Campus Occupations under Attack

Biden cracks down on Gaza solidarity

15 May 2024

The vicious police assaults on Palestine solidarity encampments on university and college campuses across the United States and around the world is an egregious attack on freedom of speech and assembly and an ominous warning for the future. Those demonstrating have faced severe repression, including evictions from dorms, suspensions and expulsions, arbitrary detentions and mass arrests, as protesters have been battered, bruised and hospitalized while tent camps are violently dismantled. All of this has been legitimized by a vile smear campaign by the corporate media and academic administrations, fully backed by all levels of the US government and law enforcement.

Administrators at Columbia University in New York City, site of the first Gaza Solidarity Encampment erected in mid-April, called in the cops and private security guards, who stormed Hamilton Hall (where protesters had barricaded themselves), broke up the occupation and arrested students en masse. That highly militarized NYPD action saw officers in riot regalia and “counterterrorism” units using “flash-bangs,” or stun grenades, and entering the occupied building with weapons drawn, with one officer reportedly firing his gun as police cleared out the protesters.

At UCLA, a rampaging pro-Israel vigilante mob wielding batons, low-grade explosives and tear gas violently attacked the encampment while campus security and local law enforcement stood by and did nothing. Those clashes appear to have served as the pretext for a wholesale crackdown on the UCLA protests, which were deemed “illegal” and dismantled by the police, with pro-Palestinian activists forcibly removed and over a hundred detained.

Similar scenes of state repression are playing out at dozens of colleges throughout the US: Austin, Boston, Charlottesville, Chicago, Detroit, Portland, San Diego, and many more. This is a deliberate attempt to suppress the outrage of thousands of youth, students, faculty and staff, including many Jewish people, at the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Gaza perpetrated by Israel with the full backing of American imperialism. Yet despite the clampdown, the movement is rapidly spreading internationally, with similar encampments on campuses in Western imperialist countries backing Israel’s genocide, including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

For Labor Action to Defend Gaza & Pro-Palestinian Protesters!

Students around the world have taken a courageous stand by demanding an end to the US and EU-backed genocide of Palestinians in Gaza and defying police repression. A broad-based coalition of some 200 progressive and civil society organizations has voiced support for student protesters, condemned the violent response by college administrators and called for police and militarized forces off campuses. But it is crucial that support for the students’ struggle moves beyond simple statements of verbal solidarity to concrete actions—most centrally by workers.

At a number of colleges, faculty and staff have staged spontaneous walkouts and acts of civil disobedience in solidarity with the protesters and joined students at the encampments. Many have been arrested and risked great physical harm, some calling for strike action and canceling classes in support of the students. Workers at The New School in New York City have even erected the first-ever faculty and staff solidarity encampment, stating:

“We call on faculty across all campuses to escalate and take greater coordinated risk in solidarity with the student movement, their demands, and the people of Palestine and their righteous struggle against 6 months of a genocide and 75+ years of settler colonial violence and apartheid.”
—truthout.org, 8 May 2024

The movement is now at a crossroads: it must either go forward or risk fizzling out with the school year coming to a close, or worse, get completely smashed by state repression. The burgeoning student–worker alliance is the foundation for keeping up momentum and moving forward.

The protests must seek to link up with all organized campus workers, who have the social power to effectively occupy and shut down the colleges and universities: faculty, custodians, food service employees, university office staff, librarians, computer lab technicians, etc. They must be brought into the struggle through joint student–worker general assemblies and/or committees and take up the cause of defending the encampments. An important goal must be to immediately establish worker/trade-union defense guards to protect protesters from police violence and pro-Israel mobs.

The fight against genocide and war cannot be limited to a campus-based struggle, no matter how widespread; nor can it be built upon calls for academic institutions to boycott Israeli universities or simply divest from banks and corporations backing Israel. While such demands can provide a symbolic focal point for organizing outrage and exposing those who finance, arm and back Israeli apartheid, ultimately they do not transcend the confines of capitalism. On their own, they amount to a strategy limited to merely applying pressure on college administrations, companies and governments to slap Israel’s wrist.

