Category Archives: Genocide

Opinion: America’s tents are pitched on shameful truths

Student protesters occupy a tent camp as they demonstrate against the war in Gaza at Columbia University. | Victor J. Blue / The Washington Post.

The Washington Post, by Robin Givhan, April 30, 2024

It’s been a long time since a tent was simply a tent. Today, it almost certainly represents an issue, a problem, a population with which society would prefer not to contend.

The tents are unseemly. They need to be. They’re flimsy structures staked on uneven ground surrounded by the stately architecture of the academy, capitalism and power. Their flapping scrims of nylon and plastic clutter up the landscape and serve as a rebuke to the grandiosities of polite society. The tents shame countries, cities and individuals for their failures even when the voices of the activists fall silent, when the chanting stops and the sun sets. The tents are still there.

Most recently, tents have become fundamental to the pro-Palestinian encampments constructed in college yards and on plazas from New York to California. In the nation’s capital, an encampment has taken root on the campus of George Washington University, where a few dozen tents have been pitched on the street and in the courtyard. All of it encompasses a one-block span of downtown Washington over which police officers keep watch with modest interest rather than alarm.

The asphalt has been colorfully chalked with mantras about Palestinian liberation and small placards abound. “Full cease-fire in Gaza now!” “Will you free my Palestine?” “Dismantle the war machine.” A statue of George Washington has been graffitied with accusations of genocide along with the university’s culpability. The life-size sculpture has also been draped in Palestinian flags, its neck wrapped in a kaffiyeh.

But it’s the tents that take up the space. Their presence is a constant, ringing reminder of unrest and anger even when the student activists type quietly on their laptops or softly sing that “Palestine needs our love” or listen in silence as the evening’s schedule is ticked off over a bullhorn. An activist lists their demands for everyone to hear, which mostly means the folks watching and listening and holding microphones and cameras. He doesn’t mention the hostages being held by Hamas. But he wants the university to divest from “all corporate ties to the Zionist state of Israel” and to cancel all trips to “occupied Palestine” for research or study abroad.

Among many things, the use of the word “Zionist” sets off alarms for the many different people who hear it. Is it pure antisemitism? Or is it an attack on the Israeli government, whose senior leaders have expressed concern that the International Criminal Court will issue arrest warrants for them? Is it an assault on the right of Israel to exist? Or is it a demand that it not continue to exist within its current contours and constructs with the Palestinian people?

Tents set up by pro-Palestinian activists at GWU. | Shawn Thew / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock.

For some college presidents, there seems to be a belief that by ripping away the tents and clearing the courtyards, they are also expunging any hate and hurt from their campus — as if antisemitism lives in these makeshift shelters and not in the heart. They demand that the protests be polite, convenient and perfect, or in the words of Princeton University’s president, that the protests adhere to “time, place and manner” regulations. They call police to make arrests. They suspend students and declare them trespassers on their own campus. But the very meaning of a protest is to disrupt the status quo, to bring thoughtless momentum to a halt, to underscore precisely how imperfect the world really is.

On college campuses, the tents represent one of many truths. In addition to the savagery of Hamas on Oct. 7, along with the cruel holding of hostages, alongside the shames of antisemitism and Islamaphobia, Palestinian civilians are being killed by the thousands.

The tents are always telling us something that we don’t want to hear.

The tents of the homeless fill parks, clutter walkways and sprout in the shadow of freeway overpasses. So leaders of western states across the political divide have gone to the Supreme Court to have those tents declared illegal. Under current law, they can’t just summarily clear the tents if those who are living in them have nowhere else to go, if there are no beds at a shelter in their city. Officials in Grants Pass, Ore., don’t want homeless camps on their streets or in their parks. But asking the Supreme Court to allow them to remove the tents doesn’t remove the problem; it doesn’t make a weak social safety net any stronger.

