What Lies Behind Student Pro-Hamas, Anti-Israel, and Anti-Semitic Uprisings?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Epoch Times on April 29, 2024 and is crossposted here with permission.

The sudden uprising of university students across North America in support of Hamas and allegedly about the welfare of Palestinians does not result, for most students, from close ties with people on the other side of the world.

Of course, there is in North America a small minority of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students who are strong advocates based on their ethnicity and religion. But the vast number of student protesters have no such personal ties. Why have they set aside their studies to take up activism?

We know that the reason for the uprising is not that the student activists have studied deeply the history and politics of the Middle East, the history and theology of Islam and Judaism, and how international relations more broadly influence the region. Few of the students are majoring or minoring in Middle Eastern history and current affairs, Islamic history and theology, or Jewish history and theology. We know that of the many students chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free [of Jews],” a large number cannot name either the river or the sea. How many of the students could identify Israel or Gaza on a map is uncertain.

If ties to or knowledge of the region are not behind the fevered advocacy for Hamas, what is? One factor that is undeniable is the highly organized, well-funded Muslim lobby, sponsors of Students for Justice in Palestine, and other Palestine and Islam advocacy groups, which have branches in universities across the land. Their partisanship and relentless lobbying have no doubt influenced student opinion to some degree. However, most students do not identify as Palestinian and Muslim, so their engagement on these bases is not strong. Something else must be at work.

By far, the dominant ideology in universities is the far-leftist conception of “social justice,” generally defined and implemented as “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). This is not a student invention but a policy imposed from the highest level, the Biden administration in the United States and the Trudeau government in Canada. Universities have had this far-left ideology and its implementation imposed on them by government fiat. But most universities were far from reluctant because almost all academic staff and administration officials were children or grandchildren of the cultural revolution of the 1960s who either self-identified as Marxists or accepted Marxist analyses and policies.

“Social justice” is based on Marxist class-conflict analysis. In this view, society is not many individuals and groups competing and cooperating over space and time, with relationships changing according to circumstances. Rather, the only important relationships in society are based on the conflict between classes, one class being the oppressor and exploiter, the other class being the exploited and oppressed victim. Classical Marxism framed class conflict in terms of economic classes, but that formulation never took hold in North America. The new, revised North American Marxism can be labeled “cultural Marxism,” because it identifies classes as based on sex, race, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, and religion. What is critical is that the classes of oppressors and victims be identified.

In this cultural Marxist view, males made up an exploiter class, “the patriarchy,” while females were deemed to make up an exploited victim class. Likewise, the black, brown, and indigenous races, “BIPOC,” were oppressed and exploited races, and evil “whites,” remarkably including Asians and Jews, made up the oppressor class. Similarly, “cis” heterosexuals were deemed to be oppressors of LGBT. The oppressor classes are charged with systemic prejudice and discrimination against the victim classes. In this scheme, all individual differences of members within these so-called classes are erased.

The evidence supporting this scheme is stunningly slim. Not only have the laws supporting prejudice and discrimination been eliminated, but new laws forbidding prejudice and discrimination have been passed and implemented and, by now, have long been on the books. The alleged evidence put forward by activists as decisive is disparate results in education, income, and office. If any category is not represented at the level of its percentage of the general population, that is taken as proof of prejudice and discrimination. The many other possible reasons for statistical disparities—differences in preferences and choices, differences in motivation and achievement, differences in capabilities—are ignored or denied in spite of the overwhelming evidence of the impact of these factors. The influence of regional, local, and ethnic culture is totally disregarded.

“Social justice” is put into practice under the labels “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” which do not mean what they seem to at first appearance. For example, “diversity” means only members of oppressed classes, not men, not whites, not “cis” heterosexuals, and so these people are excluded, not “included.” Ads for university positions today specify only BIPOC or LGBT or those with a disability; heterosexual white males without disabilities are excluded from consideration. For example, females dominate universities as the overwhelming majority among students, professors, and administrators. Did you notice that the Ivy League universities in the news, because of student uprisings, all have female presidents?

Also, do not imagine that “diversity” in universities means diversity of opinion and thought; in fact, views other than “social justice” and DEI are forbidden, and expressing such thoughts can result in punishment or banishment. DEI officers and offices, of which most universities have many at every level, act as political commissars suppressing ideological dissent through guidance and imposing penalties.

