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Politics: Graduation 2024 Is Going To Be All About Israel Gaza

POLITICS: Graduation 2024 is going to be all about Israel-Gaza war

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This week’s University of Southern California valedictorian speech controversy, where university officials canceled their anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian speaker due to security concerns, is more than a mere news item — it’s a foreshadow things to come.

As parents and loved ones gear up for the annual dose of pomp and circumstance, this spring’s commencement season promises to be chaotic, loud and nasty. 

There isn’t a space too sacred, an event too significant that pro-Palestinian “river to the sea” chanters won’t co-opt for their cause.

Witness the worshippers harassed as they leave synagogue, the city council and board of ed meetings ambushed, the rush-hour traffic brought to a standstill.

Make no mistake, they are licking their lips in anticipation. 

Asna Tabassum was banned this week by USC from serving as its commencement speaker after comments she made against Israel went public. Courtesy of Asna Tabassum

Here’s a glimpse of what that will look like: in late March, the University of Michigan abruptly ended its Honors Convocation, an annual tradition that recognizes the school’s top academic performers, after a hundred or so protestors interrupted the proceedings with shrieks, chants, and banners demanding the university divest from Israel.

They shouted down university president Santa Ono midway through his remarks, forcing him to retreat from the stage.

Instead of calling security, the school scrapped the rest of the program and asked parents to leave. One shocked father captured the mayhem on Instagram.

“This is an honors ceremony,” he said incredulously. “Why are they kicking us out?” 

The University of Michigan’s lack of response illustrates higher education’s usually feckless appeasement strategy, which always seems to come at the expense of everyone but the agitators.

In a saner world, everyone should be able to sit and watch commencement ceremonies without fear and harassment.

But this new world is anything but sane.

To be clear, this isn’t an issue that just affects Jews— though we certainly have as much right as anyone to savor our kids’ achievements without being blitzed by slurs.

Financing a college degree is a mammoth sacrifice for most American families.

It’s not uncommon for parents to tap their savings and retirement accounts, even take out a second mortgage to help foot the bill.

And what about the nearly one-quarter of graduates who identify as “first gens” —the first members of their families to don a cap and gown?

Violent interruptions of graduation ceremonies will not bring peace in the Middle East, but they will certainly ruin moments of hard-earned pride.   

Santa Ono, President of the Univ. of Michigan, had to end a campus event owing to vocal anti-Israel protests this past March. AP

The tumble was inevitable.

Before Oct. 7, these institutions were exemplars of wokeism.

“Safe spaces” were popularized here, and voices that contradicted the (mostly) liberal orthodoxy on, say, gender or race, were either vanquished or shouted down.

In 2021, MIT disinvited noted geophysicist Dorian Abbott from a guest lecture on climate change after faculty and students objected to his critical remarks on affirmative action; in 2022, Harvard withdrew a guest lecture invitation to Duke literary scholar Devin Buckley because of her affiliation with a feminist organization that has opposed trans inmates in women’s prisons. 

But the conflict in Gaza — precipitated by atrocities committed by Hamas, an internationally-recognized terror group — has sparked a response that isn’t just uncivil and intolerant, but downright dangerous.

In March, police were needed to escort Jewish students from an event on the University of California, Berkeley campus featuring an Israeli speaker after a crush of 200 pro-Palestinian militants shattered the glass doors of the building. 

In 2022, Harvard canceled an appearance by Duke University literary scholar Devin Jane Buckley because of her views on transgender inmates. Courtesy of WoLF

You know that old saying about how your rights end where mine begin?

Not so on campus.

When it comes to Israel, your rights end, period. Israel is the incontrovertible bogeyman in this conflict, and Jews its scholastic proxies. 

A staggering 73% of Jewish college students say they’ve experienced or witnessed antisemitism at school, according to an ADL survey. 

It is so pervasive that the Department of Education has launched federal probes into more than 10 high schools and colleges for civil rights violations (including Columbia University this week).

Relying on these same institutions to ensure your kid’s graduation won’t devolve into “Free Gaza” bedlam is delusional. 

The feeling of impending fear and pain, coupled with wanting to protect your child, can be debilitating, but it doesn’t need to be.

Start with an email to your school’s dean or principal.

(Reminder that high schools aren’t immune to this madness.)

In 2021, MIT canceled a lecture by geophysicist Dorian Abbot because of his views on Affirmative Action. Matthew Gilson

Be sure to copy the press office if they have one, and a local reporter.

Nothing captures a university’s attention quite like a fear of bad press.

Push them on who’s scheduled to speak and whether the remarks will be vetted.

What contingency plans are in place should there be protests?

Crass though it may seem, universities, like politicians, are beholden to donors.

Remind them that a graduation besieged by protestors is guaranteed to affect alumni giving. 

Show up ready.

That means marshaling your courage to stand up to the haters intent on stealing your kid’s thunder like happened at USC this week.

Bring a sign of your own, like an Israeli or American flag or a poster of the hostages.

Twenty years from now your kid will be hard-pressed to remember who spoke at her graduation, but your courage will echo for a lifetime.

Archie Gottesman is the co-founder of JewBelong, a national nonprofit that makes Judaism more accessible and fights antisemitism.

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