The demonisation of students exposes hypocritical stances

Those who criticise student protests against Israel's war on Gaza are clinging to outdated and lazy narratives, placing politics before humanity

The demonisation of students exposes hypocritical stances

There are multiple attempts to discredit student protests on university campuses calling for the liberation of Palestine and calling on their colleges to divest from businesses that profit off of Israeli occupation and war. Some belittle the students by saying their actions will not stop Israel's war on Gaza nor shift Israeli, European or American political stances on the war. Others go so far as to accuse the protests of overshadowing the events taking place in Gaza.

Central to this argument is that these protests, strikes and divestment efforts will ultimately benefit Hamas. Some right-wing pundits even accuse the protesters of inadvertently supporting Hamas. While some isolated instances of students using a particular slogan or carrying a specific flag are being used to discredit the entire movement, these sweeping accusations are entirely baseless.

And since the First Amendment gives Americans the right to free speech and people are allowed to chant "Free Palestine", "Stop the massacre", or "Boycott Israel", right-wing factions are grasping at straws to smear protesters by claiming that the term intifada—an Arabic word meaning shaking off—is antisemitic. This is not a harmless linguistic or cultural misinterpretation; it is a well-intentioned tactic to discredit the movement.

With all these attacks on student activism, we are left to assume that critics prefer that students remain silent. And if students insist on exercising their rights by protesting, these critics have no issues with police crackdowns, which is not that different from Israeli tactics of collective punishment. Israel is not only punishing Palestinians in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank for Hamas's 7 October attack, it is also trying to silence anyone who criticises Israel's war on Gaza.

Right-wing factions are grasping at straws to smear protesters by claiming that the term intifada is antisemitic.

Some American legislators and judges have taken even more severe measures, imposing penalties that jeopardise the futures of thousands of students. And, of course, there are the violent and brutal police crackdowns on campuses in the United States and Europe.

Desperate smear tactics

To be blunt, discomfort with these movements often reflects the bruised egos of those opposing them, who are typically from "elite" echelons of society. This elite cannot fathom that students simply oppose genocide or occupation that elite systems have normalised, so they have to resort to conspiracy theories accusing the student movement of being backed by sinister Iranian or Islamist forces. They paint the students as naive, misled, and being on the wrong side.

The truth of the matter is that this elite, which has always considered itself to be a moral authority, has been exposed for its failure to speak out against Israel's war on Gaza. Their disconnect with reality has diminished its credibility and relevance in society. Instead of recognising this failure, they cling to outdated and lazy narratives, placing politics before humanity.

Of course, those defending Israel's war on Gaza would prefer to live in a world where public dissent is muted, social media is "uncontroversial", and injustice is ignored. To these people, Hamas is always to blame as a way to redirect criticism away from the actions of the Israeli government.

Some of the most fierce critics of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria embrace this lazy narrative because they don't want to adopt any position against Israel that could be "co-opted" by Iran—a country they despise because of its support for the Syrian regime.

Although student protests will unlikely shift the course of Israel's war on Gaza, they serve as a critical voice against complacency. 

Here, al-Assad has scored yet another victory over his adversaries as they allow their moral principles to take a back seat to their politics—the very same principles that underpinned their uprising against him. They join the ranks of the American elite who try to discredit the student protests by painting them as immigrant, Muslim, Arab, Palestinian and other false labels.

A critical voice

Although student protests will unlikely shift the course of Israel's war on Gaza and stop Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from committing war crimes, they serve as a critical voice against complacency. They challenge the narratives that justify continued aggression under the guise of achieving unrealistic goals.

The truth of the matter is that these students are young individuals who are sounding the alarm that our political institutions are veering off course, undermining our democratic values, destroying the environment, and serving the interests of a select few corporations and businessmen. And they are jeopardising their own future careers to do so.

Political pragmatism cannot stand in the face of the thousands of images and videos coming out of Gaza that capture the horrors of Israel's war. These visuals serve as a testament to the enduring occupation that has weighed heavily on the Palestinians for nearly eight decades, documenting the tragic killing of at least 25,000 children and women. Beyond these staggering figures, countless others bear the scars of this conflict, having suffered the loss of limbs, parents, and children and the destruction of their homes, schools, and hospitals.

Amidst this horror, students pay tribute to individuals like Refaat Alareer, the Palestinian professor killed by Israel in Gaza—not as symbols of any extremist group or a foreign country's agenda but as victims of profound injustice. These students see Alareer for who he really was—a poet and an educator. This is why his prolific words have found their way into protests around the world, fuelling the demand to end the killing, massacres and ongoing occupation.

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