OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Student activists, do you really want peace?

It’s time to ask yourselves the difficult questions.

An anti-Israel protest at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Photo by Rachel Cook.
An anti-Israel protest at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Photo by Rachel Cook.
Marc Erlbaum
Marc Erlbaum is a filmmaker and the co-founder of Philadelphia's Jewish Relief Agency.

There are undoubtedly some among the anti-Israel student protesters on campuses around the country who desire peace and believe they are demonstrating for peace. They have been deceived. They have been coopted by a movement that promotes the opposite of peace.

The students imagine themselves to be pacifists and defenders of humanity, but they have been duped into chanting war cries and genocidal slogans. They have become the unwitting pawns of a violent supremacist agenda that aims to overthrow the very democratic system it exploits.

There are those in the encampments who know precisely what they’re doing. They are ideologues who have been raised in a culture of hatred for Israel and America. Hatred of the values of democratic liberalism and cultural heterodoxy that the “Great Satan” and the “Little Satan” represent. They ascribe to a religious orthodoxy that demands universal adherence or at least deference to a singular theology. Or they are cultural Marxists committed to the complete overthrow of the capitalist system.

The leaders of the campus anti-Israel movement initially cloaked their agenda in pathos. Appealing to the compassionate humanitarian principles that undergird the Western liberal ethos, they focused students’ ire on the tragic loss of civilian life as a result of Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hamas. Distorting facts, inflating figures and twisting language, they convinced vulnerable and uninformed youth that Israel is an “apartheid” regime guilty of “genocide” against an innocent civilian population.

These claims have been conclusively refuted by objective political and military experts. But to those influenced more by their gut than their intellect, the emotional impact was more compelling than the facts.

Once students were drafted to the cause, the cause itself began to shift—gradually but intentionally. What originated as a call for the end of war morphed into something far less passive and pacifist. Chants and placards calling for a “ceasefire” soon gave way to calls for the elimination of the State of Israel and violent intolerance of Zionists—that is, anyone who believes in Israel’s right to exist—worldwide. Jewish students were harassed and assaulted as the virulent antisemitism of the movement’s organizers emerged in full. Shrieks of “Death to America” exposed the protest leaders’ ultimate aim.

It would be interesting to know if there are cases of students defecting from the encampments as the messaging grew increasingly violent, hateful and anti-American. If they exist, they should be given proper media attention. But it is known that participants are directed to avoid contact with the outside world and to shout down any dissenting or questioning voices. Independent thinking is sacrificed to herd mentality and individuals are swept up in the fervor of the mob.

None of this excuses those who have joined the mob, but there are two questions they should be encouraged to ask themselves.

First, what are you really promoting?

If you are interested in promoting peace, then you should wonder if some of those who insist that they seek peace really want something for themselves and will fight to vanquish those who differ from them ideologically. That is not peace. It is conflict and conquest.

If your love for something is measured by your hate for something else, then it is not love. If your idea of peace is the submission or eradication of those who do not comply with your worldview, then you will always be at war. Peace will only be secured when we learn to coexist. Those who refuse to coexist are not genuinely interested in peace regardless of what they tell you.

Second, do you truly understand the issue you are demonstrating for and are you clear on who is pulling the strings?

There is often tremendous pressure to join a movement and failure to do so is met with ostracism. This demand to immediately pick a side regardless of whether you understand the issue at hand should be viewed with skepticism.

You should be suspicious of those who incite others to aggression and division. There are malevolent players with shadowy agendas who are pulling the strings for all the wrong reasons. They want us at each other’s throats and we far too easily allow ourselves to serve as their marionettes.

What we need are genuine peacemakers: People who can put their egos and biases aside, transcend politics and personal interests, and band together on the side of compassion and communion.

It is wonderful to be young, idealistic and energetic. But it is easy to be misguided and misled when passions run high. If peace is what you genuinely desire, then ask yourself the difficult questions and find those on campus who are working to unite rather than those who are grooming you to fight.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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