buruma213_Stephanie KeithGetty Images_palestine college Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

The Privileged Gaza Protesters

The ideological underpinnings of the Pro-Palestine protests on American campuses connect Israel’s war in Gaza to all other forms of oppression, from police brutality to homophobia. But are elite university students presenting themselves as anti-racists, anti-imperialists, and anti-colonialists to preserve their privilege?

NEW YORK – It is easy to ridicule the college protesters in the United States calling for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea.” Students at some of the country’s most expensive and prestigious universities don Palestinian keffiyehs, “liberate” campus buildings, as though they were freedom fighters, and, in the case of at least one young protester, demand food and water from the college authorities as “basic humanitarian aid.”

To be sure, all political demonstrations are a kind of theater. Certainly not everyone protesting against the killing of large numbers of innocent civilians in Gaza is worthy of derision. Using violence against them, whether by the police, or, as happened at UCLA, by mobs, is unconscionable.

The problem is that the “anti-Zionist” cause gaining ground on college campuses is often incoherent. Its ideological underpinnings tend to see everything as interconnected: police brutality against African-Americans, global warming, US imperialism, white supremacy, the history of American slavery, European colonialism, trans- and homophobia (“Queers for Palestine”), and now the Israel-Hamas war. In the words of a Cornell University student, interviewed by the New York Times, “climate justice” is “rooted in the same struggles of imperialism, capitalism – things like that. I think that’s very true of this conflict, of the genocide in Palestine.”