The Campus Protests: Repugnant but Necessary

I’m a long-time mainstream moderate with rather unoriginal views about the Israel-Palestine conflict.  For many years I didn’t even care about it – I’m Jewish, but the conflict seemed hopeless.  Then I went to Israel and the West Bank in 2012 and spent about two years there on and off, and came out of it with pretty much the same mainstream moderate views I had when I started.  Except I thought it was even more hopeless than I did before I actually knew anything about it.

Since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, the status quo has largely prevailed – steadily getting worse for the Palestinians, and better for the Israelis.  The status quo has had a numbing impact on world opinion: nothing seems to change, futility multiples, apathy sets in. The entrenchment of the Netanyahu government, and its extremist right wing coalition, has become outrageously detached from norms, yet still the apathy prevailed.

That’s why the outbreak of loud, messy, offensive campus demonstrations is something I welcome and support – even though it’s clear that many of the demonstrators espouse deeply offensive viewpoints and in their actions have made life very uncomfortable for many innocent bystanders.

The Gaza attack – and the sustained and disproportionate Israelis response – as violent as jarring as they were – may not have been a sufficient enough shock to motivate a change in world opinion, a shift in US policy.  The campus demonstrations, and the other protests, particularly in the swing states, represent a powerful added dimension that may just shake loose the numbing 30 years of status quo.

We are witnessing a classic case of potentially catalytic unrest:  cadres of extremist activists attacking opponents, lighting fires, disrupting daily life and provoking excessive police responses.  The media loves it.   Counter-demontrations fuel the surge.  And it shakes things just enough to discredit the status quo and jolt policy makers who previously had little incentive to push for change.

Worldwise approbrium, the BDS movement and other soft opposition over the past decades made no dent in Israeli policy.   The sudden panic that angry youth, Arab-American voters and America first isolationists have enough political energy to make an electorial difference on the margins seems to be moving the US political establishment.  We provide the weapons.  We provide a good deal of the funding.  And we are the best hope there is for a shift in Israel’s messianic march toward annexation of the pre-1967 Arab lands.

The current wave of protests won’t reach the magnitude of the Vietnam War era protests.   But it’s certainly possible that the protests could have an impact comparable to Occupy Wall Street and the George Floyd aftermath.  Hardly revolutionary upheavals, but still effective and impactful surges of outrage.

I’m willing to accept the stupid and repugnant actions and sloganeering of the protesters because the injustice that they may help to correct is an insidious evil – a grinding occupation, a disregard for international law, a national security state that has crushed the Palestinian opposition in the West Bank and a denial of democratic right and liberties to several million people who deserve to live in freedom and prosperity.

The prospect of a finding a two-state solution to the conflict, a solution that gives Palestinians a state and Israel secure borders, had become remote, obsolete, impossible. Perhaps the jolt of a young, angry, largely misguided American mob can accomplish something where the international diplomatic establishment has utterly failed.