The movement began in March at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and Smith College in Massachusetts. Students occupied these North American institutions to repudiate Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip – which have already claimed the lives of more than 34,000 Palestinians.

They were punctual, even timid first steps. Young people demanded that universities stop receiving donations from weapons producers and companies linked to Israel. They also called for a ceasefire in Gaza. There was nothing to indicate that they were heard beyond their colleagues and employees.

As the weeks passed, however, the anti-Israel demonstrations became a wave. In most of the acts, the police tried to repress. As news of violence against students spread, the occupations gained public favor.

As of this Friday (26), there have already been protests at 50 US universities. At Columbia University alone, 150 students were arrested. The disproportionate reaction led professors to join the cause, as well as the NGO Jewish Voices for Peace. The epicenter of the mobilizations, Columbia had not seen the police on its campus since 1968, when students rose up against the Vietnam War.

In Los Angeles, police arrested 93 students from the University of Southern California – which, faced with “new security measures”, canceled a graduation ceremony. New York University at Yale counted 45 prisoners.

Republican and Democratic politicians, initially aligned with Israel, criticized the student movement. President Joe Biden said the government will combat “rising anti-Semitism.” Teachers and even press professionals began to be arrested. It is an open offensive against freedom of expression and organization. But the threats were of no use.

This week, the United States became small for so much revolt, which gained international prominence. The wave of occupations reached Paris, where university students blocked the entrance to the Institute of Political Studies, Sciences Po, in defense of a “clear condemnation of Israel’s actions”. The posters self-identified the protesters as “Palestinians.”

As during the pandemic, the French university started to only teach classes via videoconference. To ensure the resumption of face-to-face classes, Sciences Po committed to holding an internal debate on the topic and canceling punishments for students.

The anti-Israel occupations are already reminiscent of the protests against the war in Vietnam that took over the West, especially the United States, from 1868 onwards. The fighting in Vietnam was the first to have television coverage in almost real time, and the images of affected civilians by bombs – such as napalm – began to shock Americans more and more.

Furthermore, as military conscription was mandatory, children of politicians and magistrates died at the same rate as children of the working class. Dissatisfaction with the direction of the war was heightened by the Watergate scandal, which led President Richard Nixon to resign. Rarely has the credibility of the presidency of the Republic been so tarnished in the United States.

Last October, with just a few weeks of bombers in Gaza, a survey by the magazine The Economist indicated that, among Americans aged up to 30, 30% were more supportive of the Palestinians and 17% were more supportive of the Israelis. No less than 41% of these young voters disapproved of Biden’s handling of the United States in Gaza.

Part of this youth is now occupying university campuses. As there will be elections for the White House in November, Biden will probably be exhausted if, until then, he maintains his official speech so indifferent to the Palestinians who are under siege in Gaza. Israel has already lost the narrative war. The United States is on the verge of a symbolic defeat as well.


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