Soon, the Spring semester will be over on most campuses, students will go home, and the wave of protests will largely disperse. We can dismiss the protesters as fringe groups or extremists, but that would be a mistake. That’s because the protesters have succeeded in moving the goalposts on accepted discourse, political correctness, and normative progressive sensibilities, which will have far-reaching implications for discourse around Israel, the Palestinians, and Jewish life in North America.

The rabbis of the Talmud had a saying for times like this: פוּק חָזִי מַאי עַמָא דָבַר (puk chazi mai ama davar) – “Go out and see how the people are acting,” which meant essentially that one should leave their own bubble or echo chamber and go out and see what the people are doing or saying. As much of our attention, this week turned to the torrent of demonstrations and protests on American university campuses, it is critical to pay close attention to what is being said as there are serious short and long-term implications.

The images of Columbia students shattering windows and barricading themselves inside Hamilton Hall on campus, have gone viral as has the long white banner dropped from the second-floor window with one word written on it: “Intifada.”

To be clear as long as protests are peaceful, non-violent, and not inciteful, they should be seen as protected speech. That is everyone’s right according to the First Amendment. But there are also loud voices coming out clearly supporting violence and inciting anti-Jewish action.

Some well-documented chants and posters included the following messaging:

  • A protester stood in front of pro-Israel students who were waving Israeli and American flags with a sign reading, “Al-Qassam’s next targets,” referring to the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization.
  • Demonstrators yelled with a threatening tone: “Jews, Jews” in Arabic and others were saying “Go back to Poland.”
  • A group of demonstrators off-campus chanted, “We say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!”


No one would tolerate KKK slogans or chants in favor of lynchings, or anything of the sort, and the fact that this is tolerated under free speech is abhorrent.

As NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof highlighted the irony of professed progressives who support Hamas with no acknowledgment:

“…Hamas is a misogynistic, homophobic, antisemitic terrorist organization that is now holding American and Israeli hostages. Hamas has been a catastrophe for Gazans, and it’s hard for me to see why anyone supporting Palestinians would condone it or violence.”

But, where these protests have been successful is in moving the goalposts for the largely uninformed and the average student (both Jewish and not) who is nominally progressive and might fear being associated with the “wrong” cause.  If one is an unassuming passerby, it is easy to be swayed by the anti-Zionist message. No one mentions that Hamas is bent on murdering as many Jews as possible, nor is there any mention of October 7th or an explanation for why Israel is fighting a war.

Many unassuming and well-intentioned students might easily conclude that if progressive leaders – including many faculty members – are ostensibly fighting for justice against the establishment, then there must be some truth to it.

This is about more than just Israel (as some were even chanting “Death to America”), and more about the unhinged progressive political movement(s). As Israeli doctoral student, Yotam Berger posted on his Facebook page in Hebrew:

“I saw the American progressive movement as the little sister of liberal movements that I respected. I saw it as an ally. That was a mistake.

The progressives are challenging much more than the State of Israel, or the right of the Jews to a nation-state. I’m not sure how many of the people who identify as progressives actually hold these ideals, and how many of them are simply repeating them over and over loudly, to gain some kind of social sympathy. But those of them who hold this position really no longer believe in the existence of “truth,” or in the existence of facts.”

The protests have succeeded in a more sinister ideological warfare. Calling out “Zionists” as one would call out Fascists, Klan members, Nazis, etc… plays on sharpened societal forces and historical precedents that use rhetorical weaponry that too easily dismisses the foundation of liberalism, searches for truth, exchange of ideas, and civil discourse.

As a result, the Jewish community needs to do four things (some of which it is already doing):

  1. Work with university administrations to do everything in their power to enforce the rule of law and protect Jewish students from physical, emotional, and verbal abuse.
  2. Work with local students and Hillel professionals. We have seen that non-student groups who swoop in to counter-protest are often, to put it mildly, unhelpful.
  3. To work with our students (from elementary to university) and hold opportunities and safe spaces to demonstrate that healthy exchange of ideas. To show that one can fully support the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and advocate for an end to their suffering while condemning in the strongest terms any association with Hamas who is responsible for the greatest massacre of Jews in the last 8 decades and for the devastation currently taking place in Gaza. To demonstrate that the negation of nuance doesn’t just enable the mobilization of age-old antisemitic tropes, it also fuels discord and division, and negation of identity.
  4. Press for continued work in opposing the extremist rhetoric coming from coalition members of the Israeli government (which is not helping the situation Stateside) and working to support Israeli civil society – who are largely pushing for a deal to return the hostages immediately.


This is an important moment in history, and we know that the mitigation and eventual resolution of this conflict will come from even-handed advocates calling for peace, recognition, and a desire for life as an endgame. Let’s work for this before it is too late.