It’s time to be clear-eyed about the deceptive Gaza encampment movement

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It has become cliche to say we live in an age where words have lost their meaning. But the responses of many in the media and political classes to the recent wave of “Gaza solidarity encampments” on college campuses have reaffirmed the fact that there is often wisdom in cliches.

When I went to see what was going on at the encampment at my school — The George Washington University — on Thursday morning, it was clear within minutes I was standing in the middle of a pro-war and pro-terrorist rally.

I heard chants of “There is only one solution, intifada revolution,” calls to “Smash that Zionist settler state,” and declarations that “Resistance is justified when people are occupied.” I looked to my right and saw a huge banner reading “No justice, no peace.”

Although calls for an intifada have become normal at such protests, it ought not distract us from how shocking it is for educated Americans to be calling for one. The second intifada, which lasted from 2000 to 2005, featured more than 130 suicide bombings against civilian targets such as buses and cafes — along with countless shooting and stabbing attacks. It was orchestrated by cold-blooded terrorists whose primary aim was (and is) perpetual war in an effort to achieve a “final solution” for the state of Israel.

Compromise was not on the table for those rallying at the GW encampment. They yelled, “We don’t want no two-state, we want ’48,” referring to the entire land of Israel. And when an Israeli GW student stood in the middle of the protesters with an Israeli flag, they began screaming in his face, “Settler, settler go back home, Palestine is ours alone.”

Later in the day, I saw a man walking around with a hammer and sickle flag, and spoke with an older woman who described the horrors of the second intifada as the Palestinians “rising up against their oppressors.” 

The demonstrators had bought wholesale into Hamas’s view on the conflict: That there is a duty to take up arms against Israel until it is destroyed. It, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, rejects the approaches of every other Palestinian faction in favor of only the most radical.

However, if one were to look at the descriptions of this event by those in the media and political class, there would be no reason to know anything untoward was occurring. 

The GW Hatchet — George Washington University’s student newspaper — has described the rallies accompanying the encampment as “pro-Palestine” and advocating for a “ceasefire.” But that is a wholly improper description of people who spent an entire day screaming for an “intifada revolution.” In the Hatchet’s coverage of the encampment, it does not mention Hamas, Oct. 7 or the hostages a single time.

Or consider the way members of Congress described the encampment movement. After more than 100 anti-Israel activists were arrested at Columbia University, several members of a bloc of House Democrats known as “the  Squad” roundly denounced the police action and labeled it as an “anti-war” protest. 

Yet videos emerged from the encampment show a speaker saying, “Let it be known that it was the Al-Aqsa Flood that put the Global Intifada back on the table again.” In another, a student is standing in front of a group of pro-Israel counterprotesters with a sign reading “Al-Qassam’s next targets.” Not to mention the fact one of the leaders of Columbia’s encampment said on an Instagram live video that “Zionists do not deserve to live” and that people should “Be grateful that I’m not just going out and murdering Zionists.”

The Washington Post published a news piece adopting this exact framing, with the headline, “How antiwar student protests are spreading across U.S. universities.” Ian Bremmer, a prominent political scientist, similarly posted on X a map of what he described as a “map of recent antiwar protests across the usa.”

It is impossible to square the statements of those actually in the encampments with the euphemistic labels outsiders are putting on them. It is profoundly dishonest, and it serves a specific purpose: Most people would not have any sympathy or support for a protest movement that it knew was espousing the same views as U.S.-designated terrorist organizations (and sometimes even waving their flags). 

It is a perfect representation of the motte-and-bailey fallacy, whereby one defends a more palatable position than the one they truly hold when challenged on their beliefs — and then acts as if the easier-to-defend stance (in this case, ceasefire) is synonymous with the sincere, yet more controversial belief (in this case, an “intifada revolution”).

We must not fall for it. We must instead be clear-eyed to see the message of these rallies for what they truly are — and uncover this truth for as many people as possible.

Jack Elbaum is a student at George Washington University.

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