The Protests, The War

This will be a somewhat longer post than usual, and it has been an extraordinarily difficult one to write.

As a retired faculty member of Indiana University, and a former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I have been appalled by IU’s over-the-top response to the student protests on the Bloomington campus. The late-night change of a 55-year-old policy,  the decision to invite a police presence, the horrifying confirmation that a sniper was positioned on a nearby roof–all of this in response to what observers described as a peaceful protest–is incomprehensible.

Other institutions of higher education have similarly over-reacted–but still others have not. At Dartmouth, Jewish and Middle-Eastern professors have co-taught a class exploring the conflict and its history; at the University of Chicago, where my granddaughter is a sophomore, the University has issued a statement reaffirming students’ right to protest while making it clear that demonstrations “cannot jeopardize safety or disrupt the University’s operations and the ability of people in the University to carry out their work.”

You don’t have to agree with the message being conveyed in order to support the right to protest. In the immortal words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, freedom of speech is meaningless unless it is also “freedom for the idea we hate.”

I have refrained from posting my own concerns about the conduct of a war that has divided America’s Jewish community as much as it has the broader polity. But Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo recently shared his reactions, and I share them. (Marshall is Jewish). He begins his essay by noting that much of the anti-Semitism being voiced has come–at least at Columbia–from non-students on the periphery of the protests. He also points to the naiveté of students calling for the elimination of the State of Israel, attributing the slogans to “the kind of revolutionary cosplay that is often part and parcel of college activism.”

Is this anti-Semitic? Not as such. It’s a political view that the Israeli state never should have come into existence in the first place and that the events of 1948 should simply be reversed by force, if a solution can’t be voluntarily agreed to. But since a bit over half of Jews in the world live in Israel, that is a demand or an aim that can’t help but seem wildly threatening to the vast majority of Jews in the world, certainly the ones in Israel but by no means only them.

Marshall discusses the decades-long administrative changes in institutions of higher education that have made so many universities ill-equipped to deal properly with this particular moment, and then he turns to the war itself.

If it is true that the groups spearheading the protest expressly hold eliminationist goals and beliefs about Israel, it is just as clearly true that the real energy of these protests isn’t about 1948 or even 1967 — they are about what people have been seeing on their TVs for the last six months. And that is a vast military onslaught that has leveled numerous neighborhoods throughout Gaza, led to the substantial physical destruction of much whole strip and lead to the deaths of more than 30,000 people. That’s horrifying. And people know that the U.S. has played a role in it. It’s not at all surprising that lots and lots of students are wildly up in arms about that and want to protest to make it stop.

To me, you can’t really understand the situation without recognizing that Hamas started this engagement by launching a massacre of almost unimaginable scale and brutality and then retreated to what has always been its key strategic defense in Gaza, which is intentionally placing their military infrastructure in and under civilian areas so that the price of attacking them militarily is mass civilian casualties that are then mobilized internationally to curtail Israeli military attacks on Hamas.

This is unquestionably true and no one can honestly deny that this is Hamas’s central strategic concept: employing civilian shields to limit Israel’s ability to engage Hamas in military terms.

But that being true doesn’t make tens of thousands of people less dead. And most of the dead aren’t Hamas. So if you’re a student you say — along with quite a few non-students in the U.S. — all that stuff may be true, but what I’m seeing is the ongoing slaughter of thousands of innocents and I absolutely need that to stop, especially if it is being carried out directly or indirectly with arms my tax dollars bought….

The last six months has thrown me very hard back on to defending the existence of Israel, its historical connections to Jews in Europe and the Middle East before the 20th century, its origins as the political expression of a people who are in fact indigenous to Israel-Palestine. And that’s because all of these things are now questioned and attacked as core questions.

