The truth behind "student" protests at Columbia University

  • Luis Fleischman
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The truth behind "student" protests at Columbia University

2 months 2 weeks ago
See below the personal letter I sent to Lidya Polgreen from the New York Times, who minimized the gravity of the protests on U.S campuses. (a similar letter was also sent in a letter to the editor)
Lidya Polgreen

Dear Ms. Polgreen,

I read your last two articles published in the New York Times, in which you wrote about the protests at Columbia University.

In the first column (4/19), you reported that protests were peaceful and suggested that testimonies of violence and antisemitism were exaggerated.

In your second column (4/26), although you reiterated that the protests were peaceful, you acknowledged that there was bigotry and antisemitism present at the protest. However, you also suggested that such bigotry was alien to the demonstrations, and you justified pointing to Israel's "pitiless war" in Gaza.

To start, you are omitting the fact that anti-Israel feelings on campuses have been cultivated for decades now. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement ("BDS") has systematically and falsely accused Israel of crimes and apartheid and delegitimized the existence of the only Jewish state. BDS has not made the Palestinians responsible for their failure to sign a peace agreement with Israel at Camp David in 2000.

Likewise, the movement succeeded in cleaning up Hamas' image and, thus, misled students and professors alike. Hamas torpedoed the peace process by committing acts of terrorism throughout the Oslo process and ignited the Second Intifada that badly damaged the chances of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I am not suggesting that Israel did not make mistakes throughout the process. However, blaming only one side has an inciting effect, which we now witness on American campuses.

Therefore, those protests are not, by definition, entirely peaceful when a large part of those who participate in them wish for the destruction of the only Jewish state. Even worse, a substantial number of faculty members joined this organized crusade, sacrificing academic criteria and even intimidating their Jewish students. The case of Joseph Masad is a pathetic single example, but he is not alone.

Hamas' attacks of last October 7 were of such cruelty and barbarism, which required a strong response and justified the removal of the terrorist group from Gaza.

Those who perpetrated the attack knew full well that Israel's response was not going to be soft. Most terrorists hide in tunnels and use civilians as human shields. Collateral damage exists in every war. Even if we accept the doubtful number of casualties provided by Hamas (33,000), considering that 14,000 were combatants, the ratio is 2.3 civilians per combatant. The average ratio of casualties in modern warfare is nine civilians per combatant.

Yes, I agree that human lives matter, and statistics are cold. However, I would like to add that, according to Brown University, 432,093 civilians have died as a result of America's wars after 9/11, and more than 7 million children under five have suffered from acute malnutrition. Such figures refute your comment that the Israeli military operation in Gaza is "the most brutal in the 21st Century."

Of course, you did not even mention the massacres and famines that are taking place right now in Sudan, where thousands of Black and Arab people die by the thousands every day. Not to mention Syria, where no single protest occurred, neither at Columbia University nor anywhere else.

More interestingly, anti-war protests in the United States were never about local civilian suffering but about the high number of American soldiers dead. Although Israeli soldiers are dying in this war, most Israelis consider the war a just war, a war of self-defense, a war of no choice. Of course, many Israelis believe the government should agree to a ceasefire if Hamas agrees to release the 133 hostages it is holding captive in Gaza. The Israeli government has already stated numerous times that should Hamas release the hostages, it will cease the fire.

Ms. Polgreen, it is essential to speak up when people suffer. However, looking at every problem from different perspectives is also imperative. Sometimes, it is worthwhile to listen to all sides. It is a journalist's duty to do so. But above all, it is crucial to be fair and honest.


Luis Fleischman, Ph.D.
Professor II
Social Sciences
Palm Beach State College
Palm Beach Center for Democracy and Policy Research

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