top of page

A Page from the 1968 Playbook?

By Michael Oren

The anti-Israel protesters of 2024 are trying to emulate the demonstrations that took place in many of the same universities back in the late 1960s. But are the two movements really comparable and, if so, how? And what are the ramifications for American foreign policy toward Israel?

The following article is adapted from a Hebrew op-ed I published last week in Yisrael Hayom.

Radical students set up a protest encampment on the lawns of New York’s Columbia University, closing down the campus. Policemen try to break up the encampment and arrest more than 100 protesters but they are soon released and resume their demonstration with even greater force. Soon, other campuses–Yale, Berkeley, Michigan–follow Columbia’s example. The violence reaches a peak that summer at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago where large-scale riots break out. The protests, the riots, have a major impact on American foreign policy, weakening its support for a controversial war.

Readers of that opening paragraph might conclude that it describes the anti-Israel demonstrations now plaguing American campuses. But the paragraph in fact summarizes the situation fifty-six years ago during the student revolts of 1968. The rebellion began with the takeover of many buildings at Columbia University and soon spread to other campuses. The violence reached a climax that summer at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. The 2024 Democratic Convention will also be held in Chicago where the demonstrators are expected to converge.

At first glance, at least, history seems to be repeating itself. Consciously, perhaps, nostalgically, today’s protesters are taking pages straight out of the 1968 playbook. But in multiple ways, the current unrest differs fundamentally from that of the 1960s. In fact, they could not be more different.

Though spearheaded by the Students for a Democratic Society and other radical groups, the youth rebellion of the 1960s was anti-war–specifically against America’s disastrous entanglement in Vietnam. The protesters’ logo was “Make love not war,” and their ubiquitous symbol, the peace sign. Today’s protests, by contrast, are pro-war. “Globalize the intifada” and “Burn Tel Aviv to the Ground,” are their slogans and their symbols, the flags of genocidal terrorist organizations. Their glorification of the atrocities of October 7th and calls for Israel’s destruction would have been utterly alien to the activists of 1968.

Also, unlike that earlier rebellion, which was about tolerance and love, today’s demonstrations are about racism and hatred. Chants of “Go back to Poland,” threats to murder all Zionists, and campus areas blocked off by human chains have driven many Jewish students away from their campuses. At Columbia a rabbi warned them not to return and jeopardize their safety. In total contrast, Jews figured prominently in the anti-war movement. Its leadership, including outspoken figures such as Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Mark Rudd, was disproportionately Jewish. Apart from a handful of virulently anti-Israel Jews, the current demonstrations are effectively judenrein.

Another basic distinction relates not to the students but rather to the faculty and administration. Stand Columbia is the name of the coffee table book about Columbia’s history, but it is difficult today to know exactly what Columbia stands for. Back in 1968, university presidents and most professors knew precisely what they stood for. Columbia’s Core Curriculum was designed to enable students to read the Declaration of Independence and understand the Founders’ genius. The university was proudly American and deeply committed to Western values. The required Contemporary Civilization course extolled that civilization’s virtues. Most of that legacy has been jettisoned by Columbia and other universities today, to be replaced by relativism, Marxism, and loathing for the United States, specifically, and the West in general. Apart from a vague devotion to free speech and campus safety, today’s administrators are incapable of mounting a serious intellectual or philosophical defense against the demonstrators’ demands to decolonize not only Palestine, but also America. They don’t have the moral wherewithal to effectively protect their Jewish students. The faculty, with few courageous exceptions, enthusiastically supports the demonstrations.

Yet, in one essential way, the protests of 1968 resemble those of 2024. The primary objective of both was, and remains, the radical alteration of American policy. Fifty-six years ago, they largely succeeded. The Vietcong and the North Vietnamese regarded the demonstrations as strategic assets capable of turning American public opinion against the war. Emboldened, the Communists launched the 1968 Tet Offensive, which further strengthened anti-war sentiment.

Today’s demonstrators also want to change American foreign policy from pro to anti-Israel, to cut off all forms of aid to, and investment in, the Jewish state, and to support Palestinian self-determination “from the river to the sea.” Their goal is to make BDS the official policy of the United States. And their efforts have already had an impact. Thirty-seven Democratic Congress Members, including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and seven senators, have already called for curtailing military supplies to Israel. The full extent of the demonstrators’ influence is expected to be reflected in the party’s platform to be drafted this summer in Chicago.

Hamas has surely drawn strength from these developments and hardened its position on a hostage-for-ceasefire deal prior to Israel’s planned incursion in Rafah. The Biden administration reportedly opposes that operation entirely. Like the North Vietnamese before them, Hamas commanders no doubt regard the campus demonstrations as a strategic asset. Praising the “students and members of faculty for their opposition to the collective extermination carried out by the Zionists, the new Nazis, against our Palestinian people,” Hamas political bureau member Izzat Al-Rishq stated that “today’s students are the leaders of tomorrow.” President Biden, he predicted, will pay “a heavy electoral price” for opposing them.

The Biden Administration has not, in fact, taken a strong stand against the demonstrations, only their antisemitic rhetoric. It has not acted on my recommendation, and that of Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, that the FBI investigate who is providing the matching green tents that now dot many university lawns, supplying standard Palestinian flags, mobilizing non-student agitators. Still, much like Lyndon Johnson before him, President Biden might lose the election to a far more conservative Republican. No more than in 1968, the American people may view campus unrest as a harbinger of more widespread chaos and, rather than rally to it, recoil.

19 visualizaciones0 comentarios


Lágrimas de Shabat. "Crómicas" de Shabat
Field of Fire: Fifty Years in Middle East Studies (Part II)
What follows?
Mascotas II. En la Guerra
Zikaron i Independensia
Cantar de los Cantares a la Dulcinea tropical
Sovre La Fiesta de las Madres (2)
Sovre La Fiesta de las Madres (1)
¿Hay desproporción en la guerra en Medio Oriente?
Field of Fire: Fifty Years in Middle East Studies (I)
El judío errante
La ruptura con Israel:  ¿una cuestión personal? Una decisión que rezuma ideología y dogmatismo


Últimas publicaciones