Pro-Palestinian protests at Western universities

Pro-Palestinian protests at Western universities
Pro-Palestinian protests at Western universities

The student demonstrations in support of Gaza, initiated in the United States and then spreading to France, were the subject of brutal police repression and worrying media criticism. Their legitimacy is contested in most political and media circles, which calls into question the fairness of the public debate.

In recent weeks, demonstrations in support of Gaza have spread to universities and academic circles in the United States and France. The outpouring of solidarity with the Palestinians, afflicted by the atrocities of the war for more than six months, is a reminder of intellectual youth. Increasingly outraged by human rights violations in Gaza, and the West’s inability to put an end to them despite renewed demands for a ceasefire, students are standing up against this devastating conflict, which the complacency of world powers prolongs and worsens.

Wind of rebellion
These uprisings, which broke out in the United States, in the cities of New York, Boston, Austin and Cambridge, were severely repressed by the police in recent days. The images of the aggressive arrests on the Columbia university campus have also struck people’s minds. Shortly after midnight, on April 30, 2024, a squadron made up of around a hundred police officers, equipped with imposing equipment, deployed major means to force access to the building where the students had barricaded themselves. Under the disapproving clamor of the witnesses present, who shouted “Free Palestine!”, the police entered the premises, some through the windows by climbing a ladder, others by breaking the locks using hammers. Dozens of students handcuffed and placed in a van, the most rebellious torn from their tents and dragged on the ground, a campus become a battlefield, such was the picture of this agitated night.

A few hours later, in Los Angeles, similar scenes took place at the University of California. The demonstrators, already attacked by counter-protesters who supported Israel’s policies, saw the police force their entrenchments and brutally arrest them. If, in the eyes of the protest left, these authoritarian measures are disproportionate, the government is nevertheless justified in ensuring order reigns in an inflexible manner. According to Joe Biden, chaos and insecurity have no place in places of knowledge and exchange of ideas, and order must therefore prevail.

But this wind of rebellion has crossed the Atlantic and traveled through the universities of France. At Science-Po and elsewhere, for a week, students mobilized “for the honor of Palestine and all those who are murdered.” Same unrest, same response: the police used force to dislodge them, destroying the barricades, dragging the most recalcitrant to the ground, thus applying the firm directives of Gérald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior.

Concrete measures
In solidarity with the victims of Gaza, the students denounce the repression of voices that defend the Palestinian cause within campus, as well as the complicity of their university with entities that support Israel’s offensive policy. Eager to ensure that the institution of knowledge acts according to the moral principles supposed to guide it, the students are demanding concrete measures: the uncompromising boycott of Israeli companies, the severance of all partnerships with the establishments of the Hebrew State, between others.

However, we observe that the legitimacy of such claims is hotly contested in political and media circles. If the normal activities of universities are indeed impacted; if France Insoumise blows on the embers and seems to want a more energetic revolt; if there are indeed some excesses and isolated incidents, as in any movement of collective expression, we cannot help but regret the tendentious, and even condescending, attitude adopted by certain political and media figures. “Radicalized”, “petty bourgeois”, “partisans of Hamas”, “anti-Semites”, the students, united for peace despite differences of class and confession, were given reductive and denigrating qualifications on French television sets.

Many personalities roundly accuse them of total ignorance of the history of the conflict: the very people who, after the attacks committed by Hamas on October 7, 2023, refused to examine the tragic facts in a broader historical context and with the necessary hindsight. Public debate suffers from these hasty and malicious judgments, and the diversity of opinions and perspectives is often stifled. It would be desirable that media actors rather promote an open and respectful dialogue, based on a nuanced understanding of the issues, and that above all, they keep in mind the principles set out in the Munich Charter, in particular Articles 8 and 9 .



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