A howl of rage against civilisation

The orgy of bigotry at Columbia University heaps shame on America.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics USA World

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Hands down the worst take on the ‘Gaza Solidarity Encampment’ that has taken over Columbia University in New York City for the past week is that students have always done things like this. Students have forever occupied buildings and quads to make a political point. Students have long agitated against war. Students often find themselves in the grip of passionate radical intensity. Look at the Vietnam era, says every columnist in Christendom, as if the Gaza camp were just another explosion of youthful anti-imperialism.

The wilful naivety of this take is unforgivable at this point. To liken Columbia’s strange, seething ‘pro-Palestine’ camp to earlier campus uprisings against militarism is to gloss over what is new here. It is to whitewash the profoundly unsettling nature of this rage of the privileged against the world’s only Jewish nation. Until someone can point me to instances of those Sixties anti-war kids hurling racist invective at minority groups and demanding the wholesale destruction of a small state overseas, I’ll be giving their Gaza camp commentary a wide berth.

The camp might look and sound like student politics as normal, with its juvenile bluster, megaphoned virtue and the occasional appearance of pitiable university officials warning campers of suspension. But scratch the radical surface and you’ll swiftly find an ugly underbelly of reactionary cries and even outright racism. No sooner had the students erected their tent city ‘for Palestine’ last Wednesday than it became a magnet for genocidal dreaming about the erasure of Israel and plain old bigotry against Jews.

Columbia has rang out with cries of ‘We don’t want no two states / We want all of it!’. You don’t need to be an expert in Middle East affairs to decipher this demand. It’s a sick call to seize the entirety of Israel – all of it – and create a new state more in keeping with the Israelophobic yearnings of both privileged Westerners and radical Islamists. Their longing for Israel’s erasure was made even clearer in a follow-up chant: ‘We don’t want no two states / We want ‘48!’ That is, 1948, a time when the modern state of Israel didn’t yet exist. They want a world without Israel. They want to lay waste to the national home of the Jews.

This isn’t anti-imperialism, it’s an imperious demand by the privileged of the West for the eradication of a small state they hate. These people bleat about Israel’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Gaza, yet it is ethnic cleansing they themselves desire. As Democratic congressman Ritchie Torres has said of this chant, ‘Turning the clock back to 1948 means wiping Israel off the map’. For months, Israelophobes have insisted that their slogan, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, is not a call to erase Israel. We can now see through that lie. ‘We want all of it’ rips the mask from their fake anti-war posturing and reveals the nuclear-level loathing for the Jewish State that lurks beneath.

Unsurprisingly, such feverish hatred for the Jewish nation can morph with startling speed into open loathing for the Jewish people. We’ve seen this around the Columbia camp. When counter-protesters turned up waving the Israel flag, one of the ‘pro-Palestine’ agitators cried: ‘Uncultured-ass bitches, go back to Europe.’ The Jews were taunted with yells of ‘Go back to Poland’. Not content with cleansing the Middle East of Jews, some also want to cleanse America of these problematic people. It’s fascistic hate masquerading as anti-militarism.

Indeed, the anti-militarist mask has well and truly come off this movement. The Columbia camp makes clear as day that Israel-haters want more war, not less. ‘Burn Tel Aviv to the ground’, some bigots chanted. ‘Go Hamas, we love you’, said others. Nothing better captures the crisis of Western civilisation than this vision of trust-fund genderfluid blue-haired kids singing the praises of a movement that would hurl them from a top-floor window given half a chance. In one especially nauseating incident, a white girl in a keffiyeh was seen holding a placard with an arrow saying ‘Al-Qassam’s next targets’, referring to the al-Qassam brigades, the military wing of Hamas. The placard’s arrow was pointed towards Jewish students waving the Israel flag. Shorter version: Hamas, kill these people. How swiftly the anti-fascists became fascists.

Media-elite sympathisers with Columbia’s Gaza camp claim these pro-Hamas cries, these demands for the obliteration of Israel and this hanging of target signs around the necks of Jews are rare occurrences in an otherwise peaceful protest. Plus, it’s mostly outsiders doing this stuff, they say. I call bullshit. If you create a space in which anti-Semites feel comfortable, so comfortable that they’re happy to openly glorify Hamas’s cosmic racist violence, then that’s on you.

What’s more, the insistence that it’s ‘only’ a few voices celebrating 7 October, just a handful of agitators who are are cheering the rape, kidnap and murder of Jews, is desperate bordering on sick. That there are any such voices in and around one of the highest seats of learning in modern America should be viewed as unsettling in the extreme. Anyone who cares for the future of academia, and for the future of the West, should be alarmed that at Columbia, the college of Alexander Hamilton, of Amelia Earhart, of Barack Obama, people have been heard saying to Jews: ‘[7 October is] going to be every day for you.’ President Biden is right: this is ‘blatant anti-Semitism’.

We need to be honest about what is happening at Columbia. This is solidarity with a pogrom. It is sympathy for fascism. It is privileged leftists getting a cheap moral kick from a mass act of racist violence against Jews that they catastrophically mistake for a blow against imperialism. It is the Socialism of Fools.

More than that, it is a howl of rage against civilisation. This rancid camp with its flashes of outright Jew hate is not an extension of the anti-war activism of old – it’s an extension of the loathing for civilisation that the young have been inculcated with these past few years. To these protesters, the Jewish State, and Jews themselves, represent Western values and Western modernity, and thus they must be raged against. Israel has become a moral punchbag for the sons and daughters of privilege whose hatred for their own societies has driven them over the cliff edge of reason and decency.

How foolish we were to think that education might deliver the young from the benighted ignorances of the past. For today, it is the most educated, the dwellers of the academy, who have allowed the world’s oldest hatred to wash over them. We can now see the consequences of teaching the young to be wary of Western civilisation and to treat everything ‘Western’ as suspect and wicked. All they’re left with is the lure of barbarism, the demented belief that even savagery can become praiseworthy if its target is ‘the West’. If events at Columbia do not wake us up to the crisis of civilisation, nothing will.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics USA World


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