Nothing good will come from Columbia University radicalism

Columbia University is once again the center of the radical universe.

More than 50 years after anti-Vietnam War demonstrators roiled the Columbia campus in 1968, anti-Israel agitators are disrupting the school’s operations, and inspiring similar actions at other universities around the country.

In their open support for a terror group, today’s demonstrators are more virulent than their 1960s forebears, but they are still the ideological heirs of the New Left — grandchildren in spirit of the first Morningside Heights revolutionaries.

It’s Columbia 1968 — the antisemitic version.

The protests back then were, to be sure, a larger and more violent event. Demonstrators seized buildings and briefly took a dean hostage. The campus shut down. When the police came to re-take the occupied buildings in the early-morning hours of April 30, 1968, they arrested more than 700 people and roughed some of them up.

The situation at Columbia today, noxious though it is, would have to get much worse to match 1968’s mayhem. The protestors have set up an encampment rather than seizing buildings. When police moved in last week to briefly break up the illegal gathering, they arrested about a hundred people. Although the protest has generated national attention (and a well-deserved condemnation from the White House), it’s not the cause celebre of 1968, when famous journalists and poets joined the demonstrators in their barricaded buildings.

Yet, the director of the college’s Jewish Learning Initiative has urged Jewish students to stay home for fear for their safety, and classes have gone remote.

The argot of both sets of demonstrators is largely the same. In 1968, the protestors inveighed against the “complicity” of the University in the Vietnam War and its “institutional racism” for wanting to expand a gym in the neighborhood. Decades later, those are still the popular catchphrases.

Israel is to today’s radicals what the Pentagon was to 1968’s. Just as the protestors back then demanded that the university cut ties with a Department of Defense outfit doing research for the Vietnam War, today’s radicals want the university to divest from Israel. The essential argument is the same — that Columbia bears moral responsibility for crimes against humanity committed in an imperialist war.

Yesteryear’s agitators might have been surprised to learn that student demonstrators acting in the tradition of 1968 have been discomfiting and harassing Jews and expressing support for a horrific terrorist assault. Here too, though, there are connections to 1968, at least its more extreme elements.

The famed Columbia protest leader Mark Rudd went on to become part of the violent Weather Underground. The group’s manifesto is a bilious attack on America’s influence in the world.

It contends that “the main struggle going on in the world today is between U.S. imperialism and the national liberation struggles against it.” The fact is, according to the manifesto, that “every other empire and petty dictator is in the long run dependent on U.S. imperialism, which has unified, allied with, and defended all of the reactionary forces of the whole world.” That’s why “we determine who are our friends and who are our enemies according to whether they help U.S. imperialism or fight to defeat it.”

The same logic animates today’s radicals. Hamas is their equivalent of Che Guevara or the Viet Cong, and Israel an expression of Western imperialism that must be opposed at all costs. (The Weather Underground statement does briefly mention “Israeli imperialism.”)

A key difference between 1968 and today is that protestors then were revolting against an institution dominated by traditional liberals, whereas the radicals have steadily taken over the universities since. Today’s protestors are only crudely expressing the attitudes and tropes that they hear in many of their classrooms. A large contingent of Columbia faculty walked out to protest the arrests of the agitators.

Columbia 1968 is widely seen as a hugely influential event in the direction of academia. It will be a calamity if Columbia 2024 is eventually viewed the same way.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rich Lowry is on X @RichLowry.


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