Silencing Pro-Palestinian Dissent on Campus: A New McCarthyism?  

In the days following Hamas’s sudden attacks on Israel and Israel’s response, sealing off Gaza to keep food, water, electrical power, and all humanitarian aid from its residents and threatening an all-out military invasion against Gaza’s civilian population, protests against Israeli and U.S. policy erupted around the world, including on many college and university campuses in the United States. 

At Harvard, a coalition of 34 student organizations forming the University’s Palestine Solidarity Committee released a statement blaming the Israeli regime’s ongoing violence against Palestinians as the root cause of Hamas’s attacks in Israel, and condemning subsequent violence of the Israeli state in their bombardment and siege of Gaza. 

After releasing the statement, billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, one of the most powerful men on Wall Street and a Harvard alum, publicly called for Harvard to release the names of students affiliated with the co-signing organizations so that he and other CEOs could avoid hiring any of them.  

While Harvard did not do this, the university’s administration was quick to issue statements distancing themselves from pro-Palestinian student organizations as these students were attacked throughout the national media.  

Shortly after this, several students affiliated with organizations who co-signed the statement were “doxed,” having their personal information shared online which posed a great threat to their safety. After this turn of events, several student groups were intimidated into walking back their endorsement of the statement.  

Similar dynamics have been at play in other universities across the country, with student activists in solidarity with the Palestinian people being heavily criticized, including by their own schools’ administrations.  

It is clear that many of those with power over the university system are attempting to frame this issue to create an atmosphere of intolerance toward pro-Palestinian perspectives on campuses, with similar methods that were used in universities during the McCarthyism anti-communist period in the mid-20th Century. 

Particularly since the onset of Black Lives Matter protests in the last decade, many of these universities have tolerated or even promoted campus speech reflecting on things like slavery or the genocide of indigenous people in U.S. history.  

However, on this issue regarding Palestine, they clearly stand on the side of the Israeli occupation and the interests of U.S. imperialism in the region. Parroting Israeli regime talking points, they frame any demonstration of solidarity with oppressed Palestinians or critique of Israel as anti-Semitic. But being against the violent Zionist ideology and practices of the Israeli state is not the same thing as hating Jewish people.

These are lies and talking points that some colleges and universities are using to attack pro-Palestinian students and others. We have seen throughout history that those in power will use similar methods to try to silence student activists, much like we saw during the McCarthy period.  

We should resist these lies and any efforts by universities to silence free speech with which their trustees and administrators disagree.