Allies of the students and Palestinians are not to be found in corporate boardrooms or the halls of power, but in the wider working class, many of whom belong to the same trade-union federations as the campus employees. Workers in the factories, docks, railroads, airports and other strategic choke points, led by class-struggle militants in the unions in coordination with community activists, could stop transportation of weapons to Israel, shut down production and lead mass mobilizations in solidarity with the besieged Palestinians.

A number of unions have already taken an important first step. Workers in Belgium and Spain have blockaded weapons manufacturers and agreed not to move military shipments in solidarity with the Palestinians. In Italy, stevedores managed to successfully carry out a one-day political strike that shut down port operations to protest the genocide in Gaza. In the US, dockers in the influential and political Local 10 of the International and Longshore Warehouse Union (ILWU) have refused to handle military cargo to Israel and agreed to honor picket lines protesting the war (LabourNet, 2 May 2024). In 2014, ILWU members at the Port of Oakland honored a community picket initiated by pro-Palestinian and labor militants to oppose Israel’s brutal “Operation Protective Edge” on the Gaza Strip. That labor/community action successfully prevented the unloading of the Israeli cargo ship Zim Piraeus for five days (see the video “Picketlines Past and Present: Israel to South Africa”).

Campus Crackdown: ‘Made in the USA’

The attacks on encampments coincide with Israel’s long-planned ground invasion of Rafah, making good on the threat to “finish the job” in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands have already fled the southern tent-city, where an estimated 1.4 million Palestinians (nearly half children) had sought refuge, displaced by the Zionist regime’s murderous campaign of ethnic cleansing. With the Israeli offensive in Rafah expected to end in bloodbath, and possibly an all-out regional war in the Middle East, Western ruling elites continue to intensify domestic repression, viewing it as a necessary measure to quell the anticipated explosion of working-class anger.

In order to “manufacture consent” for the crackdown, the capitalist press and wide layers of the political establishment, especially in the US, have vilified those opposing the genocide of Palestinians and enthusiastically cheered on the crushing of peaceful protest. Student activists have been outlandishly smeared as “antisemitic,” “agitators calling for acts of terrorism against Jewish students” and “pro-Hamas sympathizers, fanatics and freaks” erecting “little Gazas” bent on inciting anti-Jewish “pogroms.”

Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has weighed in on the campus protests. In a truly deranged video posted on social media, Netanyahu, without a shred of evidence, had the chutzpah to denounce the protesters as “antisemitic mobs” who “want to kill Jews wherever they are” and call “for death to Israel, death to the Jews, death to America.” Not satisfied with the level of repression already meted out by US authorities, the bloodthirsty Netanyhu demanded “there has to be more, more has to be done” (Forbes, 24 April 2024).

President Joe Biden, who gave the greenlight to the police assaults on peaceful campus protests, has consistently equated any criticism of the reactionary political-religious ideology of Zionism with antisemitism. He stated that there is “no place in America for antisemitism or threats of violence against Jewish students” (whitehouse.gov, 2 May 2024) despite the fact that “violence against Jewish students” has come from the police and Zionists who have brutally attacked Jewish activists participating in the protests. This includes 74-year-old Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who was violently arrested at an anti-war demonstration on campus at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri in late April. A recent study on pro-Palestinian demonstrations since the war on Gaza began found that “the overwhelming majority of student protests since October—99%—have remained peaceful” (Foreign Policy, 3 May 2024). Those extremely rare cases in which “some notable violent clashes” have occurred include instances such as the rampaging Zionist mob at UCLA (i.e., right-wing provocations).

