, not violence against fellow students. This generation of Columbia protestors is supporting Hamas. They are blocking Jewish students from areas of campus and threatening their safety. They are promising a repeat of the October 7th slaughters “every day.”  They commit macro-aggressions while wearing masks and headscarves to hide their faces like the KKK they so readily accuse the NYPD of emulating. They are cheering on a terror organization that uses rape and beheading as a political tool against a U.S. ally that for two decades responded to incessant missile attacks overhead by building a stronger roof – called Iron Dome. On October 7 it became clear that Israel’s quiet self defense would not be enough, and this neighbor could no longer be tolerated.
This is not to say that the Gaza war has no innocent casualties or collateral damage. It does. Israel complies with international law and conducts this war as humanely as can be, exceeding the best combatant-to-civilian casualty records in modern history, but Israel is not perfect. Civilians die. Buildings are leveled. This war, like any other, is ugly and unkind.  But it’s not WRONG.  And it’s not GENOCIDE.
Claudia Kraut CC ’88. Parent ’21. Child ’56
About the Author
Since October 7, Claudia Kraut runs Israel Food Rescue, an organization sending volunteers to work on Israeli farms. Under the name, she also provides sales consulting to health technology firms. Claudia was raised between Connecticut and Israel.
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