Columbia University in 1968 and 2024 — today’s protests are different

Columbia University in 1968 and 2024 — today’s protests are different

It is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge that the takeover of the bucolic lawns of the Columbia University campus to protest suffering in Gaza has its origins in the anti-Vietnam Columbia protests of 1968.

As a Columbia University 1968 graduate who joined the majority of our class in walking out on the formal graduation ceremonies taking place in front of Butler Library to participate in our own graduation ceremonies at the nearby Cathedral of St. John the Divine, I know what legitimate protest means. The Vietnam war, along with a proposed Columbia gymnasium on the Morningside Heights park, with a segregated lower-level entrance for limited use by “the community,” were our major concerns. Our protests were based on the university’s refusal to acknowledge the injustice of America’s involvement in the killing of Vietnamese and other Asian civilians, as well as American service personnel, in an unjust war. The university’s complicity in that war, by its acceptance of U.S. defense-related work, added to our outrage. History has proven the justice of our cause.

It is inconceivable to me that the same will be said about the actions on the Columbia University campus, and campuses across the United States today.

Where are the voices against Gazan terrorism? Where are the student voices against Hamas’s avowed purpose to destroy Israel and eventually Western nations? Who among the protesters is questioning why Hamas has refused to offer safety to Gazan civilians in the very tunnels that they have dug to hide their weapons and provide safety for their terrorist leaders? Who is objecting to Hamas placing missiles and armed units in schools, mosques, U.N. facilities, and hospitals? Where is the acknowledgement that since Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, Hamas has used the territory as a terrorist base and diverted foreign aid from civilian to terrorist use?

Where are the students’ voices calling for the release of innocent hostages? Where is the outrage at Hamas’s murder of innocent civilians in Israel on October 7?

The protests of 2024 might have their origin in the anti-Vietnam war Columbia protests of 1968, but the protests today are vapid. They deny political, military, and historical reality and honest humanitarian concern.

Richard Hammerman of Caldwell, Columbia University 1968, is rabbi emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Toms River.

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