As the coordinated crackdown on rallies and protest camps was in full-swing, Biden cynically bloviated:

“We are not an authoritarian nation where we silence people or squash dissent.… In fact, peaceful protest is in the best tradition of how Americans respond to consequential issues. But—but neither are we a lawless country. We are a civil society, and order must prevail.”
—whitehouse.gov, 2 May 2024

When asked if the protests had forced him to reconsider his policies in the Middle East (i.e., to stop arming, funding and politically supporting Israel’s genocide in Gaza), Biden unequivocally and immediately responded: “No.” Former President Donald Trump took time outside the courtroom during his hush-money trial to denounce the protesters as “radical left morons,” and praised “New York’s finest” and the LAPD for cracking down at Columbia and UCLA.

Republicans and Democrats are now engaged in a bipartisan effort to get Congress to quell student demonstrations and have the FBI investigate “nefarious outside agitators” on American college campuses for “stoking the anti-war protests” (The Intercept, 4 May 2024). The age-old “outside agitator” trope is deliberately designed to fuel fears among the wider public and conjure up images of anarchist bogeymen or Hamas terror cells. It is a transparent attempt by the American ruling class to malign student activists, discredit the struggle against the Gaza carnage and soften up support for all manner of authoritarianism—including the genocidal war currently underway.

In an effort to further stifle any opposition to Israeli apartheid, on 1 May the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act,” which de jure redefines antisemitism to explicitly encompass any “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.” This definition dangerously equates criticism of the Israeli government and Zionism with actual antisemitism (i.e., hatred of Jews), and would bar any comparison between “contemporary Israeli policy” and “that of the Nazis,” including statements that “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” (Al Jazeera, 1 May 2024). The American Civil Liberties Union has accurately described the legislation as “chilling the free speech of students on college campuses” (aclu.org, 23 May 2018). Similar laws have already been enforced elsewhere to criminalize supporters of Palestine, including an Austrian socialist, Michael Pröbsting, who has been convicted of breaching “anti-terrorism” laws and given a six-month suspended sentence for calling for the destruction of the Israeli state.

Cracks in the Consensus

Despite, or more accurately because of, Western imperialism’s full-fledged backing of the brutality in Gaza and Washington’s “ironclad” defense of Israel, public opinion towards the decades-long oppression of the Palestinians is finally shifting. In Europe, a YouGov poll released in April showed that at least half of those in Germany, Sweden, France, Belgium and Italy now support a ban on trading arms with Israel. A significant number of those polled believe Tel Aviv is in fact carrying out genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. In Britain, a majority also favor halting weapons exports to Israel and nearly two-thirds want an end to the war.

A similar pattern of growing discontent over ties to Israel is taking place in the US. Polls show that over half of all Americans, and three-quarters of Democrats, disapprove of Israel’s military assault on Gaza, while seven out of ten support a permanent ceasefire. A majority of Democrats now believe Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. The trend is even more stark among young people. Biden’s approval rating stands at 28 percent among those aged under 30, while a staggering 81 percent of voters younger than 35 disapprove of his handling of the attack on Gaza.

Even the College Democrats of America (CDA), the national group representing Democrats on campuses and an official arm of the Democratic Party, has rebuked Biden and the White House and condemned the crackdowns. A 30 April statement released by the CDA denounced the Gaza war as “destructive, genocidal, and unjust,” called for a permanent ceasefire and commended the “bravery” and “heroic actions” of student protesters defying college administrators and local law enforcement: “It should be made abundantly clear that calling for the freedom of Palestinians is not Antisemetic [sic], and neither is opposing the genocidal acts of the far-right radical extremist Israeli government” (Statement by the College Democrats of America, 20 April 2024).

While the CDA statement laughably affirms “we are committed to the reelection of President Biden and Democrats,” it is nonetheless an indication of a politically polarizing divide over Israel and a worrying sign for Democratic Party strategists looking to keep “Genocide Joe” in the White House.

AOC & the Squad: Left Wing of US Empire

Fearful of losing younger generations and risking the 2024 US presidential election, Democratic Party officials are scrambling to shore up support among younger voters sickened by unwavering support for Israel. Enter America’s most photogenic “democratic socialist” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC) and the “Squad” (Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush). While given a certain amount of latitude to spout “radical” rhetoric and occasionally defy the Democratic Party leadership, they serve as loyal political allies of Biden and other fellow Democrats.