But the reality is that these conversations, often harrowing and angry, are simply diversions from anything that creates a path forward from the terrible present. There are two national communities deeply embedded in the land. Neither is going anywhere even though there are substantial proportions of both communities who want that to happen to the other one. There’s no way to build something sustainable and dignified without both peoples having a state in which they have self-determination and citizenship. That’s the only plausible endpoint where violence doesn’t remain an ever-present reality. How you get there is another story. And yes, if you think one unified state makes sense, God bless you. If you can get majorities of both groups to agree to that, fine. I don’t live there. If that’s what they want, great. That’s almost certainly never going to be the case. And it’s a failed state in the making.

But none of these arguments about 1948 or 1967 or indigeneity or “settler colonialism” really impact or have anything to do with getting to some two state/partition end point. And no I’m not saying for a moment that that will be easy to get to. It seems terribly far off. But fantasies and alternative histories won’t get us there.

I am older than Marshall–old enough to remember my mother sobbing while reading “The Black Book” after the end of WWII–a compendium of reporting on Nazi atrocities. I remember the little blue box she kept, in which she collected dimes and quarters to plant trees in Israel, and I remember the fervent hopes of family members for the establishment of a place where Jews would be safe. Back then, none of us could have conceived of an Israeli government dominated by a Bibi Netanyahu, whose twenty years of shameful policies toward Palestinians have actually strengthened the Hamas terrorists, not to mention being utterly inconsistent with Jewish law, culture and tradition.

On this blog, I often repeat the mantra “it’s complicated.” And the situation in the Middle East is nothing if not complicated. Nothing–not history, not Netanyahu’s behavior before or since–justifies the barbarity of October 7th. That said, neither does that barbarity justify the horrors that have been unleashed on the Palestinian civilians in Gaza–just as shameful incidents of anti-Semitism on the nation’s campuses do not justify wholesale assaults on peaceful protesters.

A final reminder: the Christian Zionists in and out of Congress who support anything and everything that Israel does are motivated by their belief in the prophecy that all Jews must be “returned” to Israel in order to usher in the Rapture. Jews who accept Jesus will be “Raptured up,” while the rest of us will burn in hell. Unconditional support for Israel is necessary to bring that about–such support is most definitely not evidence of loving-kindness for the Jewish people.

At the end of the day, I keep thinking about that plaintive question from Rodney King, after he’d been beaten by officers of the LAPD: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

If only I had an answer to that…..


  1. No doubt the Christian Zionists (I had never thought of that term to describe them) are relishing the conflict, because they need their Armageddon in order for their Rapture to occur.

  2. “…much of the anti-Semitism being voiced has come–at least at Columbia–from non-students on the periphery of the protests.” MSNBC reporter in New York City, reporting during NYC police attempting to enter the building housing protesters at Columbia, stated police recognized a number of those WITH students were not students and were known to the police. This has been the case in too many violent protests during and following the Trump administration and supported by the current House majority.

    We are not only caught in the divisive 2024 Presidential election but are dealing with the Trump/Putin/Netanyahu Trifecta bent on ruling the world and moving closer to nuclear war day-by-day. Today’s Israel is not recognized by Sheila’s and my generation as the Israel which fought and earned statehood in 1948. Divisiveness has infected the once strongest unified religion known to man..and woman…as violence, power and greed is now the foundation of warring factions.

    “At the end of the day, I keep thinking about that plaintive question from Rodney King, after he’d been beaten by officers of the LAPD: “Why can’t we all just get along?”

    If only I had an answer to that…..” Sheila; perhaps the answer to your question is simply the fact that those words of wisdom were asked by a Black man!

  3. Great comments, but the parting shot and characterization of “Christian Zionists” is unfair, based on a stereotype or a small sliver of extreme, fundamentalist and misled Christians. I believe the vast majority of mainstream Christians support the existence of Israel for ethical, historical and geopolitical reasons, not because they see it as a necessary step toward an apocalypse.

