Op/Ed

Editorial: If students focused their protests, they could have the world behind them

ANGELO LYNN

That university and college students, as well as others, throughout the U.S. are demonstrating against Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza and the killing of over 34,000 Gazans fits within the American psyche and political traditions. If others aren’t going to protest America’s support of Israel through its billions in cash and tens of thousands of bombs that have reduced wide swaths of Gaza to rubble, campus protests have a role to play — and at the very least have succeeded in making the issue a top priority in today’s politics.

Just this past week, President Joe Biden, who has been outwardly critical of Israel’s ruthless invasion of Gaza for the past several months, finally paused a shipment of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs to Israel. The tipping point for the Biden administration was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to invade Rafah, which is a key distribution point of aid into Gaza and is currently sheltering over a million residents who have few, if any, other places to go. 

Biden’s decision has been dubbed “a shot across the bow” to get Netanyahu to understand the gravity of his concern and the loss of support Israel is witnessing from many Americans, as well as allies throughout the world. 

Biden’s State Department explained its decision to pause the shipment of bombs in comments to the Washington Post, saying an incursion into Rafah would “dramatically increase the suffering of the Palestinian people, would lead to an increase in loss of civilian life, would dramatically disrupt the delivery of humanitarian assistance … the great majority of which is coming through Kerem Shalom or Rafah and is being distributed inside the Rafah area.”

Biden and his administration have worked hard over the past several months to push plans for an Israeli ceasefire, hostage release, and a peace agreement with Hamas, along with a long-term goal of a two-state solution governing Palestine.

Therein lies the disconnect with the student protests, which have focused too much on being pro-Palestine and anti-Israel, and not enough on advocating for practical solutions to what has long been a complex region. The student protests have also extrapolated their anti-Israel stance to include Biden’s support of Israel, which has been increasingly measured, and discounted Biden’s continued efforts to rein in Netanyahu’s worst impulses.

Surely the students understand politics well enough to know America doesn’t control what Israel does, and also that Republicans have been far more partisan in their support of Netanyahu’s war on Gaza. Just this week the Post reported that “Republicans assailed news of a delay in weapons approvals as a ‘reprehensible’ betrayal. ‘The United States must stand with Israel. Period,’ said Rep. Russell Fry (R-S.C.)”

Moreover, while Israel has always received strong support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the Post reports that “powerful pro-Israel interest groups including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, (are) spending tens of millions of dollars this election cycle to unseat Democrats it views as insufficiently pro-Israel.”

And yet poll after poll shows student disenchantment with Biden’s performance on this issue, seemingly oblivious to how ex-president Trump and Republicans in Congress would give Netanyahu even more support and a freer rein to do as he pleases.

In the students’ obsessive desire to punish Israel and Biden’s support of it, they have ignored how Trump and Republicans would make the situation far worse. Similarly, the spectacle of shutting down campus life with demands on college administrators to put pressure on Israel through divestment or other equally obtuse measures, is a misuse of the political moment. 

The students’ fight is not with those who support Israel, the country, but with all who support Netanyahu’s brutal and unrestrained invasion of Gaza. The students need to distinguish between the far right-wing faction of Israelis supporting Netanyahu, including far-right Republicans in this country, and the moderates and liberals everywhere who seek long-term peace in the region.

Most immediately, the students must make a political choice at home between the Democrats’ efforts to rein in Netanyahu and press for ceasefire, peace and a two-state solution governing Palestine, and the Republicans’ full-throated support of Netanyahu. Until they do, the student protests are weakening Biden and the Democrats, and are strengthening Netanyahu and the Republicans who support him.

President Biden will continue to walk a fine line between this nation’s continued support of Israel as an important ally, and the need to find a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. If students want the same, they’d be smart to support Biden and other Democrats in that effort.

To that end, if their campaign against Netanyahu’s policies is to have any lasting impact, student protesters need to build vigorous campaigns to oppose Republicans in the upcoming House, Senate and presidential races. And if students would articulate their political point, which is also a cry against leaders prone to use military might over reason, they’d not only make a difference in domestic politics, but have much of the world behind them.

Angelo Lynn

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