“Equity” is another matter entirely. It means the same results for everyone. This is the extreme ideal of Marxism: absolute equality. So any situation that produces a disparity of results is ipso facto deemed illegitimate. And here is the justification: All disparities are regarded as the result of prejudice and discrimination. So the traditional criteria of academic life in particular and public life in the West—achievement and merit—must be disregarded as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and Islamophobic. This explains the puzzling classing of Asians and Jews as “white” for the first time ever. Asians and Jews are high achieving, even more so than whites, and in the “social justice” view, that must be the result of their imposition of racism, sexism, etcetera, etcetera. The policy result is that programs aimed at high achievement, e.g., advanced courses in math and science, must be terminated, and measures of achievement, such as SAT and GRE tests, must be deemed racist, and so on, and terminated.

What does all of this have to do with Israel? Well, if Jews are white oppressors, then Israel must be also. The “social justice” analysis of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is that Israelis (but presumably not the many Israeli Arab Muslims and Christians) are white oppressors, and the Palestinian Arabs are BIPOC. Has anyone who has been to Israel and seen the two populations said this? The reality is that there is great racial overlap between the two populations: Half of Israelis were from Jewish populations in Arab countries where they lived for many centuries before being forcibly expelled, and the genetics of the two populations overlap considerably. This transfer of American race obsession to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is absurd. And this is not even to consider the Arab slave raiding in Africa and their disdain for their black slaves.

The other Marxist claim, Leninist this time, is that Israeli Jews are imperialists who have colonized the indigenous Arab Palestinians. Canadian professors are big on this alleged colonial oppression of indigenous peoples. One of my McGill colleagues was much loved by students for his championing of indigenous Canadian “First Nations” against the wicked European invaders who built Canada. (The history of slavery practiced by the indigenous “First Nations” is not told as part of this story.)

My colleague was also a great champion of the “indigenous” Palestinians. When I suggested that the Jews were the indigenous population, he refuted that by saying that “indigenous” means who was there when Westerners arrived! I asked if the Romans counted as “Western,” because when the Romans invaded the Holy Land some decades before Christ, there were only Jews there. The Romans fought the Jews and finally defeated them after a century and a half, exiling many and changing the name of the country to Syria Palestina, so that they did not have to hear Jewish place names, such as Judea and Samaria. No, my colleague said, the Jews just left to find trading opportunities. (Jews seeking money, of course.) In reality, the “indigenous” Arabs first came to the Holy Land in the seventh century as Muslim invaders from Arabia, as the initial step in their conquest of the great Islamic Empire. Muslim theology and policy has always been Islamic supremacism, with non-Muslims treated as subordinates, slaves, or worse.

The campus uprisings do not concern themselves with historical facts. It is clear (to them) who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, and morality means supporting the good guys and attacking the bad guys. Repeatedly, we have heard, “We are Hamas,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free,” “Genocide in Gaza,” “Israel go to hell,” “The only solution is intifada revolution,” and “10,000 more October the 7th.” To the demonstrators, Israel is the evil, racist oppressor of innocent Gazans and Palestinians. So, too, with Jews, who are evil oppressors of BIPOC, LGBT, women, the disabled, and Muslims generally. Israel is the Jew of nations, and Jews are the individual manifestations of Israel. That is why we also hear “Zionist pigs,” “get off of campus,” and “go back to Poland.”

Many commentators have lamented that demonstrating students are not in class, and others are not allowed to go to class. But quiet campuses with students learning are not the solution; they are the problem, for what almost all universities teach is cultural Marxism, which is also the official university policy. The students have not failed to learn; they have learned too well the false and destructive lessons of “social justice” and DEI. The students have been corrupted in corrupt universities, which have abandoned the search for truth in favor of the Marxist revolution.

This does not end with Israel, the Palestinians, and the Jews. The United States, Canada, the West, capitalism, democracy, and individual freedom are all in the crosshairs of Marxism and Islamic supremacism. Today, the red–green alliance controls North American universities. Students are chanting “Death to America.” Be warned.

Photo by Elvert Barnes — Flickr


  • Philip Carl Salzman

    Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and Past President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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