AOC is one of the Democratic Party’s most prolific fundraisers, raising more than $37 million since taking office as a member of Congress in 2019. Her affiliation with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), long thought to be a political liability, has in fact allowed her to cultivate an image as a “perceived radical” and “pragmatic disruptor,” all the while emerging as one of “Biden’s most valuable boosters”:

“Ocasio-Cortez may be more important to Biden’s re-election than many in Washington realize. For the very voters who are feeling left out of Biden’s to-do list—young voters, voters of color, women—Ocasio-Cortez may be what salves those worries. She’s never going to persuade the exurban country-club set to shelve their worries about Biden and his age, but she can amp up turnout in groups that may remain cool to his re-election. Ocasio-Cortez understands this and Biden’s team understands this. Which is to say, as his campaign weighs how to deploy the army of surrogates ready to shore up his support over the next nine months, one of the most powerful VIPs may be AOC.”
Time, 16 February 2024

At bottom, AOC is nothing but a pseudo-left careerist and Judas goat for Biden and the Democrats. On Earth Day, she was an opening speaker at an event in Virginia to promote the Biden administration’s energy initiatives, where she duplicitously praised pro-Palestinian protesters and the “power of young people,” all the while sharing the stage with Genocide Joe. Afterwards, Biden patronizingly told the crowd: “You know, I learned a long time ago: Listen to that lady. Listen to that lady.”

In April, after voting against an additional $26 billion in US funding for Israel, AOC, along with other Democrats opposing the package, immediately issued a statement supporting “Israel’s right to self-defense” and “strengthening the Iron Dome and other defense systems” (Huffington Post, 20 April 2024). She then joined every single member of the Squad in voting to provide another $61 billion in funding to Ukraine to continue the US/NATO-led proxy war against Russia, and another $8 billion for Taiwan to stoke tensions with China (only Tlaib declined to take a yes-or-no position on the Taiwan bill and instead voted “present”).

As criticism of the Gaza war and US military assistance to Israel grows, AOC and the Squad are pathetically seeking to refurbish the supposed “progressive” credentials of the Democrats. Fundamentally, their role is to prevent the development of an independent revolutionary workers’ party and channel discontent back into support for the Democratic Party, one of the twin parties of American imperialism.

Defend Gaza! Fight for Socialism!

Defense of Gaza and the pro-Palestinian protests is an urgent priority that should be embraced as a class-struggle issue by the international workers’ movement. The Gaza solidarity movement must be infused with the political understanding that the root cause of misery for the Palestinian people lies in capitalism and the imperialist world order. This requires a revolutionary program and leadership that connects defense of the Palestinians, and the demands of the student and workers’ movement as it currently exists, to a broader struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Such a political program would address issues of national and racial oppression alongside the wide-ranging needs of working people (employment, wages, housing, childcare and healthcare, etc.), as well as particular issues confronting students (tuition costs, access to educational resources, stipends), all the while pointing towards the need for workers’ power and the socialist transformation of society.

To embody and promote such a program, the working class needs its own political party—a revolutionary party embedded in the unions and wider labor movement, with connections to campus through student/youth groups that are organizationally separate but politically connected to the party. This requires a complete break with the bipartisan administrators of big business and their fake “socialist” lackeys like AOC. It also requires waging a political struggle against the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy and reformist organizations that falsely claim to fight for the interests of the oppressed.

Hands off pro-Palestine protesters! Drop all charges!
Cops/security guards off campus!
Worker/student solidarity: For labor action defense of Gaza!
Break with the Democrats—Build a revolutionary workers’ party!
Down with Zionist Genocide! For a binational workers’ state in Israel/Palestine!

Related articles
Video: Workers must strike against genocide! (6 January 2024)
May Day: For Class-Struggle Defense of Gaza! (1 May 2024)
Stop the Gaza Genocide: Marxism & the struggle for Palestinian liberation (27 November 2023)
On the ‘Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions’ Campaign (1917 No.33)