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Column: Now The World Can See That Pro-Arab Activists Are Mashugah

‘I was assaulted by a student today at an anti-Israel protest. He stabbed me in the eye with a Palestinian flag. Now I’m in the hospital. This is what happens when visibly Jewish students try to attend and document these rallies.’’

— Jewish Yale University student Sahar Tartak, editor-in-chief of The Yale Free Press.

    PHILADELPHIA – To protest the supposed heresy of Israel’s so-called occupation of “Palestine,” activists persist in occupying private property belonging to Columbia, New York University, Yale, Berkeley, Michigan and elsewhere – with a vast difference.

    Disgusting spectacles that intimidate Jewish students, disrupt campus activities and distort Middle East issues have consumed college campuses and elsewhere for several years, and they have barely moved college administrators to clamp down. The situation worsened with the Oct. 7 raid when Hamas murdered 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped 240 more. Protesters have focused on the 31,000 Palestinians which Hamas claims were killed by the Israel Defense Forces after Oct. 7.

    Sahar Tartak at Yale was among Jewish students who reported attacks or harassment this past weekend. She posted to X (formerly known as Twitter) that she was struck in the eye with the end of a Palestinian flag while pro-Palestinian activists surrounded her and a friend, The Daily Caller reported.

    She believes they were singled out due to their Hasidic Jewish attire while filming the demonstration. Tartak edits The Yale Free Press, described as an independent publication.

    A pair of committee hearings conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives has provided, despite partisan clashes, an official stamp of authority for complainants.

    The presidents of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard resigned after they hedged when GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik of upstate New York asked them if threats of genocide for Jews violated the universities’ codes. Last week, Columbia President Minouche Shafik told members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce that Columbia University, in New York City’s Morningside Heights section, has been investigating students and professors who are accused of violating university policies, particularly those that threaten Jewish students, The New York Times reports.

    As Shafik testified on Wednesday last week, activists prepared for a confrontation by establishing an encampment of 50 tents on campus property that they dubbed the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” Their specific demand was for Columbia to divest from companies doing business with Israel.

    When Shafik responded, she set the stage for an unwelcome kind of occupation – at New York’s police stations. On Thursday, she asked police to disperse the protesters who she said violated campus security regulations, according to Agence France-Presse. Police arrested at least 108 demonstrators and dismantled the tents.

    Pro-Arab activists answered by intensifying their defiance and were joined by advocates at other universities who expanded their protests and faced numerous arrests, including nearly 60 at Yale while NYU officials subsequently had dissidents stopped and arrested.

    Television news stations covered these demonstrations this week in the same fashion it broadcast Black Lives Matters protests for George Floyd and the Jan. 6 raid on Capitol Hill, and major newspapers provided similar coverage beginning Tuesday morning. For a situation that is confusing at best, our news media exposed once and for all how these activists operate.

    These protesters continue to disrupt their campuses even when the university tells them to stop and police must arrest them, and yet they remain defiant of our legal system.

    Longtime observers of internal fights over the Middle East are not surprised by this reporting, and Jewish students live with it each day. Now all Americans can see it for themselves, and that means they recognize that many who speak for the Palestinians are liars and troublemakers.

    The struggle does not end there since reality has yet to sink in.

    “They can threaten us all they want with the police, but at the end of the day, it’s only going to lead to more mobilization,” senior Maryam Alwam, a Columbia senior, told a Times reporter.

    For now, maybe. The impact on their private lives may change their perspective once they begin paying their debt to society if convicted – likely fines but it is always possible that they could occupy the city’s jail cells. Unlike their prized “Palestine,” America operates a legal system that is grounded in reality. Suspects who are convicted of crimes will be punished, possibly with prison sentences.

    Where the challenge to anti-Israel activity took shape, the University of Pennsylvania last Friday withdrew the status of Penn Against the Occupation as a registered student organization, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. A Penn spokesperson explained that the organization “failed to comply with policies that govern student organizations at Penn.”

    Lawbreakers can beat the legal system when the powers-that-be ignore crimes committed happening under their noses, but they cannot win once the system of justice is mobilized. Many scoff at the notion of sending police to the campus, but students are accused of committing crimes. Shafik argued that she took “this extraordinary step because these are extraordinary circumstances.”

    Barnard student organizer Isra Hirsi, daughter of Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis, appeared to have mixed feelings after her experience last week. She told the Times she was “shocked” by the time she left a precinct house at 9:30 p.m. “So I was in zip ties for over seven hours,” she said.

    Hirsi’s student status was also suspended, which means that she is barred from university housing, according to the Times. Prompting a curious comment, Hirsi said she has not returned to her room since she must be accompanied by a chaperone from Barnard’s public safety team. “It makes feel me like more of a criminal than I think that I am.”

    What kind of a criminal does she think she is? How does she distinguish between one kind of criminal and another?

    Omar, who is widely regarded as anti-Israel if not antisemitic, argues on social media for her daughter’s free-speech rights in “pushing her school to stand against genocide. Stepping up to change what you can’t tolerate is why we as a country have the right to speech, assembly and petition enshrined in constitution.”

    Is it free speech to threaten and even attack people for supporting Israel? Does building an illegal encampment a form of free speech? These are some of the offenses which brought on police intervention.

    Political figures in high places are starting to remind the public of protesters’ tactics as New York Mayor Eric Adams charges that the dissidents include “outside agitators,” and Illinois Governor J. B. Pritzker said that free speech was not the issue when activists blocked roads leading to O’Hare International Airport on April 15; both are Democrats. In a TV interview, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told Sean Hannity on Fox News, “If need be, we’ll send in the National Guard.”

    Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina combined his floor speech advocating military aid for Israel and Ukraine on Tuesday with telling campus protesters that “you people…make me sick.”

    Activists’ protests against the deaths of Palestinians are understandable, and political figures on both sides of the issue are to some degree exploiting the protests for political purposes. Yet their tactics are still deplorable and many activists are without question quite mashugah.

    About Bruce Ticker

    Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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