The activists who settled into New York’s Zuccotti Park back in 2011 drew attention to income inequality, joblessness and the outsize political influence of financial firms. Occupy Wall Street spread from Manhattan across the country and around the world. The protesters marched and rallied but mostly what they were remembered for was rolling out their sleeping bags and setting up tented tarps and creating their own little squatters camp in the midst of capitalism’s Emerald City. They werebelittled as jealous of the success of others, as anti-capitalist and as vaguely un-American.

Under a freeway overpass hundreds of people live in a homeless encampment under a freeway overpass in San Diego in 2023. | Melina Mara / The Washington Post.

In the midst of a city where money is considered the great equalizer, the men and women who slept outside under bright blue tarps through rain, wind and even a nor’easter were an insistent reminder of a society turned ugly and heartless for a cash payout.

And for more than 30 years, there was a lone tent in Lafayette Square, across from the White House. To be fair, it was really just a facsimile of a tent — an enormous umbrella and pieces of plastic sheeting — because actual tents are illegal. It was a singular place where a woman sat 24-hour vigil — aided by those who relieved her — in protest of nuclear proliferation. Concepción Picciotto was the woman who grew old sitting in that makeshift tent, handing out leaflets to advance her cause, being ignored, ridiculed and admired. She carried on until her death in 2016 because her cause proved just as stubborn as she was.

The tents house the people we don’t want to see. These humble structures that sit low in the valleys between skyscrapers and monuments, remind us of inequality, of the unpredictability of unfairness, of the ways in which capitalism and the American Dream don’t work. They represent one immoral truth out of many.

And whether leaders criminalize them, bulldoze them or ridicule them doesn’t matter. The problems endure because the problem is never the tent.

Several demonstrators at UCLA’s camp’s destruction defied orders to disperse, armed with only hard hats and umbrellas. | Getty Images.

Sanders hits back at Netanyahu: ‘It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable’

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Roger Straw – I was a student protester during the anti-Vietnam-war movement, a young professional during the anti-apartheid movement in the U.S., and a protester here in Benicia against George W. Bush’s trumped up war against Iraq. War is almost NEVER a way to peace. Will Israel’s genocidal attack on Gaza and the failure of Israel’s government to move toward a two-state solution generate the next massive peace movement here and around the world? Maybe so, maybe rightly so. Bernie Sanders made a good point this week, defending activists against charges of antisemitism – see below. The world is crying out for innocents in Gaza who are starving and whose homes, hospitals and cities are in ruins. The death count is now over 34,000! The United States MUST stand up to the Israeli Prime Minister, and I would encourage all of us to join in the widespread call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire. Yes, of course the hostages must be freed. And yes, Bibi, I am not an anti-Semite. – Roger]

US senator says Israeli prime minister is using antisemitism to distract attention from ‘extremist and racist government’ policies

Bernie Sanders speaks with reporters on 23 April 2024. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

The Guardian, by Robert Tait, 27 Apr 2024

Bernie Sanders has hit back fiercely at Benjamin Netanyahu over the Israeli prime minister’s claim that US universities were being overrun by antisemitism on a scale comparable to the rise of Nazism in Germany.

In a video posted on X, the progressive senator from Vermont – who is Jewish – accused Netanyahu of “insult[ing] the intelligence of the American people” by using antisemitism to distract attention from the policies of his “extremist and racist government” in the military offensive in Gaza.

“No Mr Netanyahu, it is not antisemitic or pro-Hamas to point out that, in a little over six months, your extremist government has killed over 34,000 Palestinians and wounded more than 78,000, 70% of whom are women and children,” Sanders said.

The two-and-a-half minute video listed a catalogue of further consequences of the war in the Palestinian coastal territory, including the destruction of infrastructure, hospitals, universities and schools, along with the killing of more than 400 health workers.

Sanders, who sponsored an unsuccessful Senate bill in January to make US aid to Israel conditional on its observance of human rights and international law, said Netanyahu’s government had unreasonably blocked humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza, causing “thousands of children [to] face malnutrition and famine”.

