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The Internationalist
30 April 2024

Defend the Palestinians! Defeat the McCarthyite Witch Hunts!

Gaza Solidarity Encampments and Cop Repression Spread Across U.S.

Texas state troopers try to break up pro-Palestinian demonstration at the University of Texas in Austin on April 24.
(Photo: Jay Janner / Austin Statesman)

Democrat Biden, Republicans Smear Protests as “Anti-Semitic”

Cops/Security Guards Off Campus!

Labor: Defend Student Protesters!

APRIL 30 – As the U.S./Israel war on the Palestinian population of Gaza reached its 200th day (April 23), almost 43,000 Palestinians have been killed in the genocidal slaughter. The horror continues to mount relentlessly: over half of all homes in the strip destroyed by bombing, “flour massacres” as Israeli troops shoot hundreds of people desperately seeking food from aid trucks, the targeted murder of humanitarian aid workers, the spectre of imminent mass starvation. Now mass graves are being uncovered at Gaza hospital sites following raids by the Zionist military. As the Democratic administration of U.S. president Joe Biden continues to supply Israel with arms to carry out the butchery, on the home front Democrats and Republicans lyingly label anti-Zionist protests “anti-Semitic.” This filthy libel reached a crescendo at an April 17 hearing in Congress interrogating Columbia University president Nemat Shafik, who thanked the inquisitors and vowed to crack down on pro-Palestinian students and faculty.

In her groveling performance before the Congressional witch-hunters, Shafik condemned chants and slogans that have drawn the Zionists’ ire, promising lawmakers that “there will be consequences” for pro-Palestinian protesters. This set off a firestorm back at Columbia. That afternoon, as she was testifying in Washington, student protesters set up a Gaza solidarity encampment occupying the New York City campus’ South Lawn, leading to split-screen TV coverage. Faculty members complained that the university president threw academic freedom under the bus, while 20 Jewish professors slammed the witch-hunters’ weaponization of anti- Semitism. That night, Shafik called on the New York City Police Department to clear out the encampment, which they did the next morning, arresting 108 participants. The students were suspended from school and barred from campus; those living in dormitories were evicted on the spot, given 15 minutes to clear out their stuff.

Statistical summary of the U.S./Israeli genocide of the Palestinian population in Gaza, currently under way. Click on image to enlarge  (Graphic by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor)

Rather than squelching protest, this vindictive repression had the opposite effect, spurring Gaza solidarity actions across the country. Within hours of the police action, a new encampment sprouted at Columbia. On Friday, April 19, tents appeared in a plaza outside the New York University business school; that night, some 150 were arrested as hundreds yelled “Let them go.” The police complained that faculty protesters were the most vocal against the cops. The following Monday, April 22, an encampment sprung up at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, where at least 60 were arrested. In the next days, Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. suspended the undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and closed off Harvard Yard, but students set up an encampment there anyway. Occupations spread to other area schools, including Emerson College in downtown Boston, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University, and a little later, at Northeastern University.

The encampments began at elite Ivy League universities and private colleges in the Northeast, but soon spread to state universities across the country, including the University of Minnesota, Ohio State, Indiana University, the University of South Carolina, University of Texas, University of Colorado and Arizona State. In all of those cases, police were called in to clear the tents and carry out mass arrests, often brutally. At UT Austin, Republican Texas governor Gregg Abbott sent baton-wielding state police, some on horseback, to break up a pro-Palestinian demonstration – not even an encampment – saying “these protesters belong in jail” and that students in “hate-filled, anti- Semitic protests at any public college or university in Texas should be expelled.” On April 24, the Republican House of Representatives speaker Mike Johnson staged a provocation at Columbia, telling protesters to “stop the nonsense,” and saying that if it didn’t stop, university president Shafik should be fired and the National Guard called in.

It’s not just right-wing Republicans who are smearing and repressing the Gaza solidarity camps and pro-Palestinian demonstrations. On April 21, the White House issued a statement in reference to the Columbia protests, saying “This blatant anti-Semitism [sic] is reprehensible and dangerous – and it has absolutely no place on college campuses.” After speaking at the University of Virginia the next day, Democratic president Biden told the press “I condemn the antisemitic protests” – putting the presidential seal of approval on this disgusting slander of young people rightly indignant at the genocidal war armed and financed by his administration. The same day, New York’s Democratic governor Kathy Hochul beat Johnson to the punch, rushing to Columbia to denounce “anti-Semitism,” seconded by New York City’s Democratic mayor Eric Adams. In Boston, liberal Democratic mayor Michelle Wu sent city police to assault the Emerson encampment (118 arrests) and liberal Democratic governor Maura Healey deployed Massachusetts state police to bust up the Gaza solidarity camp at Northeastern (102 arrests).

The brutality of the cop attack in several places horrified many. At Emory University in Atlanta, a CNN video shows a woman professor with a handbag admonishing university, city and state police to stop beating a protester when a beefy officer viciously manhandles and throws her to the ground, another piles on and a third stands watch with a semi-automatic pepper-ball gun. This wanton violence against peaceful protesters and even a faculty member passing by is hardly surprising coming from Atlanta police who each got a $500 bonus for harshly repressing the 2020 protests over the racist police murder of George Floyd; who at the height of those protests shot and killed Rayshard Brooks for falling asleep in a Wendy’s drive-thru lane; and who in December 2022 executed Manuel Esteban Paez Terán (Tortuguita) in their war against demonstrators protesting the “Cop City” police training center.1 What shocked liberals was this kind of repression being meted out at Emory, a top-flight university with a $60,000 tuition.