  4. It has been inferred in this posting but perhaps not made clearly enough; Hamas is not the Palestinian populace. The complications here are enormous, insurmountable. As usual in any wartime conflict, the people who populate one or both of the participating countries are innocent bystanders, powerless to make any difference in the outcome. In this case it is the Palestinians who suffer from the terrorists of Hamas’ poking of the bear that is Israel. The initial response to the inhumane and horrific Hamas attack on the innocent Israeli citizens was expected and appropriate. But the relentless military actions since that first response, producing over 30,000 casualties, mostly innocent women and children, is not. Of course there is no easy answer to how to deal with hostages, and to innocent civilians used a human shields by Hamas, but I do know it isn’t the carnage that has been on display since. One thing IS clear: Netanyahu is not the right leader at this time in Israel’s history.

  5. I don’t know anyone demonstrating at Columbia, so I don’t know what they are thinking, saying, or believing. I understand that every demonstration that challenges authority is blamed on outside agitators. Sometimes, that is the case, but most often, there’s no evidence one way or the other.

    The reality in the Middle East is that over my lifetime there has always been recognition that the people there have to find a two-state solution to the problem of two religions occupying the same region.

    I fear, though, that this election of Netanyahu has reset that timer to zero.

    I don’t believe that is anti-semantic. I think it is pro-peace that has been badly broken and both sides can legitimately blame the other side.

  6. The strength of the Israeli military has always been in their quick strike capabilities. That was what Biden encouraged Netanyahu to do, but that was out of the question for Mr. Netanyahu. If there had been a quick strike, he would likely be out of office by now. He needed a good war to refocus the people who were protesting against his authoritarian policies. IMHO the US should change its policy and refuse to supply offensive weapons to Israel.

    Colleges and universities have a duty to encourage peaceful protests. They also need to realize that a strong police presence does nothing but encourage the vandals who are always going to be there to egg on the relatively naive students. It happened in the sixties and it’s happening now

  7. After Hamas’ attack, why didn’t the vaunted Israeli commando organizations infiltrate and destroy the cowardly Hamas attackers in their bunkers instead of just carpet bombing the cities? Oh no. Not for Bibi. He has to make a splash … but the splash is the blood of the innocents killed instead. And Hamas is still there … pledging every day to destroy every Jew in the world.

    In a different view, before there was Christianity or Islam, the tribes of the middle east had been warring and killing each other on a regular basis. Throw in the fairy-tale based biases and institutionalized hate and we have a never-ending conflict that threatens the rest of the world.

    Who thinks Iran won’t use nukes on Israel once they get one to work? Bibi will then do the most justified thing and nuke Iran. How do we think Russia or the U.S. will behave then? Yes, we are on the brink of WW III and the idiocy of the Christian Armageddon to induce rapture has it wrong – as alway. The rapture should occur to remove those who would foster Armageddon.

    Okay. Back to Earth 1. As long as Netanyahu is allowed to continue to destroy people without consequence, all scenarios are on the table. The U.S., unfortunately, is caught in the snare of having to support Israel no matter what because of our enemies supporting Israel’s enemies.

    So much for the idealism of the U.N.

  8. I’ve been following this conflict from the beginning when the lies started pouring out of Israel and the US. One thing we have learned over the last six months is Israel lies a lot, and the US media repeats those lies verbatim. At the WH Correspondent’s dinner, the word genocide was not mentioned one time, even though there were protests outside. You’re not getting accurate news and info if you don’t have access to Telegram or X.

    I disagree with Josh about only a few neighborhoods being destroyed in Gaza. The IDF has destroyed everything with 2,000 lb bombs supplied by the US. Everything Biden says is a lie as well. All one has to do is watch Israel do the opposite.

    Over 70% of Washington politicians are owned by the Israeli lobby. They have been pro-Israel from day one and repeat lies and misinformation daily without any consequences. The media has a script that it must go off as it paints the protesters as pro-Hamas or pro-Palestine. The fact is they are anti-genocide protesters, but the media cannot mention the word genocide. Therefore, those watching cable news bring their misinformed selves onto social media to repeat the propaganda.

