by James A. Bacon
Chanting “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea,” hundreds of pro-Palestinian students held a protest on the Lawn at the University of Virginia yesterday. As reported by the Washington Free-Beacon, they demanded the Biden administration defund aid to Israel. The event was part of a national “walkout” organized by Students for Justice in Palestine, and the second demonstration in Charlottesville since Hamas unleashed a wave of terrorist attacks on Israel earlier this month.
“We, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), are sickened by the on-going, escalating genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Zionist forces,” said the organizing group in a formal statement signed by two dozen other leftist student groups in the aftermath of the Hamas assault. “We stand in solidarity with Palestinians in the fight for liberation and in their struggle against settler colonialism.”
While the protesters were not explicit about their ultimate aim, the slogan “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea” can mean only one thing: the eradication of the Israeli state and the dispossession — or worse — of the Jews within it. Hamas’ slaughter of innocents in its wave of terrorist attacks earlier this month foreshadows the likely fate of the Jewish population should Hamas carry the day.
Even Adolph Hitler did not call for the extermination of the Jews in his anti-Semitic tract, “Mein Kampf.” Even the senior Nazis attending the Wansee Conference to organize the “final solution” for the Jews spoke in euphemisms and knew that their program was too gruesome to reveal to the German people. Hamas is far more open about its aims. The genocidal impulse is all too clear.
The Jefferson Council is grappling with how to respond to the protesters’ apologetics for Hamas’ genocidal aims. Our organization thoroughly condemns the protesters and their rhetoric. At the same time, we have made a commitment to free speech one of our signature causes, and we have criticized those on the left who would suppress “hate” speech. But then again, the pro-Palestinian protesters aren’t engaging in “hate” speech as we typically understand it. They don’t use slurs like “kikes” or “dirty Jews.” Instead, they chant antiseptic euphemisms for genocide.
The University of Virginia community was traumatized five years ago by the rhetoric of mostly out-of-state white supremacists attending the Unite the Right march, whose rallying cry was “Jews will not replace us.” The white supremacists were not calling for a second Holocaust, yet their language was rightfully and roundly condemned by everyone across the political spectrum.
How can the University of Virginia community respect the right to free speech of protesters within our midst while condemning their apologies for the genocidal aims of Hamas? What responsibility does President Jim Ryan have to speak even more forthrightly than he has so far? Should the Board of Visitors issue a statement? Should the advocates of genocide be punished for their views, as, say, student Morgan Bettinger was punished for her throw-away remark about protesters and speed bumps, as professor Jeffrey Leopold was chastised for his joke about Africans and food, and as med student Kieran Bhattacharya was subjected to an official inquiry for questioning the logic of micro-aggressions?
There are no easy answers. Competing principles are in conflict and must be reconciled. Through this blog and email communications, we shall keep UVa alumni informed of the ongoing discussion.