In a blistering conclusion, he said: “Mr Netanyahu, antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to many millions of people.

“But please, do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal policies of your extremist and racist government. … It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable for your actions.”

Mr. Netanyahu, antisemitism is a vile and disgusting form of bigotry that has done unspeakable harm to millions.

Do not insult the intelligence of the American people by attempting to distract us from the immoral and illegal war policies of your extremist and racist government.

Sanders’ comments were a riposte to a video posted on social media by Netanyahu in which he waded in to protests sweeping American university campuses and claimed not enough was being done to combat a “horrific” rise in antisemitism.

“Antisemitic mobs have taken over leading universities,” Netanyahu said. “They call for the annihilation of Israel. They attack Jewish students. They attack Jewish faculty. This is reminiscent of what happened in German universities in the 1930s.

“It has to be stopped. It has to be condemned and condemned unequivocally, but that’s not what happened. The response of several university presidents was shameful. Now fortunately, state, federal and local officials, many of them, have responded differently. But there has to be more.”

Netanyahu’s comments came against the backdrop of police deployments to break up pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University and numerous other US campuses. In some universities, faculty members have been arrested, including the chair of the philosophy department and a professor of English and Indigenous studies at Emory University in Atlanta.

Jewish students have reported feeling threatened by the protests and heated atmosphere that followed Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October, resulting in the deaths of about 1,200 Israelis and the kidnapping of more than 200 others.

Videos posted on social media have depicted anti-Israel protesters shouting “go back to Poland” and “go back to Belarus”, apparently at Jewish students. A congressional hearing earlier in April into a reported upsurge of antisemitism at Columbia heard allegations that Jewish students had been subjected to taunts of “F the Jews”.

Last October’s attack triggered an overwhelming and continuing Israeli military response that has so far killed more than 34,000 Palestinians – according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza – and led to a burgeoning humanitarian disaster, accompanied by accusations that Israel is committing “genocide”.

In his video, Netanyahu said Israel was being “falsely accused” of genocide and called it part of an “antisemitic surge”.

“Israel tries to defend itself against genocidal terrorists who hide behind civilians,” he said. “Yet it is Israel that is falsely accused of genocide. Israel that is falsely accused of starvation and sundry war crimes. It’s all one big libel.

“But that’s not new. We’ve seen in history that antisemitic attacks were always preceded by vilification and slander.”

The Joe Biden White House, while resisting pressure to condition or limit weapon supplies to Israel, has voiced frustration over its resistance to allowing more humanitarian aid freely into Gaza and roundly criticised the recent strikes that killed seven workers from celebrity chef Jose Andres’s World Central Kitchen charity.

Protests on campuses across the US continued on Saturday, with some protesting student bodies and universities locked in a standoff that saw demonstrators vowing to keep their movements going at the same time as college authorities moved to close down the encampments.

Police in riot gear cleared protest tents on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston, while students shouted and jeered at them, the Associated Press reported. The university said the protest had been “infiltrated by professional organisers” with no connection to the institution, while some demonstrators had used antisemitic slurs.

The picture of campus antisemitism run amok was lent further credence by Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard president and ex-US treasury secretary, who accused authorities at his former university of failing to act decisively against protesters occupying Harvard Yard.

“This is the predictable culmination of the Harvard Corporation’s failure to effectively address issues of prejudice and breakdowns of order on our campus,” he posted on X. “There can be no question that Harvard is practicing an ongoing double standard on discrimination between racism, misogyny and antisemitism.”

His comments provoked a sharp response from critics of Israel. “Your efforts to portray student demonstrators challenging Israel’s genocidal actions as ‘antisemitic’ are cheap & disingenuous,” wrote Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn). “These students should be commended for their courage & compassion, risking suspension & smears (like yours), to fight the most heinous crimes underway in Gaza.”

See earlier posts about the Israeli/Hamas war on BenIndy:

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