    It’s become evident that the universities, like our government, have sold out to the donor class. The oligarchs call the shots. Red state governors compete to be the most authoritarian. The working-class unions are impotent because they are also controlled by the oligarchy. They should have joined with the students.

    If the ICC backs down with arrest warrants for Bibi and other Israeli leadership and Washington passes sweeping anti-Semitic violations of free speech, the students and many of the young people will become even more restless and frustrated.

    If #GenocideJoe is trying to lose this November’s election, he’s doing a really good job of losing the 30 and under crowd entirely.

  9. Good post, Sheila. “Revolutionary cosplay” is accurate and does not diminish the real feelings of the protesters, although it helps enable it; we did the same thing in the 60s marching against the Vietnam war. Dressing in military green united some of us and let us know we were part of a movement. We also committed the same excesses as the protestors destroying property; it doesn’t help but makes one feel like one is doing something noble, even if it won’t do any good at all. I sympathize with the pro-Palestinian protesters, but also recognize that Israel must exist, while thoroughly cleaning up its internal radical right politics. Netanyahu is hurting Israel, as well as his neighborhood, being addicted to power. Wayne has a point. And as usual, TS crosses the line into stupid exaggerations.

  10. Sheila’s mention of the “Christian Zionists” takes me back to Hitchens’ comment about “Religion spoils everything.” If these folks were not believers in the mythology they call religion, we might have a clearer way to view the problem, and find , or work toward, peaceful solutions.
    Yes, Bibi is much of the problem, and like tfg, will do anything to avoid his own justice.
    It may be that the “Christian Zionists” are but a few people, on the edge of the religion, but, as has been seen numerous times elsewhere, a mere “few” can push their issue to the forefront of the culture. One need only look to the recent idiocy of Q”Anon for an example.

  11. Here we go again….60’s protesters get violent and stir up the Right and hurt DEMs. Along comes “BLM” and the same things happen. Now the anti-Israeli protests get violent and, guess what happens in November! MLK must be crying and laughing at how ineffective this is and how much was accomplished with non-violence. SAD

  12. shades of Vietnam. protesting led to atleast discussions,but the G.I.s bought home the attrocities they seen. no diffrent as far as the slaughter of those who would never follow those who would. over the years ive read where Isreal this and that,and found counter discussions of the subject. Seems the most egregious move were the settlements. I believe somewhere we led a move to limit them. seems distant today. BiBi was sucker punched thinking he had it all down,and his citizens paid that hes retaliating for his own/intelligent blunders. 30,000+ and counting. shades of Vietnam…

  13. I think Oliver Wendell Holmes’ view that freedom of speech includes speech with which we disagree would not include the right to destroy our constitutional republic, especially with the right to peacefully protest in place in addition to our speech rights, but would rather fall into the exception of Fire! in a crowded theater.

    I also think that the police may be arresting the wrong people in the current mess. If any arrests are to be made, perhaps the police should be arresting those who presume to remove the constitutional rights of peaceful protesters who wish to exercise their rights.

  14. Mitch D. Yes. Once again religious fundamentalism is the apologist for unbridled brutality. Power hungry demagogues easily use it to inflame the faithful, be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jewish. Once the violence begins, the innocent suffer and the instigators get whatever they wanted. It is ignorance and lack of critical thinking that make people gullible and vulnerable to exploitation by the demagogues, be they speaking from the street corners, the pulpits, or the halls of government.
    And Max, I couldn’t agree more with your final sentence.

  15. Absolutely not, people can’t get along! The Pharisees and Sadducees of the Sanhedrin absolutely changed the Mosaic Law. They made it more stringent and absolutely made it a burden on the average believer at that time.

    I would venture to say that when Christ said that the whole law hangs on love God and love your neighbor, that meant exactly what he said. Every human is your neighbor. And in the Hebrew scriptures, and Leviticus it talks about to love your enemy! So, what does that mean? It states, that if your enemy is hungry give him something to eat if he is thirsty give him something to drink if his beast of burden collapses under its own load, work to release The beast of burden of your enemy.