Against the Gaza Genocide, Bring Out the Power of the Working Class

Banner at the Gaza solidarity encampment at Columbia University in New York City,  April 22.
(Photo: Stefan Jeremiah / AP)

For hundreds of thousands of people across the United States – and millions worldwide – who have taken to the streets to protest the horrific slaughter in Gaza, the solidarity encampments on U.S. campuses have spurred hopes that they would mushroom into a mass movement. In New York City alone, the mayor reported more than 1,900 pro-Palestinian protests in the five months from October 7 to mid-March. Yet so far these have had no visible effect on U.S. policy, much less on the ground in Gaza. As of the end of April, some 80 encampments have been reported and over 800 arrests, climbing toward 1,000 as campus administrators look to police power to discipline academia. This is very significant, but nowhere near the scope of the 2020 mass marches that rocked U.S. cities for months protesting racist police murder, and it is politically still far from the radicalization of the student/youth revolt against the Vietnam War symbolized by the 1968 Columbia University occupation.

The reality is that the present protests have yet not gone beyond the dead-end of liberal pressure politics, seeking to turn capitalism’s universities into morally liberated zones. But the hardline Zionists in Jerusalem, together with the imperialist mass murderers in Washington who finance, arm and jointly carry out the U.S./Israel genocide in Gaza, will not be pressured into “changing their priorities.” They can only be stopped by a potentially stronger force, that of the working class here and internationally. It is to that force that the most serious student activists must turn. This requires a program of sharp class struggle.

Of course, new developments may change the course of events, such as a bloody eviction of an encampment. As the old saying has it, the brutality of a cop’s riot stick can quickly raise consciousness and dispel “ivory tower” illusions. Meanwhile, the Israeli military is readying what could be mass murder on an even greater scale with an offensive in Rafah in the southern end of Gaza. There, a million Palestinians are bottled up, many in makeshift shelter after fleeing their now-destroyed homes, stuck on a waterless desert amid the searing summer heat. As people watch an actual genocide taking place before their eyes, and are desperately seeking some way to take action against it, various intractable forces are interacting. You have kill-crazed Zionist militarists; U.S. imperialist rulers seeking to stave off the unraveling of their dominance and pushing the world closer to WWIII; McCarthyite witch-hunters in Washington and university authorities desperate to “restore order” to save their jobs. The result could be an explosive situation that goes beyond the campuses.

As the school year draws to an end, continued spread of protests, and of repression, could lay the basis for student strikes and walkouts across the country. This would certainly be an important development, but rather than illusions in “student power,” looking to and linking up with the power of the working class that can bring everything in society to a halt is key. These things don’t fall from the sky; revolutionaries work to bring the program of class struggle into the fight. Our comrades in Portland, Oregon have won construction workers unions to call for workers action to stop arms shipments to Israel, as Palestinian unions in Gaza urged. Building on that and putting such calls into practice, is a concrete way to strike a blow against Israeli and U.S. warmakers. In the face of repression against the student Gaza solidarity encampments, bringing out labor to defend the protesters could significantly change the balance of forces.

The key is a revolutionary program and revolutionary leadership. In the campus protests, this starts with a clear understanding that universities are part of the capitalist system, and those that administer them are servants of the capitalist ruling class. They can’t be made into “friends of the people” or allies of the oppressed. The war on Gaza is not a case of “mistaken priorities” but an expression of the barbarism of imperialism, the highest stage of capitalist, in a state of accelerating decay. Thus, it is vital to connect today’s struggles to the fight to overthrow this system through international socialist revolution.

The Internationalist Group and Revolutionary Internationalist Youth (RIY) have been present daily at solidarity protests outside Columbia University, as well as at the New School and NYU. Members of RIY and the Internationalist Clubs at the City University of New York (CUNY) are participating in the Gaza solidarity encampment at City College. As early as last October and repeatedly since then, the Internationalist Clubs have taken the lead in protesting McCarthyite repression against defenders of the Palestinian people at Hunter College and elsewhere in CUNY.2 In the face of the snowballing repression, we call to drop all charges against pro-Palestinian demonstrators and demand police and security guards off campus. And we appeal to the unions – beginning with the Professional Staff Congress representing 30,000 faculty and staff at CUNY – saying Labor: defend the students protesting genocide in Gaza!

Revolutionary Internationalist Youth at University of California, Berkeley Gaza solidarity encampment, April 22.
(Photo: Jose Carlos Fajardo / Bay Area News Group)

Across the country, the IG and RIY have been to multiple encampments in the Boston area (Emerson, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts); at Portland State University in Oregon where a building takeover is underway, to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and participated daily in the encampment at the University of California in Berkeley. Everywhere we have combined the call to link up with the power of the working class, to the program for a binational Arab/Hebrew Palestinian workers state in a socialist federation of the Middle East.

Above all this struggle is a political fight against the combined forces of the capitalist state, and its leading parties, Democrats and Republicans, which are responsible for financing, arming and jointly waging genocidal war against the Palestinians. It is not about “bearing moral witness,” “speaking truth to power” or other liberal platitudes. Against the bipartisan war party in Washington, which just voted $95 billion to wage U.S. imperialist wars, we call to build a revolutionary workers party that can lead the struggles of all the oppressed. The stakes couldn’t be higher. ■

  1. 1. See “Under Biden and the Democrats, Racist Police Terror Rages On,” The Internationalist No. 69-70, January-May 2023; and “Atlanta’s ‘Cop City’: Sinister Center for Racist Police Repression,” Revolution No. 20, September 2023.
  2. 2. See “Defend the Palestinians! Defy the Witch-Hunters!” (24 October), “Hunter College Speak-Out Defies Intimidation Campaign” (12 November) and “McCarthyite Film Ban at Hunter College Struck Down By Student/Faculty Protest” (17 March).