‘This is what democracy looks like’?

‘This is what democracy looks like’?

Author’s note: I initially published this piece a few weeks ago in the Yale Daily News as an in-the-moment reaction to the ongoing protests. Thank God, the Yale administration handled these protests effectively, and they mostly died down by the end of the year. Despite that, I still think it is worthwhile to republish this piece for a Jewish audience that did not witness the protests so that they can understand, from a first-hand perspective, what it was like to experience them as a Jewish student:

Welcome to Beinecke Plaza, or as it’s now affectionately known, Gaza Solidarity Plaza. If you look to the left, you’ll see posters idolizing terrorists, like Leila Khaled, who hijacked two planes, and Walid Daqqa, who was convicted of leading the terrorist ring that kidnapped, castrated, gouged out the eyes of, tortured, and murdered a 19-year-old Israeli.

Looking right ahead, you’ll notice the central flagpole is missing its American flag. That’s because in a great act of patriotic fervor, protestors tore it down while the crowd cheered. And they weren’t satisfied with just desecrating Yale’s American flag: they also ripped an American flag a student was holding. As one protestor told the News, they want to “divest from the defense of Israel, Ukraine, America, and more.” Supporting your own country is unpopular in the Gaza Solidarity Plaza.

There’s a religious, almost revivalistic atmosphere about the whole scene. Hundreds of people, students, faculty, and outside agitators hold hands, close their eyes, pray in unison, and call for violence in Israel. “Resistance is justified when people are occupied,” they shout, calling for more terrorism against Israelis, who have, of course, committed the crime of being Jewish instead of Palestinian. Someone hands out propaganda leaflets that, among other antisemitic lies, blame Zionists for the Holocaust. “Stop genocide,” everyone chants, as they yell chants that imply that it’s the Jews’ own fault Hamas wants to kill every one of them.

The protestors also seem to have a strange relationship with the truth. Right after shouting, “Intifada, revolution, there is no other solution,” they sing “all we want is peace.” The Intifada, for those unaware, involved bus bombings and terrorists indiscriminately targeting civilians, including tourists, at restaurants and hotels.

They’re blasting a song called “Free Palestine,” and everyone’s having a great time. The lyrics go like this:

“Free Palestine B*, Israel gon’ die B*

“… it’s they land why you out here tryna rob it

“Bulls* prophets, Y’all just want the profit”

It seems like quite the party, unless you’re opposed to songs that spread antisemitic tropes and call for the death of the Jewish state. All that stuff is a bit less funny ever since the largest, bloodiest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and the accompanying 377 percent increase in antisemitism. I don’t think you’d be singing along if in the past couple of months, walking in New Haven or New York City, you’d been spit at for your ethnicity or called “dumbass Jew” by passersby.

You’d expect someone to reach out to Jewish students after they’ve experienced the worst hatred they’ve seen in their entire lives. Maybe people cheering for the destruction of their country, or literally standing up on Cross Campus and praying that “death follow[s] you everywhere you go, and when it does, I hope you will not be prepared” — although they clarified the statement was rhetorical — or calling Zionism a plague, or supporting the terrorists who massacred their people, is enough to warrant some sort of response.

It wouldn’t have to be much, maybe just an acknowledgement of their pain, something telling them that not everyone wants to spit on them, rip their flags, and destroy their country.

Instead, we get a consortium of student groups eager to support the protestors and their “marginalized voices.” Of course, the pro-Israel students singing at the margins of the protest, some who have friends still held in captivity by Hamas, some whose childhood friends were murdered on Oct. 7 while Yale was silent, all of whom have watched in shock as more and more Americans turn away from them and ignore their pain, don’t get a mention. The organizations “stand in solidarity with the protestors fighting for liberation,” unless, of course, it’s the liberation of Jews from the world’s oldest hatred.

Instead, we get the former presidents of the YCC, “writing as individuals,” defending these hateful protests as “freedom of expression.” They villainize the pro-Israel side of campus by pointing to two isolated incidents — both of which Jewish campus leadership obviously condemned — while ignoring the threatening rhetoric and behavior we have been subjected to for months. They write that the anti-Israel protestors “met counter-protesters with peace and songs of solidarity.” Sorry, what peace are you talking about? Is it the one where they chant, “no peace on stolen land”? And what songs of solidarity? The one about how “Israel gon’ die B*”?

After some time cheering in favor of war and terror, everyone gets a bit tired. They put their arms around each other and chant, saying “this is what democracy looks like.” I hope I’m not remiss in wondering whether it should look a bit different.

Noam Barenholtz of Teaneck graduated from Torah Academy of Bergen Comty in 2021. He spent two years studying in Yeshivat Har Etzion and now is a rising sophomore at Yale University.

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