    Those that are hoping for a final war or conflict to bring about either the coming of the Messiah, or, the return of a Messiah, or the return of Muhammad as the Muslims believe, are just agitators. Because neither in the Quran, nor the Pentateuch, nor the Torah, nor the Tevrat, states anything about this belief. So it’s made up!

    In this day and age history continues to repeat itself. Look at all of the civil unrest concerning the George Floyd fiasco, they’re absolutely were outside agitators involved in those riots and such. After all, why would you have Brazilian nationalists waving their flag at an American riot? It’s to bring a conflagration of insanity into the mix.

    I know many of you are familiar with the Hebrew scripture concerning the immense image, the feet and toes made of iron and clay. Will you know what that refers to, but there is no mixture, no strength, iron is strong but Clay is weak and iron clay did not mix. Kind of like what’s happening today. Humanity can’t get along therefore there’s constant turmoil. Weather one believes in these things or not is another story.

    If you go back through the millennia, you can see that religious beliefs are the core of conflict between humans, between neighbors, even friends! Why do you think people say to not talk about religion or politics because it’s such a divided. But is it really a divider? It’s only a divider for the ignorant. There is a breaking point in all of this, and a breaking point is driven by a connectivity of everyone on this planet. When one person can reach millions upon millions of people, this never existed anytime in human history. So this is the time where humanity either puts up or shuts up. And I venture to say, it probably shuts up and destroys itself.

    If anyone has any evidence this is not the case, I’d be glad to hear it, but unfortunately, there really is none.

  16. When are the Palestinians and the Jewish Israelis (both semitic peoples) going to figure out that the enemy is not each other but the anti-semitic Europeans and Americans? It was the Europeans and Americans who forced a semetic people (the Jews) out of Europe by making Europe untenable and into the land of another semitic people (the Palestinians). Those of us who look like we have been swimming in bleach did this to the native Americans too. Maybe the Palestinians and Israelis should band together and extract reparations from us white Americans and Europeans who caused the whole problem. Maybe the native Americans should join them in this effort. Maybe they all need to get together and file a class action lawsuit in the world court against the Europeans and Americans.

  17. I’m not educated enough on foreign affairs to make any sort of comment on what should be done. Though as a supporter of Doctors without Borders I’m hoping that some peaceful solution can be reached so that people aren’t severely injured or dying.

  18. October 7 – Understandable (not acceptable) – I’m 100% Jewish:
    *Resources: My Links/reviews etc:
    *Excellent Book on Hamas (Rashid Khalidi recommended it – emailed him)
    *Perhaps The Best Book on Palestine-Israel- Rashid Khalidi- The 100 Year War:
    *Peter Beinart (Jewish Currents) 1/19/24 – interview Rashid Khalidi – incredible!
    *Fida Jiryis – a researched/personal story – YouTube + Book/interviews
    * Democracy Now – getting a more accurate Picture – Amy Goodman
    * Jewish Voice for Peace –
    * The Electronic Intifada – Great Media Source:
    * Jewish Currents – Excellent Publication:

  19. I’m with Phil Gulley, here, in simply saying thank you to you, Shiela, for your intelligence and integrity and your courage.

  20. History teaches us many things if we are willing to pay attention. It has taught us that when a religion becomes a government or a government adopts a religion, trouble will follow.

  21. In reaction to the news of snipers deployed against unarmed students on Dunn Meadow at Indiana University, I have to examine my long association with the institution.
    Can I continue to be a supporter of IU, a public school, if evidence suggests that the Administration condones armed state police snipers, apparently approved by the Governor, deployed on rooftops, with weapons at the ready to fire on protestors, most if not all of whom are unarmed students and faculty?
    My political viewpoints on the Middle East are very complicated, I support Israel’s right to existence, I also support Palestinians right to their own state. The murderers on both sides need to stop. The continued strategy of escalating revenge on both sides will only mean more deaths and generations of retaliation fueled by bitterness and hatred for the foreseeable future.
    Divesting proves nothing as there will always be others quite willing to step into the void. Removing an administrator who deliberately twists one of its primary responsibilities, keeping students as safe as possible, by putting them in perhaps the greatest danger they could face seems obligatory.
    I lived through the protests of the Civil Rights era as well as Vietnam. This is different. It is complicated and requires exploring all options for a peaceful solution to the endless carnage and destruction of war. Young people has the most to lose as they are the future. Surely, they should be allowed to have a say in their own future. If they are doing so in a peaceful manner, unarmed, then deploying law enforcement militarily armed in full riot gear is over-reaction at least or deliberate provocation to justify a police state of affairs.

  22. Could it be possible that the police sniper was positioned to protect the student protesters in case some extremists decided to take advantage of the situation and mass shoot?
    I remember being in college when Kent State incident occurred. Paranoid Nixon was Potus and that sentiment seemed to cascade down into law enforcement at the time. Glad drumph isn’t Potus now or his militaristic, authoritarian influence would prevail.
    I’m glad that Biden understands the complicities of foreign affairs and also is guided by humanitarian impulses.
    Thanks to Sheila for her clear-headed analyses of the situation and bravery of speaking out.

  23. Thank you JD. What was trying to come out of me. Except for those who protest without violence there are no ‘good guys’ in this whole mess. Both Palestinians and Israelis have suffered and are suffering. I believe our responsibility is to do what can be done to relieve the suffering. All else is folly.

  24. I will leave a short comment –
    Thank you Sheila – well said – the situation is complicated and I will hold my tongue – Bibi is a crook, like Trump, and probably would have been out of office had Hamas not attacked –
    Free speech is part of the American ideal and should be protected – I may dislike some or all of what they say and some of them may wish me ill, but I still defend their right to express themselves.

  25. Thank you SSK for this post. As an older Hoosier who has lived in my adopted Bloomington for over 5 decades, this whole mess is horrific. IU is my alma mater, as well, and I am simply appalled at what is occurring on our beautiful campus. I have countless memories of events held in Dunn Meadow through the years, most of them wonderful, but there were some of protest as well. Through all this time, I am not able to recall ones with this unbelievable police presence and intimidation. It is hard to believe, and hurts my heart to see the brute force ordered (apparently) by our IU President against peaceful protesters. I am devastated, as are countless others, and have lost respect for the IU administrators who pursued the strong law enforcement contingent for this protest.

  26. Thank you Sheila, and thank you Rose.

    With all the gun violence in our country, it was only prudent for the authorities to take control of the strategic high ground to make sure that they didn’t get taken over by some looney. That they where armed with sniper gear is unfortunate, but it also made them prepared to take action against a ground level looney.

    Over reaction? Thankfully yes!

  27. GOOD JOB, Sheila. Many of us struggle as you do with this situation. Both Israelis and Palestinians have been harmed by this war and have legitimate grievances. But both Netanyahu and Hamas have their reasons for wanting (needing) the war to continue.
    Israel has to survive or terrorist states can overwhelm not only the region but trigger world war. Their religious fanatics believe martyrdom is God’s heavenly reward.
    Joe Biden has been dealt an extremely difficult hand, but I’m so thankful he and his highly disciplined and measured diplomatic team understand these complicated and explosive dynamics and have not succumbed to political opportunism or populist outrage. They are navigating a complicated chess game with multiple players who are not operating in good faith, are well armed, and seem not to care how many die as a result of their actions. Any wrong comment or action anywhere can set off the powder keg.
    I don’t even want to imagine what could happen if a bombastic, ignorant narcissist like Trump were President and insisted on daily headlines of his own making in this situation. God help us help ourselves.

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